Our editor describes new media as any computer-based artistic activities. However, that definition expands to interactive exhibits in museums and new tools of commerce, computer games, Artificial Intelligence (AI), networks, multi-media, 3D modeling (and now 3D printing), CD Roms (has-beens), DVDs (practically has-beens), animation rendering tools...
Pieces are presented and aided by computer software, algorithms, different media and semiotic logics, text parsing, image manipulations.
He says digital medias challenge our “romantic ideas of authorship" (because of the interactivity, the collectives, the on-the-fly publications).
He says digital media pieces challenge our ideas of the one-of-a-kind object (because of the infinite copies and infinite states).
He also says they challenge our ideas of a centralized distribution of control (for example, the Internet network that has bypassed the art industrial/commercial system).
Digital media challenges our deeply held conceptual, ideological and aesthetic beliefs.
Cyberculture even possibly challenges our ideas about our own human identity and culture.
The keywords are modularity, variability and automation.
On the downside, some people have developed a literal fetish for the latest technologies.
Manovich says new media is always an incorporation of the old, morphs with the old, guided conceptually by old media (just the names of tools alone: page, frame, desktop, icons, maps, zoom, pan).
At one time proponents believed new media would build a better democracy because there would be less centralization of propaganda and that more intimacy between people online would "eliminate distance.” Disinformation and propaganda have since exploded but from de-centralized spaces (so they were half-right).
There were worries (as there is with every single communications innovation, including the printing press and motion pictures) that new media would cause the erosion of moral values and would destroy the relationship between humans and world (which is not looking like such a crazy idea now).
The real breakthroughs have come with "faster execution of sequences of steps, sorting, counting, compositing, changes in quantity and quality (he singles out new recent forms, like the music video and photomontage between 1985-1995).
He then tracks a very interesting historical mesh of a timeline:
The Modernism era ends, Post-Modernism begins, new visual/special communication techniques are used to challenge societies attitudes, constructivist design, typography, cinemograph editing, montage, mainstream computers cut-and-paste, memes, windows, tables, filtering reality in new ways, collage, media assets, film, audio, raw data processed and mined, manipulating databases, search engines, simulations.
In the 1960s we saw interactive happenings, performances, installations, processes, open systems, (we didn’t always need computers for this, by the way), the principles of modern GUI were articulated, networks created and imagined...
...finally realized in the 1970s with the Internet, UNIX, object-oriented programming, better networking, workstations, real-time control, the graphical interface (Macintosh 1984), draw and paint programs, creativity tools, the first inexpensive computer, Atari with sound, video games, movies, Photoshop, (a key application of post-modernism, he says), big business goes online, government goes online, higher education goes online.
In the 1990s we have real-time networks and an exploding Internet, “a radically horizontal, non-hierarchical model of human existence in which no idea, no ideology, no value system can dominate." Fast forward to QANON and the Russians exploiting social media algorithms in 2018 and dominating the fringe of each political party, fully controlling one.
Manovich calls the Internet a “perfect metaphor for new post-Cold-War sensibility.”
It's good to remind us right now this textbook is old
The challenge to the "romantic idea of authorship" never did prove its point fully. Most humans still seek a somewhat direct communication between other humans. Engineers have been the only ones to declare this point won; we’re not even close to a consensus of artists, writers or art critics.
The same goes with the challenge to the one-of-a-kind object. Original art, the handmade culture of etsy.com all still thrive. Museums still have more stuff than they can display in a hundred years.
But the point about distribution, this is what I feel is still relevant and revolutionary. It's a double-edged sword, though. Sure, you can easily disseminate your own work now but so can everyone else. And some messages are full of much more propaganda and mind-manipulation than others.
All cultural gifts are problematic. Take Manovich’s explanation of the web browser itself as a cinema screen (I know Millennials who don't own TVs anymore), a music player (ditto: no stereos or portable devices), a museum, a library, a game console.
Just try to share with a Millennial or Gen Z person any kind of pop culture artifacts. They're a generation of people disabused of the idea that pop culture must be owned and living inside their habitats. This means sharing a mix-tape with a Millennial or Gen Z aficionado is very challenging as music (for example) has become oddly re-centralized. The Neil Young vs. Joe Rogan controversy of the day shows just how precarious that centralized stereo system can be.