[-empyre-] on "new" & a little history
Hi Folks, this topic about the name "new media" has me yearning to submit a wee rant before the whole thing becomes too passe, if I'm not too late already.
The 'new' of "new media" is all at once: an anachronism, a contradiction in terms and, a self realising prophecy. The 'media' of "new media" is a singular pluralisation where, as in the case of its cousin 'mass media', all evils are rolled into one.
The term "media" is actually a bastardisation of English language [after the Latin]. In English, the plural of 'medium' is 'mediums'! Many dictionaries note that "media" as an aberration of usage, as if the editors are reluctant to have it escape as a word and hope that it is just a passing fad.
Interestingly, the earliest use of the term "media" that I have found [and here I'd love it if someone can prove me wrong] is actually in the 1919 address by Lenin to the First Congress of the Communist International [or at least in its translation]:
" ...the defenders of 'pure democracy' prove to be defenders of an utterly foul and venal system that gives the rich control over the MASS MEDIA..." [my capitalisation of the words for emphasis].
Electricity was considered a medium at the onset of the modern era [and here I note Henry Warwick's reference to our "...age of Petrolium..." in his 9th Jan posting to this list- because, yes it is that, but really we live in the 'electric age']. Even though electricity was not then understood as it is today it is worth considering the following statement from 1620 by Francis Bacon (Novum. Organum, II, xlviii):
"[T]he powers of bodies are more or less impeded or advanced by the medium, according to the nature of the bodies and their effective powers, and also according to that of the medium. For one medium is adapted to light, another to sound, another to heat and cold, another to magnetic action, and so on . . ."
Bacon's reference is to the observation of magnetic action by his peer, William Gilbert. Indeed it was Dr Gilbert (physician to Queen Elizbeth I) who coined the term "electrick" - his work was precept to an understanding of current, paving the way for many investigations including, the identification of the process of electromagnetic induction by Farraday in 1831.
With respect, there seems to me some confusion in parts of this discussion. Just as the term "virtual" has come to be too readily associated with computerisation and its more fundamental meaning obscured, so too in the digital age we seem to have lost touch with earlier understandings of the condition of mediatation.
Pierre Levy points out, the virtual is "...the knot of tendencies or forces that accompanies a situation, event, object, or entity, and which invokes a process of resolution: 'actualization'." Levy makes an important distinction between 'realization', which is the transformation of the 'potential' to the 'real', and 'actualization', which "...implies the production of new qualities, a transformation of ideas, a true becoming that feeds the virtual in turn."
Levy says that "the construction of a society takes place through a process of virtualisation". (Levy, 1998, "Becoming Virtual. Reality in the Digital Age")
I believe that human cultures share the conditioning of primal requirements: food, water, air, fire, shelter. In shared responses, as we strive to acquire these essentials, our diverse cultures exist. Within frameworks of social interactions, we share resources, and in the process, the archetypal necessities become the catalysts for mediation, from which extends all desire to communicate. Tools, implements and technologies are agencies and control mechanisms for manifestations of conveyance, transferral and accomplishment. We also use the word 'mediums' to refer to the substances and the physical qualities of our environment that enable communication.
A communication design practitioner and theorist, such as myself, is well advised to consider a medium, not just in terms of it's artefacts, nor only as a tool that fashions the artefacts, and neither as the raw material. A medium is a condition resulting from the operands: ideation, craft and socialisation. I think that there may be equivalences between these and what Levy calls the trivium of processes of virtuality: signification, technology and virtual relations.
There is nothing new under the sun (only an infinite number of ways of talking about the same old things). This contributor is all for avoiding the term 'new media'. How about 'electrick mediums'?
Phew! Got that off my chest!
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