Characteristics of New Media

The reading for this week is “The Language of new media” by Lev Manovich is crucial for understanding of media evolution. From the first sight we might not even think about the complexity and the logic of new media structures. In his Book Manovich explores the phenomenon of new media vs. old media. He is stating that the logic behind new media, the laws of its structures are tremendously different from characteristics that were presented in old media. The author presents to the reader 5 main characteristics of new media which make it unique and very different from old media. Here are the main characteristics of new media:   


1 Numerical representations

2 Modularity

3 Automation

4 Variability

5 Transcoding


In my analysis I will be focusing on just only 2 aspects (characteristics) of new media: Variability and Transcoding.  Manovich sees the Variability to be very crucial, it is one of the main characteristics of our postmodern society when everybody is getting his own version of an images, sound etc. Variability manly became possible because of digitalization (all information in digital media are coded using binary data 0 and 1) and Modularity or postindustrial society (which means that all objects in digital media are composed as separate discrete units, which can be rearranged or recombined at any time. Numerical representation of data and Modularity leads to Variability of content. It’s much easier to reconstruct discrete elements of data from which new media consists and it will output a different version of an image or sound (the example is automatically generated WebPages, every time the page is generated by user’s demand it might have slightly different information and layout.  We might also think of “cultural industry”, consumers gained the power of creating what they want their products to be like (for example through Nike’s website customer can make his own color design of sneakers, submit an order and receive his unique product).

                According to Manovich Variability has its own principles such as:

  1. All media elements are stored in media databases
  2. Separation of the level of data or content and interface (we are able using the same data create different interfaces)
  3. Media composition is automatically adjusted according to the unique information about user ( such as hardware type or browser)
  4. Branching type interactivity (example: menu navigation options, user provided with choice were to go next)
  5. Hypermedia. (one type of media is containing different elements of multimedia. For example power point presentation might not only contain text but also video and sound clips, which are separate media element connected together via hyperlinks)
  6. Periodic Applets. (software is constantly updating, as a result users might have slightly different version of the same media)
  7. Scalability. (this principle is overlapping with media customization which means that user can get the different level of details of certain media according to his demand or technical specifications of his hardware. For instance, the users with slow internet connection will get the textual view of web pages without flash, images or sounds. The producers of the content create different versions of their media products which varies in the level of details and file size)


Here are some other example of scalability described by Manovich: Wax Web, Stephen’s database-driven representation of film The Birds by Hitchcock.     

                Transcoding (to translate into different format) defined by Manovich as the most crucial factor of media computerization. New media is represented by digital data; it has its own computer logic and organization. The author stating that new media has two different layers behind it. Manovich calls it cultural layer and computer layer.  Under cultural layer we should see the structural organizations that make sense for the user (in other words the data is represented similar way as it was done in old media). However, we should take into consideration that digital media has a completely different structure and logic behind it. For example any color that we see on a computer screen is represented by a hexadecimal number which has nothing to do with the visual characteristics of any color (for instance web designers know that  # ffffff means white color,  and  # 000000 stands from black color).  From this examples it is apparent that discrete units from which new media are composed do not have any reference to what they represents, how many people, not having a specific knowledge would be able to figure out that # 000000  stands for black color, I think that nobody would be able to do it. This hexadecimal number is one of the examples of what should we think of when we are talking about computer layer. For Manovich it is very important to demonstrate to his reader the complex relationships between computer and cultural layers. These 2 organizational structures influence one another, with understanding of characteristics of new media (Numerical representations, Modularity, Automation, Variability, Transcoding) we should see that cultural layer is shifting.   

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4 responses to “Characteristics of New Media

  1. Your insert of the Second Life clip is interesting. Second Life has been an online computer game that has continuously sparked up much conversation. People say that they take it almost as seriously as their real life (some people even go overboard). I have never played Second Life nor have I ever attempted to but I think it is somewhat like the Sims. The Sims games keep advancing and developing capacities to do almost anything and everything we experience in real life. This form of media seems entirely new to me. We create an online digital world that is like a duplicate of ours. In addition, we can create avatars where we can go as far as selecting their characteristics. Why is it that we want to re-create reality in a digital form?

  2. My take on a reason why people want to re-create reality in digital form is that it is endless. There are no limits and people have the freedom to escape their own personality. Digital world offers endless possibilities to customize and mesh oneself into a world where he/she can re-create one’s identity. This sense is intoxicating: being able to be whoever you want to be and escaping your physical boundaries.

  3. I’ve never heard of Second Life before, but after watching the clip, it reminded me of The Matrix and Surrogates. It’s the same concept of creating a digital reality as the comments above read. After reading your post and the reading, I take these desires/obsessions of re-creating digital forms of ourselves as variability taken to the extreme (and possibly to its limits). Being able to customize Nike’s is only the first step of our manipulation of variability that could possibly result in creating our Matrix.

  4. I think that your choice of Second Life is one that allows the ability to explore the many layers of Manovich’s “The Language of new media”. The two main connections that I can make of Second Life and the article are that 1) the cultural layer has been superimposed upon Second Life in the sense that the representation of media in this case a game, allows for the user to interact with the computerization of media without the new media being intimidating. The cultural layer in this example consists of graphics and music.
    However Second Life takes the cultural layer and adds to it the new media dimension in this case I feel that it brings both modularity and variability to the fold. The modularity and variability is brought forth in the sense that these characters that one lives through can be rearranged, reconstructed and re imagined according to their discrete numerical units by the choice of the player.

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