Manovich’s The Language of New Media

Consider the selection that you read from Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media and our class discussion today.  We broke down the five main concepts that Manovich identifies as essential to new media analysis: numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding.  In your blog post, select one of his five terms, discuss how he defines it, and give an example of its relevance or application in analyzing new media artifacts.


13 responses to “Manovich’s The Language of New Media

  1. In helping define new media, Lev Manovich lists and defines five principles in “The Language of New Media.” The first section is Numerical Representation. This principle contains two parts. He states, “A new media object can be described formally (mathematically).” The second is that the algorithm can be manipulated.
    Manovich explains that data is continuous. Digitization is the process of converting continuous data into a numerical representation. It has two parts, sampling and quantization. Sampling refers to the step where data is collected at regular intervals, breaking down the data into discrete, specific units. Quantization assigns these units value. Old media may be sampled but not quantified. Manovich uses the example of motion picture film. The film has been sampled into frames, but these frames are not numerically represented. He explains why the idea of discrete representation became a component of old and modern media and not limited to new media. He defines language as being parallel to the discrete tendencies of media, “without discrete units, there is no language…we speak in sentences; a sentence is make from words; a word consists of morphemes, and so on.” He concludes this assumption saying, “We may expect that media used in cultural communications will have discrete levels.” Human language epitomizes communication, and media connects different forms of communication; therefore it can be concluded that the discrete units that make up language would be present in media.
    Manovich goes on to criticize this assumption by using photographs as an example, “photographs, for instance, do not have any apparent units.” He also analyzes how the discrete units of modern media do not have any relation to how it affects the viewer unlike morphemes. He then gives another basis as to why modern media has discrete components, the assembly line. Henry Ford revolutionized the factory system by “the separation of the production process into a set of simple, repetitive, and sequential activities…” Modern media follows the division of the factory system. However, according to Manovich, new media does not follow the model of mass standardization but instead individual customization.
    The relevance or application of numerical representation litters the internet. Because of the quantified samplings in new media, templates or algorithms can be created to give the user a more personalized experience. Amazon can formulate a list of recommended books based on the user’s prior browsing history. A click on a different type of book (like the user usually looks at teen fiction but then starts clicking on history books) will alter the algorithm and offer the user more of the new selection.

  2. The third of the five principles that Manovich identifies as essential to new media analysis is automation. Automation is the basis for things like artificial intelligence and virtual reality. In this chapter Manovich talks about low and high level automation. He describes low level automation as the type “in which the computer user modifies or creates from scratch a media object using templates or simple algorithms” (32). In other words, the computer through user manipulation the computer can generate an image or other desired manifestation. High level automation requires very little user input or output. This requires the computer to understand a user’s semantics to a certain degree (32). This can be seen every time we go on Amazon and book suggestions pop up or on any website that has advertisements that come up based on what you are searching for or were searching for at some previous time.

  3. In Lee Manovich’s article The Language of New Media he talks about five different ways of media and how to break them down as far as parts and functions in a sense. One term that he used was “Modularity”. He defines it as “fractal structure of new media”. (30) Basically saying that it is the structure of each piece of new media. Media has different elements that can range from images, sounds and shapes to pixels, text or 3-D points. Each smaller piece can be put together to make a bigger picture, but still keep their own individuality. The example that he used was “When an “object” is inserted into a document, it continues to maintain its independence and can always be edited with the program originally used to create it.” (30) This helped me understand modularity a whole lot better. Its basically saying that we can insert and image and we can edit it how ever we want to get the larger picture, but no matter how much we edit it, it will always be the same initial image we started out with. So with modularity, it’s all the little, independent pieces that help make up the main, bigger picture.

  4. Transcoding, according to Lev Manovich, is the process by which something is transformed from one form into another. For example, taking media and turning it into computer data. However, once it is transcoded, or transformed, it takes on a different shape digitally while remaining the same visually to the user. Manovich refers to these two different visual planes as the culture layer and the computer layer. The culture layer is what remains recognizable to humans while the computer layer, you guessed it, is digital coding that the computer uses to translate into objects we are familiar with.
    Transcoding is an eternal process. Manovich writes, “As hardware and software keep evolving and as the computer is used for new tasks and in new ways, this [computer] layer undergoes continuous transformation” (16). As long as new technologies are developed, new office applications, new photo manipulation programs, new flash sites, etc., the computer layer will continue to evolve. The underwriting will become more complicated while new opportunities for the user become available. Visually, the screen will remain the same. The computer screen will still consist of individual objects of information that can be individually manipulated by the user with the aid of the ever-changing programs.

  5. In Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media the term that I chose was variability. He defines variability as “something that is not fixed once and for all, but something that can exist in different, potentially infinite versions.” What he is saying it is that you can take an object and manipulate it in a way from the original version that it varies by using other values to change the outcome of the original. Variability basically is a sequence of numerical representation and modularity, which are both principles discussed in this article. It is also not possible without the 2nd principle of modularity. One example of this is hypermedia. In hypermedia, multimedia elements are connected by a hyperlink. This keeps the original structure of the article intact and the elements and the structure separate from one another. The article itself would not change only the results of the articles that you locate that are connected to it would and this change depend on the hyperlink that you chose during the research of the article that you are reviewing. You are to look at an article see an interesting hyperlink and click on it. The hyperlink is designed to take you to another article without changing or compromising your research. It is there to enhance it or show you different ways your research can be looked at. This is what he means by variability.

  6. Lev Manovich aims to explain new media in his work The Language of New Media. Manovich analyzes new media by arranging it into five principles: numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding. Variability, the fourth principle, is described as “something that can exist in different, potentially infinite versions” (Manovich 36). To better explain the concept of variability, Manovich compares old media to new media. Perhaps the most notable difference between old and new media is that old media is created by humans while new media is created by computer. Also, old media uses a master from which identical copies are produced and distributed. On the other hand, new media is defined by its ability to morph endlessly. As Manovich describes, “instead of identical copies, a new media object typically gives rise to many different versions” (Manovich 36). Manovich also divides variability into seven principles, such as media databases, user interfaces, and automatic updates. A good example of variability that Manovich provides is hypertext and how a one reader’s experience may differ from another’s depending on what hyperlinks each reader clicked. In short, variability is the principle of new media that gives a sense of uniqueness to users of new media.

  7. Lev Manovich, author of The Language of New Media opens his discussion on the five principles of New Media by stating, “All new media objects, whether created from scratch on computers or converted from analog media sources, are composed of digital code; they are numerical representations.” In order to explain what he meant by numerical representation, Manovich chose to explain “digitization”, which is the process by which analog media is converted into digital media. He also contrasts the continuous nature of old media to the discrete nature of new media.
    The process of digitization involves sampling and quantization; which is first collecting data at regular intervals from continuous/old media, breaking the sample into discrete parts, and then finally assigning a numerical value to each of those parts. Manovich also explains that old media is not always continuous but can be a combination of both continuous and discrete coding. Manovich makes the argument using the example of film that, even old media in discrete parts is not quantified and therefore also not digitized.
    Finally, Manovich explains why discrete representation is part of certain old media. He first uses the example of the discrete nature of media as a parallel of language, explaining that all of language’s discrete parts from paragraphs, to sentences, to words, to morphemes have meaning but that with digital meaning all the parts do not have meaning. However he unearths that the most likely meaning for the use of discrete parts is the time period in which it emerged, the Industrial Revolution. This leads to media echoing the factory system which created division of labor, standardization, and identical copies able to be made.
    In analyzing new media, the quantification of digital data leads to two consequences according to Manovich, new media can be described mathematically and new media is subject to change by applying algorithms. This application of mathematical equations, allows for various variables to be changed in digital media, creating opportunity for customization and personalization. For example, algorithms are used by to determine what other items they should recommend for you to buy when you go shopping on their site. Numerical Representation allows the data that is put into the website through your purchases, to be numbered and then also be reorganized to create a customized experience for you online all determine through mathematics.
    Numerical Representation and its use in algorithms creates the ability for new media to move within according to Manovich, “a quite different logic of post-industrial society—that of individual customization, rather than standardization”.

  8. In the Manovich reading The Language of New Media he uses five terms to analyze new media. The term I focused on in class was variability. New media is characterized by variability; therefore, we can infer that variability is not something that is fixed but something that can exist in different and potentially infinite versions. A quote that expresses this well states, “Instead of identical copies, a new media object typically gives rise to many different versions” (36). This reading tells us that variability is closely connected to automation and would not be possible without modularity. My understanding of automation is that it’s the different choices a person has of where to save his or her work. I understand modularity by associating it with the drop boxes on the computer. There is a set of choices but no more.
    In the variability section, Manovich discusses seven cases of variability principle. The first is that media elements are stored in a media database. Second, it is possible to separate different levels of “content.” Third, information about the user can be used by a computer program to automatically customize the media composition. The fourth principle deals with branching-type interactivity, a program in which all possible objects the user can visit form a branching tree structure. The fifth principle is hypermedia, multimedia elements that make up a document connected through hyperlinks. Sixth is periodic updates, modern software applications can periodically check for updates. The last principle is scalability, different versions of same media can be generated at various sizes and levels of detail.

    • In the essay, The Language of New Media, Lev Manovich describes five vital principles of new media, which is used as a means of describing the differences between old and new media. One of these important principles is the term called, “variability,” a term that distinctly translates as “changeable” or “alterable.” Manovich distinctly claims in The Language of New Media that variability is simply, “a new media object is not something fixed once and for all, but something that can exist in different, potentially infinite versions” (41). An example of something that contains variability is the different versions of Apple ITunes, which appeared in 2001 as Version one and now has evolved into more complex versions and is currently evolved as Version 10.0.1 for Microsoft Windows. More examples could be Internet Explorer or Microsoft Word Processor varying versions. Manovich continues to say that there are other terms that contain the same meaning as variability which are “mutable” and “liquid” (41). In other words new media such as moving images, or sounds, contains the form of variability by the fact that both of these attributes are immediate to change. For example in science the definition of a liquid is basically a group of molecules that move freely. Furthermore, Manovich also continues and mentions seven basic principle cases or terms that exist within the concept of variability. They are:
      1. Media elements are stored in a media database
      2. Content can be created from the same database
      3. Media composition create elements themselves
      (For example, the social networking site, Facebook asks for one’s personal information. By gaining this information, Facebook has the ability to post that information, which can cause other computer programs to use it for their own purposes.)
      4. Branching type interactivity
      (Users can connect through different sites by using a tree branch style structure.
      5. Hypermedia
      (According to Manovich, Hypermedia is, “the multimedia elements making a document are connected through hyperlinks”) (43).
      6. Periodic updates
      7. Scalability
      Also, Manovich uses a few examples of variability to help show relevance to new media that exists today. One example that Manovich mentions is the various tools that are used in Photoshop 5. While in old media, pictures that were taken from a camera that consisted of film were in one fixed form, while today one can upload a photo onto their desktop computer and open the photo into Photoshop. As a result, one can use the “variation” tools to change the photo completely into a new form.

  9. In Manovich’s, The Language of New Media, he discusses the five principles of new media. Of which, our group discussed and presented “Automation”. “Automation”, as defined in Manovich’s words, is an ability of new media where “human intentionality can be removed from the creative process, at least in part” (13: 1st paragraph under “3. Automation”). What Manovich means is that in new media the computers are now able to provide input and output with as little input from human beings interacting with the new media. He also goes on to further breakdown automation into two types: low-level and high level. An example of low-level automation that he uses is Photoshop (13: 2nd paragraph under same title). In order for the user to achieve what they want when using Photoshop, he/she must put forth input to change the image scanned into the program as he/she wants. Photoshop won’t correct the images for you automatically; you must tell it what you want done to the image and then Photoshop will process your request and correct the image. So low-level automation requires lots of input on the behalf of the human. Whereas, high-level automation is much different. An example of this type is when Manovich discusses characters from computer games (14-15: 2nd paragraph). Manovich explains that ” the characters in computer games have expertise in some well-defined but narrow area such as attacking the user” (14). Also, he explains that the characters “effectively respond to the few things the user is allowed to ask them to do: run forward, shoot, pick up an object. They cannot do anything else” (15). This means that with high-level automation, the computer is allowed to input and output commands/actions without requiring the user to put forth as much input. But it also means that the computers are limited to only doing the things they are allowed from programming. Thus far, input cannot be entirely avoided by the user. Interaction with new media requires input because without some bit of input from the user then interaction with the media does not occur.

  10. In Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media lies a definitition of what “new media” is, by giving the principles of “New Media”. He assigns each principle a term that he later breaks down, providing examples that range from the first computer to the very first photograph. However, all terms mesh into one final term, which he calls “Transcoding” (Manovich 26). To understand the meaning of transcoding he breaks down each principle.
    The first principle, is “Numerical Representation” (Manovich 8). The quick way to understand this is to think of everything as having a numerical value, but in the end all numerical values come together to make a whole. This can be thought of as the computer image. The image has a value within the computer, but by assigning new numerical representations the picture can be distorted and arranged to change the whole image. Which, leads into the next principle.
    The second principle is “Modularity” (Manovich 11). Modularity is like space. All parts remain separate, but can easily be assembled into one space. With modularity Manovich gives the example of The “world wide web” and he says “In short, a new media object consists of independent parts, each of which consists of smaller independent parts, and so on, down to the level of the smallest “atoms”-pixels, 3-D points, or text characters” (Manovich 12). He breaks down the world wide web and how there are different web pages within the world wide web that can be accessed separately, rather than as a whole. Things can be separate, as well as changed. Manovich’s next principle describes change.
    The third principle is “Automation” (Manovich 13). Automation is the automatic change of elements that may already exist. An example of this is the word processor. The word processor can change to any format needed for the person who intends to use it, automatically. There is no need to go into anything and change it. Another example of this is the photoshop image, something that is scanned into the computer but can automatically be fixed or adjusted by the computer after finding irregularities. So the computer communicates with other elements to create a new image, thus providing the third principle.
    The Fourth principle is “Variability” (Manovich 17). Elements of these new media’s can be changed easily. Variability allows movie clips to be set to different songs . Things can be arranged in different formats and structures, providing the user with different outcomes. So, this leads to the next principle.
    The fifth principle, and the most important term is “Transcoding” (Manovich 26). Transcoding basically skims over each of the terms in the same way that transcoding involves each of the terms. Transcoding basically breaks down everything it one thing, transcoding is like the communication process between each of these terms that reflects the end-user product. It is the conversation between the numerical representation and the modularity that provides the user with a computer image that is visible and reflects the old media, the photograph. Transcoding is the workings of all of these principles into a final product.

  11. Automation is one of the five new principles of media that Manovich describes as being some of the key differences between old and new media. Manovich goes on to say that “low level automation” is “in which the computer user modifies or creates from scratch a media object using templates or simple algorithms, (p. 32). Manovich’s examples of low-level automation includes but is not limited to: 3-D graphics, word-processing, and image-editing, like photoshop. In these examples, Manovich explains that for Photoshop, for example, a person must physically manipulate the changes made to an image so that the desired look could be created – the computer does NOT do it for you without you telling it. In class, the example that I told was about blog sites, or in my case, Xanga. Being a long-term user of Xanga, I know for a fact that in order to change the appearance of the layout to my page, I have to go to “edit look & feel” and type in specific html codes so that I could add a video, a music playlist, or simply change the colors of my page. I cannot simply wait for my page to change its appearance by itself – I have to alter it directly. In contrast, “high-level automation requires a computer to understand, to a certain degree, the meanings embedded in the objects being generated, that is, their semantics, (pp. 32-33).” In other words, the computer is able to decode the given information without much help. An example that Manovich gave were the “bots” in chatrooms that simulate human conversation. The example that I gave in class about high-level automation was the Addy Doll that I received for my ninth birthday. As a young child, I was obsessed with Addy because she acted like a real person. I could communicate with her and she could understand and answer me. For example, she came with a slot incarved in her back that I would place reading cards into. Everytime I entered a card, she would tell me a story and ask me to be her friend – and YES, her lips moved! (Of course I had to recharge her for her to communicate with me, but for the most part, she didn’t need my assistance for speaking because it was already programmed in her.) A quote that Manovich used to described ALIVE (in which the user talks to an animated character) goes in fittingly with my relationship with Addy: “The character, generated by a computer in real-time, communicates with the user using natural language, it also tries to guess the user’s emotional state and to adjust the style of interaction accordingly, (p. 33)”. This sounds exacly like Addy! – she would try to guess how I am feeling and would want to cheer me up – it was almost as if I was talking to a real person! It is amazing how technology advances!

  12. Manovich describes one of the basic aspects of new media as automation, the ability of a computer to think for itself through the numerical coding of media and its inherited intelligence (individual make-up). Manovich dichotomizes automation into two parts; low-level and high level. He goes on to state that low level automation is a process in which the computer requires full participation and instruction from its user to create the manifestations of images and objects. Another example that Manovich provides for automation is when a user visits a web site the computer automatically generates the information needed for web pages for that site. High level automation is a process in which the computer is compltely dependent on the user. It is thus the computers job to be able understand the meanings embedded in the objects they generate. What Manovich means by this is that in high level automation the computer is expected to do all the work. The individual make-up of the computer itself, is expected to be able to demonstrate some form of A I( or artificial intelligence) in which there is a very low level of participation on the users end. This is exemplified in chat rooms where there are “bots” that are utilized to mediate and examine human conversation. The computer is also expected to adjust to a real time environment, guess the user’s emotional state, communicate with user through the user’s natural language, and be able to do all this while it can adjust to any style of interaction accordingly. The AI engine basically uses two ways of trying to simulate human intelligence; rule-based systems(complex algorithms), and neural networks(links on web pages).
    Manovich goes on to talk about how in the arena of video gaming the user who perceives the video game to be very open and full of the flexibility to do whatever they want , is actually very codified and rule based. The user can only do what the program was performed to do and cannot go outside of that box- even though the user assumes and thinks that the game is virtually limitless to options and actions. This juxtaposition is based on the idea of the imaginative component of virtual reality and the ability of the user to “control” its video game character. In doing this, the creator has made it possible for the user to feel superior and thus the creator has the made a way for the user to potentially overestimate his or her powers in the video game world. Either way in low level or in high level analysis it is the computer that depends on us to create the software that it will read and then it can potentially manifest its ingenuity based off of what we create.

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