Digital Media

Monday, November 06, 2006

I became familiar with flickr through some friends of mine who post photos to the site. Flickr is a site where serious photographers, both amateur and professional, share their photos. The site allows registered users to comment on other users' photos and and even to highlight certain parts of a photo and comment specifically on that part as you can see in the example below. Most comments on flickr are encouraging rather than critical. I imagine this is because users must be registered to comment and negative comments could reflect on their own profiles and photos. Also, photographers tend to visit their favorite photographers' sites regularly so there seems to be a real community between photographers. The photo below shows how extensive the comments can be. Also note the boxed part of the photo that shows notes when you roll your mouse over it.

Principles of New Media
From The Language of New Media
Lev Manovich

Differences between old media and new media:

1. Numerical representation: New media object can be described mathematically; new media object is subject to algorithmic manipulation

Digitization – converting continuous data into a numerical representation; consists of sampling and quantization
Resolution – frequency of sampling
Discrete data – data occurring in distinct units, i.e. pixels
Quantified – sample assigned numerical value drawn from a defined range

2. Modularity: Because all elements are stored independently, they can be modified at any time.

Examples: HTML, separate objects such as images, media clips are all stored independently so they can be modified.

3. Automation: Human intentionality at least partially removed from creative process

Examples: Low-level automation – Photoshop autocorrect, filters, Artificial Life software
High-level automation (computer must understand meanings embedded in objects generated) – artificial intelligence, computer games

4. Variability: A new media object is not something fixed once and for all, but something that can exist in different, potentially infinite versions.

Media database
Different interfaces can be created from the same data
Information about the user can be used by a computer program to customize automatically the media composition as well as to create elements themselves.
Branching-type interactivity (menu-based)
Hypermedia – multimedia elements connected through hyperlinks
Periodic updates
Scalability – different versions of the same media object can be generated at various sizes or levels of detail
Old media follows logic of a factory – division of labor, level of material organization; new media – values individuality over conformity. Language of text, contents, ads can all be customized. Companies that place ads track movements across the Net, "remembering" which ads you’ve seen, exactly when you saw them, whether you clicked on them, where you were at the time, and the site you have visited just before.

Making a choice involves a moral responsibility. Passing choice to user also passes on responsibility to represent the world and the human condition in it.

5. Transcoding: Translate into another format

When computerization turns media into computer data, its structure now follows the established conventions of the computer’s organization of data. Because new media is created on computers, distributed via computers, and stored and archived on computers, the logic of a computer can be expected to significantly influence the traditional cultural logic of media; that is, we may expect that the computer layer will affect the cultural layer: "The computerization of culture."

Programmability has no historical precedent. Therefore, to understand logic of new media we turn to computer science to find terms, categories and operations that characterize media. From media studies, we move to something that can be called "software studies" – from media theory to software theory.

What new media is not

Discrete representation of media, random access and multimedia were already contained in cinema – these were not unique to digital media.

Digital duplication involves loss of information just as analog duplication does because, in practice, information is compressed and image files are made smaller by deleting some information. Lossy compression is the very foundation of computer culture, at least for now.

The myth of interactivity: Concept is meaningless because all computer media is interactive. Better: Menu-based interactivity, scalability, simulation, image-interface, image-instrument.

Classical art is interactive because it requires user to fill in missing information – "psychological interaction." Modern trend is to externalize mental life and control thinking. The private and individual are translated into the public and become regulated. Before we would look at an image and mentally follow our own private associations to other images. Now interactive computer media asks us instead to click on an image in order to go to another image. We are asked to follow pre-programmed, objectively existing associations.

Thoughts on other readings:

I've noticed that the topics I talk about online are often different than the topics I talk to the same person about in person. I can usually get more bare-bones information from someone online in chat or e-mail, but if I want details about something it's usually better to talk in person. The same is true with conflict resolution. It's difficult to resolve a conflict if you're only e-mailing back and forth. At the newspaper where I work, for example, I've noticed that when someone sends in an e-mail angry about something in the paper, it's usually counterproductive to send and e-mail back. Much more effective (and usually efficient) is to call the person and hear and respond to concerns they may have.

Currently, the only online communities I belong to contain people I met outside of the Net. When I was in middle school, however, I had several "key pals" who I met in what I guess must have been a usenet group. The relationships were short-lived, though, and I no longer remember much of anything about who they were. I know a lot of people form strong relationships online (a college roommate of mine would stay up most of the night chatting with a guy online), but I haven't made any meaningful relationships online. I do think that online communities are great for keeping in touch with people I already know. I like checking my friends' myspace pages occasionally to see what they've been up to. I also like photo-sharing Web sites that have allowed me to see friends' new babies who live far away.

I think one of the factors affecting the effectiveness of online communities is that most communications are asynchronous. Even where synchronous communication is possible, most people are not online and available to talk at the same time so there is usually some lag time with responses. For that reason, communications can sometimes be drawn out and very rarely go into much depth on one idea. Also, while online communities are a great way to brainstorm and collect ideas, it's very difficult to synthesize ideas online unless you have one person doing the synthesizing. In the Jervay Place example in Communities in Cyberspace the community members were able to begin a search for low-income housing information online, but their eventual design was created with the help of architectural firms in person.


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