Symposium notes: media becomes software?

Jonathan emailed prior to today’s symposium with a task. We were asked to read Media After Software by Lev Manovich published over 2011/2012 and available here. And consider the following questions:

1) In answer to his own question — what does it mean to refer to a ‘digital medium’ as having ‘properties’? For example, is it meaningful to talk about unique properties of digital photographs, or electronic texts, or web sites, or digital maps? — he says clearly NO — do you agree?

Answer: Digital media clearly have different properties to physical media. The photo I see on screen is different from the same image represented physically because one has been printed and the other generated through code and shown via software. Both have unique properties, but I agree that the uniqueness of the digital image is only ever experienced through the interface used to view it. For example, the digital images I have shown on my blog are unique creations but they look different when shown on Flickr and can only be seen through the prism of software. 

2) He goes on to say: “let me make a bold statement. There is no such thing as ‘digital media’. There is only software – as applied to media (or ‘content’.) Or, to put this differently: for users who only interact with media content through application software, the ‘properties’ of digital media are defined by the particular software as opposed to solely being contained in the actual content (i.e., inside digital files).”

Answer: This is a weird argument that I do not get the point of. The properties of a painting are the result of its subject matter and media interface. For example, an image would look different if different paints, bushes and canvas was used. This is the same with digital images. Thus both digital and physical images are defined by the tools used to create them.

So in one sense Monovich is correct: try opening an Ami Pro file now and you won’t get far and if you do it won’t look like the file you created from within that software.

3) Consider the impact this has on art making and your own processes. As we have talked about before, there is a job to be done that is ‘revealing the ideology baked into the code’, if this is an important job what are the consequences of Manovich’s argument? 

Answer: Everything is the result of culture and technology. Did the Egyptians draw men in a particular way because they saw them like that? (Thanks Gombrich) No. The re-presented Man like that for a variety of reasons. So it is with digital media. That is, it is the result of the culture and time and place we live in. Indeed in that sense I can see what Manovich is driving at in terms of the digital media interface as the data on an SD card is just that until is is brought alive by a programme.

However, if part of an artist’s role is to allow the unrecognised to be seen and thought about then the way they go about this is irrelevant unless their aim is to show up that buried within digital media.

It will be interesting to hear what others thoughts are.


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
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