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1st Reading Notes for a New Semester_New Media

Welcome Back to the Wonderful World of Summer’s Reading Notes!

To begin the Fall 2014 semester, we are reading Nicholas Gane and David Beer‘s book, New Media: The Key Concepts, which focuses its exploration of the discipline of New Media by looking at six core concepts (though there are others) that “facilitate theoretical and critical analysis of the new media age”:

-Network

-Information

-Interface

-Archive

-Interactivity

-Simulation

These six concepts originally fell under material forms (networks, interfaces, archives, and information) and processes (simulation and interactivity), but “have taken on a particular conceptual or metaphorical significance in recent social and media theory” (1-2). So how do we begin to sort through these concepts and begin to understand why they are the foundation to critically analyzing the discipline of New Media?

Well, for this, Ganes and Beer weed their way towards the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, discussing their three types of “conceptual work:

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Image hosted on  website for Mike Hoolboom.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Image hosted on website for Mike Hoolboom.

-“Universal concepts” – “encyclopaedic definitions that seek to give concepts a fixed, universal meaning”

-“Marketable concepts” – “concepts geared to the production of ideas that are valued purely for their economic worth” – “commodification of knowledge”

—> part of this are “concept-driven brands, which draw their value less from the physical aspects of commodities than from the concepts that underpin and justify their design.” This makes me think of fashion ads in which it is the “lifestyle” represented by the clothes that is being sold more so than the clothes themselves.

 

Chanel Ad. Image hosted on The Stylist Fashion Blog

-“Pedagogy of the concept” – “experimental in nature and uses concepts in a flexible, open-ended way to address research problems as and when they arrive” – “Junction of problems”

One of my favorite quotes from this first chapter was Ganes and Beer quoting Deleuze and Guttari’s comment that, “All concepts are connected to problems without which they would have no meaning…” (5). Too often, it feels like a lot of the concepts being taught in theory exist just because, so it was nice to see the idea grounded that our theoretical concepts emerge out of issues and questions that are being raised in practical settings and need to beapplied as well as discussed. From this idea of concepts needing connections to real world problems, Ganes and Beer declare that concepts are essentiallyintensities that “condense around problems,” which “prompt and stimulate conceptual work and with this give it its value” (5). Problems are at the core of conceptual work.

But, what does this have to do with New Media?

Taking a step back, what does the term New Media cover?

What makes something New Media as opposed to Old Media?

Ganes and Beer turn to Lev Manovich‘s explanation that, while there are similarities between Old Media (which ranges from print media like books to cinema media) and New Media is that New Media operates “through the production and processing of numerical (predominately binary) code,” and that “the representation of cultural forms (including art, music, text) in numerical codes enables them to be reproduced, manipulated, and transmitted with unprecedented ease” (6).

Key Traits of Digital Media, as Laid out by Tony Feldman

-“Information is increasingly manipulable, networkable, dense, compressible, and impartial”

When we think of how advancements in technology are reshaping our relationship with knowledge, it’s crazy to compare where we are right now with twenty or thirty years ago. Our devices are getting smaller, but their processing powers and memory storage outstrip devices from even five years ago. We are now a society where information is easily exchanged, portable and yet intangible. Take this course as an example. When buying my books, I was given the option of buying a physical or digital copy of the first textbook. It was in the restrictions I had on time and the prospect of a lengthy wait time for my book to arrive that I chose to go with the digital copy. While reading a book digitally isn’t my favorite method (I have to constantly keep myself from getting distracted by the other activities that are also available when I am on the computer or on my phone), the digital copy is more easily accessible and far more portable. With Amazon’s new whispersync software, I can alternate between reading the book on my laptop or on my phone, sharing highlights between the two devices and keeping both updated on what page I have read to. I can also share these books with others (like my sister-in-law who lives states away) without needing something physical to send to them.

Digital Media is both more ephemeral (mostly because I know how easy it is to lose digital data, as I have been reminded a few times with this software when forgetting to save the page before attempting to import media) and permanent (archives on the internet sometimes keep what a person may wish to be lost, which becomes a major issue with things like the leaked nude photos of celebrities hacked from the Cloud).

Interesting Scholars and Concepts Introduced

Bruno Latour – “recalcitrant objects” – “concepts that make thought possible but at the same time are hard to pin down and analyze”

Nigel Thrift – “knowing capitalism”

Donna Haraway – “thinking technologies”

Citation

Gane, Nicholas and David Beer. New Media: The Key Concepts. Oxford, UK: Berg, 2008. Kindle.

Kicking off the Semester