New Media

Breaking the Code of The Matrix; or, Hacking Hollywood to Liberate Film


In this essay, I read the Wachowski brothers’ 1999 hit film The Matrix as a parable about the affordances of new media as it was exposed by Napster’s successful hacking of the music industry’s monopoly upon the distribution of recorded music.
"Philip K. Dick has argued that the generic game of science fiction consists in starting with the world as we know it, effecting a single consequential dislocation, and then pursuing its ramifications, as it transforms the given world. The Matrix explores the implications of the following question: what if everything humans experience could be digitalized? Not just alphabetic code, sound, and images (as we see happening on the screens all around us), but other sensory signals like smell, taste, touch, silent thought, body image, and everything else necessary for humans to feel that they are living ordinary experience. Secondly, if that software code could then be translated into neurological signals and streamed into human minds, wouldn’t that stream of signals appear as “real” as the “real world?” Further, because the code that composes this world would be transparent to its inhabitants, humans would not know that their entire reality was in fact a species of media, a digital simulation. Those who constructed such a simulated world and embedded humans within it would have remarkable power to arouse, entertain and distract, but still more crucially to create what would appear as reality. This is the moment of maximum determination by the Matrix media system, but that idea spawns an equally radical idea of freedom. If an individual could crack the code upon which the Matrix is based, and hack his or her way into that media simulation, then that individual might play by an entirely new set of rules—evading the laws proper to that simulation, for example, gravitation, inertia, the law of the conservation of matter, and so on. In The Matrix the hacker’s power derives from using the magic of software to reconfigure a network designed by others."

[Web publication by author]

Computable Culture and the Closure of the Media Paradigm: Review essay on Lev Manovich's The Language of New Media


In the 1980s and 1990s critics and historians of media struggled to come up with an authoritative account of what made computable media different than the early forms of (analog) media it so often emulates. In this essay, I make the case that Manovich’s 1999 book, The Language of New Media, offers the most comprehensive and authoritative account of the changes and continuities of new and old media.
"Trying to isolate the essential traits of new media repeatedly courts two complementary problems: one may overplay the novelty and difference of new media by ascribing to it traits in fact found in old media; or, by restricting attention to the aesthetic or phenomenological effects of new media products, one may fail to come to terms with the difference made by what lies at the heart of new media—a computer running software."

Citation: Post-Modern Culture, 12:3, May.

Institutionalizing E-Literature: Choices for the Author and the Editor


How was the Internet going to change publication, authoring and editing? Such was the question that a panel at the Electronic Literature Organization posed to its participants. My contribution argued against the techno-determinist argument of a plenary speaker, the prominent publisher, Jason Epstein.
"The account of the Internet offered by Lawrence Lessig in Code and Other Laws of the Internet suggests that “electronic publishing” is less an object than a complex social process, with many stakeholders. The emergence of new media forms and practices—whether it is electronic publishing or the Internet—will be messy, gradual, and negotiated. So, to invoke one very fraught example, in the debates triggered by the popularity of Napster’s peer-to-peer file sharing system, what appears as an execrable act of ‘theft’ to some can be a community-spirited act of ‘sharing’ to others."
Citation: State of the Arts, ed. Scott Rettberg. Published by Electronic Literature Organization.

In the Beginning Was the Word: a Visualization of the Page as Interface

How might the attention to interface design in new computable media allow us to reframe and interpret the interface developed, over a thousand years, on the page, to deliver the Word to Christian readers? This is the question with which a team of the Transliteracies Project grappled in designing this 2 and half minute visualization of the long evolution of the page.
"The production of the Bible, in Hebrew and Greek, Latin and English, involved the transmitters of the Bible in many inventive transformations of the page. In this Flash animation we understand the page as an interface between the reader and the text, an interface that underwent manifold changes over the centuries through the addition of many features: spacing, paragraph marks, punctuation marks, capitals, glosses and cross references, and so on. Although scholars have speculated on the motives for these changes (typological reading; translation notes; improving access for the lay reader), the creative work with the Bible page as interface was driven by one central theological idea: that through the scriptural text God sends the Word to the people."
Citation: History of Reading Group, led by William Warner, with design and coding by Kim Knight. This effort was part of the UC funded Transliteracies Project, 2005-2010 (Director. Alan Liu).



Networking and Broadcasting in Crisis; Or, How Do We Own Computable Culture?


This essay attempts a contribution to the public policy debates that have proliferated around new computable media. It begins with a schematic historical topology of the two basic kinds of communication: one-to-one networking (from the postal system to email, characterized by privacy and informality) and one-to-many broadcasting (from oral speeches to publication in print and online, which encourages the development of a public and observes conventions of correctness). After comparing the social practices, communication protocols and ethical imperatives that have allowed both networking and broadcasting to thrive I develop a plea. In order to sustain a vibrant media ecology, we need policies—like limited copyright and the enforcement of anti-trust laws, like the robust development of a legal foundation for privacy—that will allow both networking and broadcasting to thrive.
"The long history of media from writing can help guide us in shaping media policy. Because the networked computer has emerged as one of the main ways we read and write, anything we do to modify the networked computer needs to pass this litmus test: ‘Does this change protect and extend the full powers of reading and writing as they have operated within culture?’"
Citation: Media Ownership: Research and Regulation (Hampton Press), ed. by Ronald E. Rice.

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