This is one of the first readings that feels very “current” in the sense of my daily work. In the world of web development, the work of designing user interfaces (UI) has given way to a much better conversation about designing user experiences (UX).
To me, this is what Brenda Laurel was getting to with comparing our “new media” experiences with Aristotle’s Poetics and his rules of the theater: how does the audience perceive the “organic whole?” If the audience doesn’t leave happy with their experience of a work, your work is a failure.
So often, on the web or elsewhere, we throw technology at a problem — “look, it’s got bells and whistles!” — instead of considering how best, how simply, how elegantly to solve the problem.
How wonderful then, to look back to the concepts and structure of ancient media to inform our use of the new?
Admittedly, my mind leaps to Vonnegut often, no matter the subject, but Viola’s “Will There Be Condominiums in Data Space?” immediately brought to mind Slaughterhouse-Five and the Tralfamadorian understanding of time:
‘The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.
‘When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is “so it goes.”‘
Given his work with video as an artistic medium, it makes sense to see his realization that hours of unedited video are not interesting. It is the edits of the whole — albeit entirely arbitrary — that make that medium work. But how perceptive to see that shift from one “master” edit of a work to our “new media” world where everyone has a video editor in their pockets, and the re-mixing and re-purposing that is done with existing work constantly and by anyone.
I am dwelling on his examples of music and art in other cultures as examples of changing use and perception of digital media. We are creating so much content every day, but are we creating the whole image, or just pieces of the jigsaw puzzle? What do we make of our lives, our culture, out of all these digital documents?