Cultural transcoding

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From Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media:

  • principles of new media: “material” (numeric coding and modular organization), more “deep” and far reaching ones (automation and variability), and the most substantial consequence of media’s computerization (cultural transcoding)
  • structure of computerized media now follows conventions of computer's organization of data: new data structures such as lists, records and arrays; substitution of all constants by variables; the separation between algorithms and data structures; and modularity.
  • new media in general can be thought of as consisting from two distinct layers: the “media/cultural layer” and the “computer layer” The examples of categories on the cultural layer are encyclopedia and a short story; story and plot; composition and point of view; mimesis and catharsis, comedy and tragedy. The examples of categories on the computer layer are process and packet (as in data packets transmitted through the network); sorting and matching; function and variable; a computer language and a data structure.
  • computer layer and media/culture layer influence each other. Since new media is created on computers, distributed via computers, stored and archived on computers, the logic of a computer (computer's ontology, epistemology and pragmatics ~ the ways in which it models the world, represents data and allows us to operate on it; the key operations behind all computer programs, such as search, match, sort, filter; the conventions of HCI) can be expected to significant influence on the traditional cultural logic of media (its organization, its emerging genres, its contents). + vice-versa influence: HCI interfaces look more and more like interfaces of older media machines and cultural technologies: VCR, tape player, photo camera
  • cultural categories and concepts are substituted, on the level of meaning and/or the language, by new ones which derive from computer’s ontology, epistemology and pragmatics
  • framework to understand this process of cultural re-conceptualization? Since on one level new media is an old media which has been digitized, it seems appropriate to look at new media using the perspective of media studies. We may compare new media and old media, such as print, photography, or television. We may also ask about the conditions of distribution and reception and the patterns of use. We may also ask about similarities and differences in the material properties of each medium and how these affect their aesthetic possibilities. // But, this perspective can't address the most fundamental new quality of new media which has no historical precedent — programmability.
  • To understand the logic of new media we need to turn to computer science. It is there that we may expect to find the new terms, categories and operations which characterize media which became programmable. From media studies, we move to something which can be called software studies; from media theory — to software theory. The principle of transcoding is one way to start thinking about software theory. Another way which this book experiments with is using concepts from computer science as categories of new media theory (eg. interface, database).
See also