As we wrap up a six week semester, we find ourselves reading the last two chapters of Manovich’s , The Language of New Media. Chapter five, “The Forms,” is an
exhausting extensive look into another aspect of the unique essence of computer reality.
The forms which he speaks of are a collection of documents (data base)
and navigable space (virtual interactive 3-D space).
These two dominant forms are favored for different reasons. The data base becomes the work horse and the 3-D space is associated with leisure and fun (computer games). All new media design can fall into these two categories. You’re either “constructing the right interface to a multimedia database or defining navigation methods through spatialized representations.” (p. 215)
Each form can be used separately, together, or interchangeably depending on the task at hand. Finding data, or using a search engine would utilize the data base. Playing a game and walking through a virtual landscape would utilize the spacial aspect. Utilizing both is a characteristic of many games today; working between obtaining or using data and immersion in the virtual narrative of the game. I discussed this phenomenon in the review of chapter 4
…the unique requirement of computer users to work in a peculiar temporal dynamic …”a constant, repetitive, oscillation between an illusion and its suspense.”
Manovich discusses narratives from the historical standpoint of literature and cinema. Our brains are familiar with a narrative that moves us through media in a linear fashion. We expect to be lead in some manner and given a cohesiveness trajectory for moving from beginning to the end of the story. Computer culture does not rely on the narrative in the same manner, or at all in some instances.
Database and narrative don’t share the same status in “computer culture”. Manovich notes this because all objects, no matter how they are presented, as data or narratives, are “on the level of material organization…all data bases.” Manovich poses the question “why do narratives still exist in new media?” Again he returns to the past to show that the dynamic between data and narrative has long existed. Just as older technology melds into the new, narratives , once the leader in media, flows into the world of computer data bases. Here it takes a back seat to the data base. This is summed up in a quote from Frederick Jameson (discussing modernism to postmodernism)
…features that in an earlier period of system were subordinate become dominant, and features that had been dominant again become secondary.”
Manovich often says what happens in society is reflected in computer culture ,and therefore, the opposite follows as well. The dynamic between the data and narrative in computer culture has roots in cinema of the past and present. Gathering the footage can be seen as forming the data base, editing creates a “unique trajectory through the conceptual space of all possible films that could have been constructed.”
In this chapter there are many examples of cinematic works that work plunge into exploring, restructuring and demolishing the narrative to expose the database. “Man with a Movie Camera” is hailed for its attempts to create a language through its film effects (techniques). However, Manovich points out that the very nature of the digital world subverts the attempt at creating a stable language because of the “constant introduction of new techniques over time.”
Gaming utilizes navigable space in many different ways. Some games have specific algorithms which the player must learn through trial and error. Other games, such as Myst, are exploratory in nature with no set narrative, but rather a free flowing experience in a virtual world. Manovich compares real world art installments to their computer counterparts. Each can offer a space that has an implied narrative (set path) or an open concept that allows the viewer/user to select where they will go. With this example, we are reminded of the reflective nature of culture.
At the end of the chapter, Manovich reiterates the idea that any cultural change cannot happen abruptly. He uncovers the connections of new media and the old, “the interplay between historical repetition and innovation.” In the end of the chapter he leaves us with these words,
In short, I wanted to create trajectories through the space of cultural history that would pass through new media thus grounding it in what came before.
As we evolve into a computer cultured society, we change our perceptions about navigating through virtual space utilizing databases. While the narrative will never disappear, it will change and evolve as we explore the unlimited space of hyper reality.