Publicly Sited

Media, Technology & Culture 05: Computational Technologies

February 5, 2021

Worries about media technologies often stem from their association with change, change that may be perceived as positive or negative. Even though we tend know very well that social and cultural transformations are complex, we also often seem prepared to think of individual media as bringing change. To believe that there was a situation before this or that media, and then another situation after. These apparently transformative media technologies have often been described as ‘new media’. This term began to acquire some currency in the 1960s, in the age of television. But its use exploded in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Why? There were many answers: the internet, interactivity, multimedia, mobile devices, user-generated content. But for some, the new media of this moment came out of a longer-term and more general development: the rise of the computer as a media technology. Not just a new addition, to all the other technologies, but an emergent backbone for virtually all mediated communication and experience. In this episode, we look at how this argument is exemplified by the work of digital media theorist Lev Manovich, who suggests that what makes new media ‘new’ is its creation, storage, distribution and display via the language (i.e. software code) and hardware of digital computation. On a basic level, computational media all share a basic metabolism of binary code: ultimately describable with nothing more than 1s and 0s. The question, however, is broader than this: beyond previous media formats becoming absorbed into the medium of the computer, are we seeing the rise of a specifically ‘computational’ culture?

Thinkers Discussed: Lev Manovich (The Language of New Media / Software Takes Command); Mark B.N. Hansen (New Philosophy for New Media); Alexander Galloway (The Interface Effect); Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin (Remediation: Understanding New Media) Gabriele Balbi and Paolo Magaudda (A History of Digital Media: An Intermedia and Global Perspective); Lewis Mumford (Authoritarian and Democratic Technics); Fred Turner (From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism); Jennifer Light (When Computers Were Women); Mar Hicks (Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing); Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg (Personal Dynamic Media); David Berry (Against Remediation).

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