I (k)new media before it was cool

New Media seems to be a continual emergence of relationships and combinations. Like chemists in the 19th-century, new media artists are becoming more and more experienced and are discovering more and more new ways of bringing the same basic elements into new forms and new modes of experience. Unlike those chemists, new media artists can be anyone, anywhere, and aren’t constantly gambling with blowing their face off in a beaker (at least most).

New Media has many faces because it’s a language construct for a blob of various objects tangled together that we haven’t taken the time to identify beyond simple association of their temporal position. Which is okay, because it removes many of the natural limits that language tends to put on us as creators; but you know, even the term “New Media” seems to implicate the new media artist in some sort of “New” movement, and it’s probably the most benign label you could conceive of for the phenomenon.

The problem with labels is that we have to have them. It does us no good to live without labels, yet any imposition of “external pressures” upon one’s art that something as psychologically constricting as a label is immediately decried and resisted. I don’t think new media artists think of themselves as new media artists; I think they consider themselves to be artists using whatever medium they want.

I have one more class before I complete my History major, and I’ve found that revolutions only get labeled when they’ve become historically “factual”, yet they tend to emphasize only a single element; that is, the Industrial Revolution was certainly a revolution in its time, but its nature wasn’t fixed until we gave it the name. It was much more than an industrial revolution, because it affected so much more than our industry. I think the same thing is true of new media; we perhaps are taking too much time saying, “Look how media is evolving” and not enough time saying “Look how we’re evolving!” New Media’s just another symptom of the greater, much more significant revolution that we’ve grown up in and still can’t perceive the end of. If there is a nature to “new media” that distinguishes it from old media, it’s only in its hypersensitivity. Old media experienced all of the same phenomena as new media: mixing of different mediums, audience interactivity, re-use of older art in new ways, etc. It’s only the degree and ease with which these things are accomplished that have changed. And I am not belittling that; the speed and ease with which these phenomena occur now are what make new media, well, new media. But it’s not enough to deserve the title. New Media will fade as a name, and will be replaced by something more appropriate, something focused on the nature of this media ‘in relation to itself’ rather than as a label for ‘anything that is not’ old media. Which is, of course, just media.


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