Communication is “the process of creating participation, of making common what had been isolated and singular” (Dewey 253). It “gives body and definiteness to the experience of the one who utters as well as those who listen,” and every part of the communicative process is “us, our processes, [aspects] of our embodiment” (Dewey 253, Haraway 534). Choosing a mode of communication, apart from what is being communicated, is an expression and thus creation of identity, via the perceptions of that choice by those within all relevant networks. That choice itself is paradoxically a “deviation-amplifying device” and a product of the homogeneity networks impose on “the character of links, the character of possible relations, and so the character of possible entities” within them, and therefore, that chosen mode is better understood as an assemblage that can only have purpose and meaning as a part of other assemblages, as prescribed and provided for by those relevant networks (Becvar and Becvar 26, Gane and Beer 28). No matter the mode of communication chosen though, new media are defined by a “range of new archival phenomena or ‘architectures of participation’” (Gane and Beer 72).
Participants in new media engage in prosumerism, simultaneously consuming and producing cultural objects and defining digital space as they use it. Given that “in cyberspace we have to work to forget,” this engagement with new media results in enduring “user-generated archives” in which users “record and share their day-to-day lives, along with their personal preferences, political and religious viewpoints, and reflections on events almost as soon as they take place” (Manovich 63, Gane and Beer 77). This deluge of private information into public space concerns some; they fear it trivializes the public space and politics and reduces citizen, which are understood to be “collectively minded,” to consumers who are driven by “individual wants and desires” (Gane and Beer 78). This mass participation also diminishes the role of the “experts and cultural gatekeepers,” which Enzensberger believed was ultimately to make themselves “redundant” as specialists believing that they have “as much or more [to learn] from the nonspecialists as the other way around” (Gane and Beer 78, Enzensberger 275). These user-generated archives exist in two “true cultural forms”: databases and 3D virtual space (Manovich 215).
Narratology “distinguishes between narration and description,” narration being that which “moves the plot forward” and description being “‘brute facticity’” (Manovich 216, Gane and Beer 50). New media have shifted the roles of these such that, contrary to traditional cultures’ providing group members with “well-defined narratives” to guide their understanding of themselves in the world, “today we have too much information and too few narratives that can tie it all together” (Manovich 217). Databases exist as a result of this collection, “as a new symbolic form of the computer age”—”a new way to structure our experience of ourselves and of our world” (Manovich 219). It is important to note that within the database every datum possesses the same significance as any other. This paradigm is comprised of two complementary software objects: data structures, which is the organization of “any object in the world,” and algorithms, which are the “simple operations” necessary to “accomplish a given task” (Manovich 223). Through these two, the database can be understood to be foundational to the narrative: The reader “must uncover [the narrative’s] underlying logic while proceeding through them—their algorithm,” “following links between [the database’s] records as established by the database’s creator” (Manovich 225, 227).
It should also be noted that a narrative is not created by virtue of database traversal; according to Mieke Bal, a narrative entails “both an actor and a narrator,” “‘a series of connected events caused or experienced by actors,’” and “three distinct levels”: fabula, which is logically or chronologically connected events, story, which is the fabula viewed from a specific angle, and text, which is the expression or embodiment of that story (Manovich 227). These requirements of continuity and perspective extend to space as well: “Navigable space is another key form of new media” (Manovich 252). Space, like “other media types—audio, video, stills, and text,” “can now be instantly transmitted, stored, and retrieved” (Manovich 251). However, computer-generated worlds tend to be discontinuous spaces in which objects are isolated as discrete entities, so the sense that objects are embedded in a spatial continuum and able to affect one another is lost. 3D virtual spaces are then just visual databases, “collections of separate objects, unrelated to each other” (Manovich 257). Despite the relative rarity with which 3D space is used as an interface, the spatial metaphor is ubiquitously applied to data access and manipulation, and whether operating within virtual space or metaphoric space, users have the power to define that space through their trajectory of it to replace the places “characterized by stability” and supporting “stable identity” with non-places, which is “the animation of a place by the motion of a moving body” and seem to facilitate something like Deleuze’s becoming.
Regardless of my periodically sympathizing with those who lament the loss of our cultural gatekeepers, I find myself singularly moved by the promise of the database as a narrative foundation and by the deluge of private information moving into the public space—blurring the lines between private and public as a fuller realization of subjective experience, because I see these as the means by which liminal existences will be thrust into the mainstream such that Haraway’s “powerful infidel heteroglossia” will be achieved.
Becvar, Dorothy Stroh, and Raphael J. Becvar. Systems Theory and Family Therapy. University Press of America, 1999.
Bolter, J. David. “Seeing and Writing.” The New Media Reader, by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, MIT Press, 2010, pp. 680-690.
Dewey, John. Art as Experience. Perigee Books, 2005.
Enzensberger, Hans M. “Constituents of a Theory of the Media.” The New Media Reader, by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, MIT Press, 2010, pp. 261-275.
Gane, Nicholas, and David Beer. New Media. Berg, 2012.
Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” The New Media Reader, by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, MIT Press, 2010, pp. 516-541.
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. MIT Press, 2002.