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In The Language of New Media, Lev Manovich proposes five “principles of new media”—to be understood “not as absolute laws but rather as general tendencies of a culture undergoing computerization.” The five principles are numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding.
This article offers an interactive explanation and demonstration of the principles, in hopes to inspire an interest in media theory in others. (Note: All in-text citations reference Lev Manovich's The Language of New Media.)
Numerical Representation: According to Manovich, the key difference between old and new media is that new media is programmable. That is, most new media objects can be described mathematically and can be manipulated via algorithms. The art piece above aims to highlight the pixel-cality of the image, in the process, giving the user a numerical value of each point (in the form of position and hex value.)
Modularity: The second most important concept is that of modularity. New media is made up of components - text, images, sounds, pixels, bites - all of these components can be rearranged and independently manipulated. The modularity of new media is related to the modular character of structural computer programming, in which independent functions are brought together in larger programs. This is clearly evident in object-orientated programming, where individual components can be referenced freely, regardless of order. In programs like photoshop, modularity is represented through layers. A photoshopped image can be composed of many layers, each of which can be treated as an entirely independent and separate entity. The entire Web, Manovich notes, has a modular structure, composed of independent sites and pages, and each webpage itself is composed of elements and code that can be independently modified. This art piece seeks to make the user aware of the modularity of imagery. As the user interacts with the piece, the components divide into smaller components. They continue to divide infinitely, revealing the original image in the process.
Automation: As Manovich notes, because of the powerful and creative functions computers can execute, “human intentionality can be removed from the creative process, at least in part” (32). He continues, “the creative energy of the author goes into the selection and sequencing of elements rather than into original design” (130). Authorship or artistry involves selection from pre-existing images, code, or other elements and a sort of "collaboration" between author and software to create harmoniously. Automation is evident in the filters and special effects in Photoshop and After Effects that allow users to modify images and film. In this piece, the user (you) and the algorithm work together to create art, representative of this concept.
Unlike old media, new media does not “hardwire” structure and content together. “a new media object is not something fixed once and for all, but something that can exist in different, potentially infinite versions” (Manovich, 36). Manovich connects the variability of new media to the logic of postindustrial society, which values individuality over conformity. “New media objects assure users that their choices—and therefore, their underlying thoughts and desires—are unique, rather than preprogrammed and shared with others” (42). In the piece above, the user is in control of the media. Each variation will be unique. The art cannot exist without the user.
The last and broadest of Manovich’s five principles of new media, transcoding is “the most substantial consequence of the computerization of media” (45). Transcoding refers to the blend of computer and culture, of "traditional ways in which human culture modeled the world and the computer's own means of representing it" (46). It designates the ways in which media and culture are being reshaped and transformed by the logic of the computer. "Cultural categories or concepts are substituted, on the level of meaning and/or language, by new ones that derive from the computers ontology, epistemology, and pragmatics” (47).
The principles of new media defined by Manovich are just the starting point of a book that goes on to examine new media in rich detail, particularly in terms of cinematic and visual media. This website was created in hopes that it would inspire interests in new media and media theory. It itself is merely a starting point.
Professor Shane Denson, Gregor Quack, Brandon Truong, and Kaan Donbekci
D.Angelo, Anthony. (2014). New Media Resources List 2.0.
Fry, Ben. Processing 3. (2016). The Processing Foundation 2012-2016.
Manovich, L. (2001). The language of new media. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Sorapure, Madeline. “Five Principles of New Media: Or, Playing Lev Manovich.” Issue 16.1 (Fall 2011) - Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, Kairos, 2003, kairos.technorhetoric.net/8.2/coverweb/sorapure/.