As I began reading the two introduction essays by Janet Murray and Lev Manovich to The New Media Reader I first was a bit overwhelmed with the length of each. This immediately made me think of an article that was reverenced in the previous reading, “Is Google Making us stupid?“: was the fact that I initially gawked at so many words and pages a result of my immersion in a world of near-instant informational gratification and 140 character thoughts? The thing is, I have no problems whatsoever reading a 500 page novel, if it’s interesting and indeed there were certainly pieces of each introduction piece that jumped out at me:
All creativity can be understood as taking in the world as a problem. The problem that preoccupies all of the authors in this volume is the pullulating consciousness that is the direct result of 500 years of print culture. – Janet Murray
The concept of defining a unifying model that describes all of creativity is quite appealing to me. “The world as a problem” seems at the same time both a grossly over simplified, and a perfectly succinct description of creativity as I see it, and particular to my field of engineering. Murray than goes on to draw contrasts between “engineers” and “disciplinary humanists” which particularly piqued my interest because I often feel like an outsider looking in when talking to other engineers about humanistic concepts, but also an outsider when trying to explain how I see engineering to “disciplinary humanists”. The second essay provided a nugget that helped direct my thoughts on this curious feeling of duplicity
Human-computer interface comes to act as a new form through which all older forms of cultural production are being mediated. – Lev Manovich
Whether we like it or not, this is becoming the reality. We now get our books, music, movies and even long distance personal interaction mediated by a computer and the interface they provide us. The thing is, any good engineer knows that if a piece of technology is doing its job, it should be transparent to the user. While reading both of these essays I found myself thinking: why are we trying to force so much focus on the “new” in “new media”? Is our doing so an indication that we as engineers still have more work to do to make the current technology transparent (I think we do) or is society so transfixed by “new” technology for some other reason that we are refusing to let it become as transparent as it could be?
Manovich, I think would disagree on that point, at least in the U.S. as one of his arguments for the late start of new media exhibits in the U.S. was in part do to the rapid assimilation of new technology so that it became ubiquitous before we had time to reflect upon its potential impacts. As I’m writing that I feel myself rethinking my own view, because I don’t want to suggest that we not reflect upon the impact of technology that we now take for granted, in fact I have often felt we need to do much more reflecting, and I agree wholeheartedly that we have adopted some technologies that have drastically changed our day-to-day lives (who plans things in advance any more when you can just text your friends last minute to find out where people are?) that may consequences far extending the superficial sphere of their direct influences (if we don’t plan our days, are we losing our skill at thinking into the future and acting accordingly in general? Are we becoming a species obsessed with living in the moment and unable to live any other way?)
I’m in danger of rambling now, but I now have a better understanding of why I found it difficult to focus on the entirety of both essays. Everything around each nugget either seemed redundant, overly descriptive, or a distraction from the thought process that had started forming in my head. If good technology should be transparent to the user, why are we spending so much time worrying about it? And what are the consequences if we don’t?