New Media vs. Old Media

Lev Manovich’s “The Language of New Media” delves into the intricacies of new media. In the first chapter, Lev Manovich goes on to outline the dissimilarities between old media and the new media we are immersed in today. There are five key difference are numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding.

1. Numerical representation

Whereas old media is made up of “continuous data,” new media consists of distinct units and numerical codes (ex.pixels). The digital code allows new media to be described as mathematical formulae, and to be manipulated by other formulas. For example, the entertainment industry is notorious for applying “algorithms” to improve photographs. It can be dishonest and presents the viewers with a distorted and unrealistic media objects.


Old media can always be transformed into new media by process of digitization, which samples the data and assigns numerical values. Digitization converts continuous data into discrete data. Manovich explains that most media are a combination of both forms of data. In a motion picture film, time is broken down into a number of samples (discrete data), but each frame is made up of a photograph (continuous data). Manovich theorizes that new media is made up of discrete units because roots began in the time of the Industrial revolution, when everything was standardized.

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At the same time, it allows for extreme flexibility and the ability to create images that may be too time consuming, difficult, or even impossible through old media.

2. Modularity.

In new media, media elements, such as sound and images, are independent. One element can be manipulated and edited without affecting the whole. Film editing software such as Adobe Premiere allows you to work on the images and sounds independently. The changes you make to the sound alone will not have any effect on the images. They are also entirely reversible. On the other hand, in old media, changes are irreversible and sometimes can ruin the object. By converting old media to new media, artists and professionals can edit, experiment and improve their work without risk. Another example is the Internet. As Manovich explains, each web page can be accessed independently.

3. Automation

The third key difference between old and new media is the fact that new media, “human intentionality can be removed from creative process.” Automatic filters on Photoshop, the Artificial Life program used by filmmakers and Artificial Intelligence are examples of automation. As we discussed last week in class, programs have been created to mimic human intelligence, from AIM’s Smarterchild to the ALICE program. Manovich suggests that the creation of new media became even more convenient than looking for a preexisting image towards the end of the 20th Century.

However, I must disagree with Manovich on automation. In the 21st Century, it has become exponentially easier to find preexisting images than creating your own. Electronic databases such as Getty Images, Flickr, and Google, have made our lives incredibly easy by storing mass quantities of information and allowing users to quickly and effectively find the new media objects they are looking for. Also, digital art has become a discipline in its own, boasting complexity and technique almost as much as traditional art. In many cases, it takes just as much time and effort as old media art.

Now I leave you with an epic, epic new media object.

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3 responses to “New Media vs. Old Media

  1. In response to this article, one passage caused me (Maggie Regan) to think of this section in a new way. The author wrote;

    “On the other hand, in old media, changes are irreversible and sometimes can ruin the object. By converting old media to new media, artists and professionals can edit, experiment and improve their work without risk. ”

    I agree with the sentiments of this concept. The transition to new media has made film making/production efforts shorter, cheaper, more manageable and severely has cut down distribution hurdles. However, I would like to add that while the aforementioned transition to new media can improve work, it can also have a negative consequence, perhaps by detaching the artist from his art more so. For example, if elements and principals of this boom of new media were applied to a branch of a Disney creative/animation department, the artists would be tinkering with computers and machines to brainstorm a new Disney princess as opposed to drawing one out by hand. The artists can more easily change the color or style of a character’s dress, or expression in her eyes with a simple click of the mouse instead of erasing and re-drawing. While the finished product is no better or worse than how the task was completed in the past, the noticeable differences effect the artist’s relationship with his/her work.

  2. Case in point– Disney’s return to hand drawn animation.

  3. As explained by Manovich, most of the new media today centers around digitization and numerical representation. Because of this, media objects are easily altered. Most of the images we see today, whether it be billboards, commercials, or simply pictures in our textbooks, are altered in some way. This “altering” has become an integral part of society; we can twist these media objects into whatever we want. Rarely is there an image that isn’t changed. As convenient as this is, it’s impacted us socially, especially when looking at images of models and celebrities. What we see is not real, but it can be hard to tell reality from the many distortions that surround it.

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