Response Post: Janet Murray’s “Inventing the Medium”/Manovich’s “New Media from Borges to HTML”

What I appreciated and respected about Murray’s piece was her intention to depict what she sees as two separate strands of engagement with new media and the philosophy of new media, symbolized by the artist and the engineer. In fact, I did not find much to disagree with Murray about, since her arguments were based around two social groups that she perceived as the necessary elements of the development of new media. In Manovich’s piece, however, I found trouble with his statement that old and new avant garde creations are not aiming at the same thing: representing the world in a new way. As though he has missed his own point, Manovich seems unwilling to concede that the new forms of avant garde, these forms of data and information manipulation, are still just ways representing the world in a new way.

These novel understandings of the world, represented in data and graph, are in fact the greatest contribution of these new avant garde artists to our expanding world; consider this TED talk and then assess for yourself whether or not these new forms of media are some of the most intriguing and engaging representations of reality yet produced: http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_shows_the_best_stats_you_ve_ever_seen.html

It seems that these new processes of data mining and processing are not merely ways to re-present old media, but are being used for artistic representations reality in their own right (even if those who create things like Rosling’s charts are simply doing their job, without recourse to artistic inspiration).

I simply think Manovich missed an obvious similarity between these old and new avant garde artists, especially when I stop and consider how much of my life has been spent analyzing data graphs without ever stopping to consider their world-representative qualities, but only because they were so intuitively understood as being world-representative.

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One thought on “Response Post: Janet Murray’s “Inventing the Medium”/Manovich’s “New Media from Borges to HTML”

  1. I have to say that after watching the TED talk you link to, I have to agree with your point about the correlations between the “old” and the “new” avant garde. I tried to express my thoughts in class but it didn’t come out quite as I wanted to. Manovich puts forth the notion that the “old” avant garde wants to create new ways and systems of viewing the world around us where as the “new” avant garde is simply exploring what is already there in a different way. And I don’t disagree with that statement at all. However, I think that it’s also true that in exploring data already present in a different way, new media is, at the same time, creating a new set of parameters for viewing our world.

    I absolutely love the different graphs Rosling presents in his TED talk and I think they illustrate the aforementioned points perfectly. These graphs present data collected by the U.N. and various other databases. This data was collected in very traditional ways using very common methods that have been tried and true for decades. It is this sort of “already there” information Manovich talks about. But even 10 years ago Rosling would never have been able to present this data in the way he has here.Suddenly the data becomes fluid and interactive. Now it’s not just dots on a graph, but living material that shifts and changes without any delay. Additionally, one set of data can be broken out of the whole instantaneously without masking the other data (I especially like when he breaks out different countries on different continents when comparing health and income). It’s amazing how much more accessible the data becomes when it is now long a long series of disconnected graphs on different pages.

    And that, really does fall in line with what Manovich says. However, in doing this, Rosling is also presenting a completely new way of looking at things. A way where the emphasis is not on the data itself, but seeing the larger connections and trends in the data over time in their entirety, while simultaneously being able to the big picture, as well as minute specifics at the same time. And that really is a shift in the way we view the world. Perhaps for the our generation it’s not quite as obvious because we’ve been more involved in the global society, but in reality the notion that the gaps between countries like the U.S. and China, and Russia, and Ghana, are really not nearly as large as we would like to believe is a pretty different and new way of looking at the world.

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