Category Archives: Characteristics

Media and All Things Computational

 

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Last semester, when looking for classes in Albert, I remember what I first thought when I read the name of this class: Intro to Computational Media. My first thought was, ” I wish I was smart enough to take a computing class.” That thought then became, “maybe I AM smart enough to take a computing class.” And finally, “You know what, screw it, It doesn’t matter if I’m smart enough or what- I’m taking a computing class.” Computing has always been something that interested me. When I was five years old, I got a large white PC computer for my christmas. My twin brother got a go-kart. My older brother got a motorcycle. Today, I spend roughly 6-8 hours a day on my computer. It only makes sense to know the ins and outs. Until I decided to take this class, that was something that I had just accepted that I would potentially never know.

Computational Media is the future. Those who understand how to use it will adapt with future advancements. Those who understand the ins and outs will create those future advancements. This is something I recently realized. Thus, sparking my interest in taking this class.

I took this class for a number of reasons. One of which, is that — as with my Gallatin concentration — human interaction with computer is simply, communication. Whether it be myself writing this blog post right now or someone walking down 6th avenue taking a photo on their smart phone, a very special form of communication is occurring. That is, the asking of the computer to perform an action and the return of the computer performing an action. People tend to forget that interaction is occurring. As these devices are becoming more so extensions of the body, these interactions become as commonplace as let’s say- asking your finger to bend or asking your knee  and the other various necessary human parts to bend and stand.

This class- as with computational media- taught me how exactly that interaction occurs- through the various means and methods.

My Gallatin concentration is more so focused on how we, humans in 2014 and in the past, use technology as means of communication. I find it fascinating how we communicate with computers in order to communicate with humans. If that makes sense… If you had asked me what my concentration was prior to taking this class- it would have been something completely different. My thoughts are a bit jumbled. Well, that’s what’s on my mind right now. Kind of a stream of consciousness. Hope is doesn’t read as a bunch of 1’s and 0’s.

/rant

These Mediated Environments

When we imagine environments, what comes to mind are environments in which we live, work, and play. Think of one now. The scene you painted in your head may be filled with images of people, places, and things…but have you thought about these things, and how a proliferation of them are digital? So much of life is mediated by the screen that we scarcely live outside of it. TV shows (even if we no longer watch them on a TV), social media, songs — culture has become digital culture. We live inside of our media.

Anthropologist Edmund Carpenter, in his essay “Obsolescence,” writes that “Electronic media have turned the entire globe into a midden. Artists are now busy transforming all of our yesterdays into now. The whole world has become a happening.”

Recently, there has been an increased importance on social visibility: we take pictures at events to share them with people so that they know we were there, doing that thing, at that time. There is this notion of being present (at functions, at least seemingly to other people) while being being absent (consuming everyone else’s media instead of actually engaging in the function you are at).

The whole world has become a happening…but it has the potential to be a happening with each other. More than anything else, this class has taught me that media itself is an environment and that media is malleable. It is an environment we can change.

Barry Schwartz, during the 2014 Ted Talks, said that “We design human nature by defining the institutions within which people live and work.” As students in Intro to Computational Media (or Digital Encoding, et al.), we have the potential to define these environments and institutions, and shape our lives and culture. There is this pessimistic vision of the future where all communication happens virtually, and people are espoused to their devices rather than to each other. A more optimistic vision would be one where interactive media acts as a bridge between the environment and the public to creates new forms of communication and increase interactions between people. Rather than merely consuming, they will be engaging, participating, playing.

What the heck is “computational media”?

My Gallatin IAPC (Intellectual Autobiography and Plan for Concentration)  is due in 2 weeks (*resumes hyperventilating*) so I’ve been thinking very hard about everything I’ve done and plan to do as a kid in college and why. I hope that after I write this post I can give a I-know-exactly-what-I’m-talking-about explanation to curious ones who ask what I’m studying instead of shriveling up and answering to avoid further questions, “Art and computer science.”

I am not exaggerating when I say that checking out the Guggenheim’s Gutai: Splendid Playground exhibition last spring, through a lovely friend’s recommendation, change the course of my intellectual life. A collective of Japanese artists formed in the alienating shadows of World War II and Hiroshima, the Gutai were focused on questioning and understanding the nature of humans’ relationships to everyday materials, physical space, and technology. I don’t remember everything I saw but something I read on that walls of the Gugg still remains, that the Gutai aspired to “break down barriers between art, the public, and everyday life.”

A year after the exhibition, I’m taking classes in digital media and computer programming and I’m pondering on the same questions as the Gutai did. In 1974, following the end of an active Gutai, Ted Nelson (the “Tom Paine of the person-computer revolution,” wrote Stewart Brand) loudly and urgently proclaimed in Computer Lib/Dream Machines that the chasm between computer insiders (in the industry and academia) and the ordinary public be closed so that computers can be understood in essence as “versatile gizmos which may be turned to any purpose, in any style.”

“People have legitimate complaints about the way computers are used, and legitimate ideas for ways they should be used, which should no longer be shunted aside.”

He uttered this concern at the dawn of a new media revolution that would become as, if not more, significant as the impact of the printing press and analog photography — “the shift of all of our culture to computer-mediated forms of production, distribution and communication,” as Lev Manovich puts it. Nelson dreamed of a new human experience with computers, one that would “enable new generations of media” in a “radical, open publishing network.”

The computer had a very dull beginning as a calculator of math too frustratingly complex for humans. Then people started thinking and materializing what else the computer can do better and thus for humans, and now we’re either obsessed or terrified over its power over us and the language it understands but most of us can’t, its “artificial intelligence.”

But Ira Greenberg assures us that the computer is inherently dumb and it will “do only and exactly as [it is] told, without any assumption, reflection, or self-awareness.” It is us humans who give it a purpose, for capturing and translating our actions and thoughts into new forms of expression — “intelligence amplification.” The computer is a machine for making your dreams come true, big or small. Alright, maybe Snapchatting or sending emoticons to show is a weird dream, but knowing that we have a tool to not only create but to share, remake, rip apart, and become a part of a culture is breathtaking to me. Abe Hamoid, the saint behind funprogramming.org, displays on his blog: “Code allows me to see the things I imagine.”

But it is also us imperfect, self-centered, and biased humans who, as much as we may assert otherwise, give the computer a meaning that isn’t perfectly neutral or innocent. Ted Nelson was aware of this and hence all the more urgent that people realize this potential of the computer to do good and bad in both our physical reality and, increasingly relevant, the one made of bits.

“It matters because we live in media, as fish live in water…we can and must design the media, design the molecules of our new water.”

“The things people try to do with movies, TV and the more glamorous uses of the computer, whereby it makes pictures on screens–are strange inversions and foldovers of the rest of the mind and heart. That’s the peculiar origami of the self.”

Gee, that’s lovely. Something Red Burns once said in an interview with John Maeda comes to mind.

“It has never been about the tools. It has always been about people — how people use technology, and how these technologies can help people communicate.”

I’ll end for now with the hope that more and more people, including myself, would not stay intimidated and alienated by the language of technology because some of those we entrust to lead the way into our future depend on us remaining oblivious or feeling powerless. Maybe I’m naive in saying this but let’s trust our own hopes and dreams a bit more, even if we start off by sitting on our beds and staring at a computer screen. That computer screen is home to what Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee describe today’s digital environment in The Second Machine Age, the “playground for large-scale recombination [of ideas].”

(I still don’t really know what I’m talking about.)

Computational Media

Because of the opportunities it affords, computational is currently the most exciting field of media production. Because of it’s modularity and adaptability (universality), computational media allows creators to invent entirely new ways of producing and parsing information, as well as expanding upon the methods of traditional media by digitizing them.  Before this class, my primary academic exposure to computational media had all been theoretical or philosophic, rather than hands-on. Aside for digitally-processed traditional media, photo, video, writing, etc), this class has been my first foray into media which is born from and inextricably tied to computers.

Computational media is a very broad term, rapidly growing to encompass a vast majority of all media produced, as we rely more heavily on computers. The term encompasses all ‘new media’ that was created with the use of computers. Another staple of computational media is it’s interactivity. For the most part, users participate in the reading of new media, and provide feedback, which, in turn, alters their experience with the information. This stands in stark contrast to old media, which had a 1-directional flow, telling viewers, rather than asking them. Another feature of new media is accessibility, primarily because smartphones and other devices have become   so widespread, taking the form of an auxiliary limb. However, just because something is transmitted though a computational media channel, does not automatically make the information being communicated ‘new’ or ‘computational.’ Watching an old film on a computer does not make the original media object any different, unless menu items, online shopping, or other such features are integrated into the viewing experience.

The Arduino, which we have used extensively throughout the semester, is an excellent example of computational media, as well as a metaphor for its interactive elements. The Arduino, like any other computer, can produce different effects independently after being programmed, but what it does particularly well is reading signals and signs form the physical world, and translating them into information which can be easily processed by a computer. The code used on an Arduino is also modular and universal, making it easily transposed, much like movable type, and possible to read on any capable machine.

The breadth of computational media will only continue to grow in the future, as we increasingly rely on our devices to process and make sense of all of the data in our lives. It will likely be impossible to be successful in any field without at least the basic knowledge of how a computer works. The majority of users of technology see it as some sort of magic that floats around in a cloud and gets beamed down to them at the click of a button. Being ignorant of how this ‘magic’ works leaves those people at the mercy of the magicians. However, it is not likely that theft between users and adopters will continue to grow for much longer, as typing courses and basic programming begin to replace cursive and foreign language in schools.

The key to not becoming overwhelmed is to approach computational media and other technology as a tool to be taken advantage of, an extension of ourselves which enhances our lives. This is especially true as we move toward a world where nearly everything is electronic–an internet of things, where each of our possessions communicate amongst each other, collaborating to make our lives better or more convenient. Though the prospect of everything we do being turned into parable data can be somewhat daunting, even scary, it is just the nature of change. Instead of combating it, we should embrace the place that technology aims to take in our lives and take full advantage of its benefits. 

Computational Media and Storytelling

For my Gallatin Colloquium, I’ve been reading a lot of books that warn against the dangers of casually incorporating technology into every aspect of our lives. Two of the books include Amusing Ourselves to Death  by Neil Postman and Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle. In both texts, the authors argue that we are continuously shirking our social responsibilities by hiding behind technology.

I would argue, however, that from the perspective of someone tinkering with computational media, the opposite may be true. While no one can debate  the existence of a strong community of nerds who hide behind their computers online, I’ve found my experience with computational media, especially physical computing, to be much more engaging than the casual online chat. With physical computing, we are taking abstract ideas and bringing them to the material world. The data collected comes from human interaction in the real world and can potentially create some sort of disturbance in the physical world as well.

From my experience, while the end-result of a computational media project may be a simple game or a horrible animation, the behind-the-scenes work is what is truly fascinating. Now computers and arduinos can be ordered online for a small cost instead of found only in the bowels of MIT. People like myself, who have virtually no coding experience, can learn to think in new ways and process information to create art. We can work with people from completely foreign fields and create something harmonious. This accessibility is totally mind blowing to me because it is creating new forms of communication for people who would normally stick with more traditional storytelling media like music, writing, or film.

Computational Media

My impression of computers has always been is the cold and logical digital machine of  1’s and 0’s. It is capable of extreme computation, a brain whose organization can is far superior than the human brain’s. It’s still unbelievable that these machines are the driving force behind latest innovations of today. I’m used to thinking the computer as a GPT (general purpose technology) with the “potential of impacting different sectors of the economy. And as a potential computer science major, I am want delve into the possibilities. And in this class, I was fortunate enough to explore the more physical aspect of it with the Arduino and the 3D printer.  The field of computer science has been reeking with  progress and inventions.

Until this class, I had never really thought  about the actual communication between humans and computers. David Deutsch in The Beginning of Infinity argues that the jump to universality,  or as he says: “the tendency of gradually improving systems to undergo a sudden large increase in functionality, becoming universal in some domain” and that it is solely through digital systems that this jump is reached. And he explores language and its evolution as a kind of digital process because of all the rules of language that “cover not only every word but also every possible word.”  One the one hand, computers with their own language of 1’s and 0’s are able to accomplish many more things than humans. With algorithms and functions, they are able compute more faster and more efficiently than us. But on the other hand, humans with their own language have furthering their ideas much longer than computers have been (since the beginning of  civilization), and are also the ones responsible for the creation of the computer itself.  And it is because of these “digital” rules that humans have been able to achieve so much.

But there is also the “analog” aspect of human language, and it is how humans have tried to translate these aspects into their created digital computer language that is truly interesting. The digital is cold-hearted yes/no, whil the analog is the more emotional and tonal part of language. While we have the digital rules to construct sentences, there are far more nuances to the human language that convey how we are “feeling”. The best way to understand the complication between translating the analog aspect of the human language and the digital understanding of the computer is a conversation by email vs. a conversation on the phone vs. even in person. The digital email message is just the basic message itself but the actual feeling of the writer is often lost or misunderstood. However, in person or on the phone, the listener can understand the communicator more thoroughly because he is aided by gestures, facial expressions, and the tone of  voice. Thus it is putting the analog part of human language back into the digital computer language that I think is one biggest goals of computational media. 

Often times when choosing between analog and digital there are clear sides, but when they try to interact and “work together” it is interesting to see the result. And I think digital art is one of the clearest way people have been successfully expressing themselves and their feelings through computers. I haven’t had much exposure to it.e traditional sense of the fine arts, but I think because of the growing potential computers have, the potential of digital art is also growing too.  

The other interesting field I don’t know much about but I think interesting is AI. I really don’t have much exposure to this field, but  it is interesting to compare a more human-like robot to the more pure analytically-minded IBM’s Watson who participated in Jeopardy. In this field, I think that the analog communication of human language will be successfully interpreted by these digital machines of ours.

Anyways, to finish off this meditation, here is an digital art installation at a gallery in Japan that  I worked at.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4IlCGAxlz4

It’s simple in design, but I like how it captures the wonder and appreciation of, and curiosity about the world — the more analog feelings of my heartstrings.

Rant

In 1965 Gordon E. Moore claimed that computing hardware growth would enable computers to double in speed and other capabilities approximately every two years. In 2014 we find this claim to be roughly correct. Computers have transformed from room-sized to pocket-sized, and their capabilities have grown significantly along the way.

This evolution is occuring faster than I can really keep up with. At work last summer I was researching a computer security company. The litany of acronyms and knotty relationship of computational vocabulary terms showed me that truly understanding how something as apparently simple as email works is no easy task. That week, I took a dive down the rabbit hole and am still falling. I love it. I’m in wonderland.

I love ICM because we are trying to bridge the gap between “tricking electrons” and expressing ourselves. Consider ‘expression’ as the mouth of the rabbit hole, and the “tricked electrons” on the non-linear, opposite end. We are exploring the part of the rabit hole that is most tangible. Phyiscal computing gives us an essential framework for understanding our relationship with the machines.

Computers don’t discriminate based on age, race, or gender. To a computer, all humans look the same until told otherwise.

humanputer

This is both a good and bad thing. Its a bad thing because it makes communicating with a computer difficult. Discovery of the relationship between each others INPUTs and OUTPUTs has a steep learning curve. Losing three hours of my life because I forgot to put a semicolon somewhere is bad.

Yet the pros of this non-discrimination greatly outweight the cons.  Technology is a democratizing force (think TwitterRedditHypeM), which is why Open Source is such a powerful idea. Technology empowers to those willing to learn and particpate, allowing people to self-actualize. Much like the printing press, computers allow more people to add scale to our actions. This is the first era where a teenager can out-muscle a mega corporation with the right tools.

I remain uncertain about what the future holds for the relationship between man and computer. Yet as Moore predicted, this future is arriving at a exponentially faster rate. I think the Matrix trilogy was poignant in suggesting that mishandling our relationship with computers will lead to our slavery. At the same time, films like Her, Cortana from Halo, and Claptrap from Borderlands suggest that humans and computers will become more intimate friends, not enemies. I sleep next to my phone every night, which is more than I can say of any human…

 

Characteristics of Computational Media

Computers were created to make things easier. They were made so that humans didn’t have to do mindless computation. An algorithm can be written and a computer can work with enormous numbers in a faster amount of time than a human could.
Tone is one of the biggest complications in communicating through computers and communication in general. Not everyone has the same sense of humor or the same level of understanding. Someone can say something they believe to be harmless, but for some reason or another it is taken in an offensive manner by the other person. This is made even more difficult when people are communicating through by way of computers. The style of someone’s writing can be very different from how they would convey the same message if the person was standing in front of them. The generational gap also has an effect on communication. The younger generation is more casual about how they compose their messages. It’s harder to read into how serious someone is. Computational media definitely helps with artistic expression and can also aid in evoking a desired mood in the viewer.

Computer Machines

hello earth people

I am a huge Luddite. I am generally skeptical towards all things of new ‘technology’, and as a good rule of thumb, I like to keep my communication, and my ideas, analog and on paper. 

When I explain to people that I am interested in New Media art and interactive design, my apparent distaste for technology seems to directly conflict with my stated interests. How is it that I want to work with a medium that I openly object to? Honestly, this question appeared to be a paradox, even to myself. However, the more I thought about different elements of what I liked and disliked about new technology, the incongruity cleared.

Computers utilized for communication create a virtual prison for users. By communication, I mean the mundane dialogue between person x and person y; scheduling dates to meet, things to do, talking about whose dog at which homework- all of these discussions that we have to fulfill our innate desire for social interaction are poisonous when combined with new technology. Because computers allow users to always be available for communication, people are able to hold tens, or hundreds, of these benign conversations every day.  As we are desensitized to the practice of multiple conversations, this becomes the norm in our social habits. We grow the number of dialogs we have at a singular moment in time, because we can. We build webs of conversations, which serves as a constant reminder of how not alone we are in this world. Always online, always connected. The idea that people are always on social media is a terrifying and saddening reality; noses buried into smartphones, unable to stop dancing thumbs, and instead, experience the world outside of this imaginary bubble-society. This bubble of virtual reality serves as a perpetual distraction to the life in the real world. Maybe moderation is the key to both better communication and greater happiness, but from what I’ve seen, there is no moderation with social media. Moderation would juxtapose the foundation of social media, which is to be connected at all times, any hour of the day. Sometimes it’s nice to be off the grid, you know? No expectations, no communication. Virtual prison is not such a nice place.

The reason why I love New Media art and interactivity is that it utilizes computers for communication in a way that isn’t petty and trivial. These designs create experiences that allow viewers to experience the surreal, which seem to break away from the stupid-shit-for-brains web of mundane communication. The brain becomes dull when it relies too much on computers.  Minds lose the ability to think organically, which is an integral part to creativity and innovation (arguably the driving force of an upwards-growing society (Brynjolfsson and McAfee, The Second Machine Age)). Computers have usurped their role as ancillary tools and instead, have become the creative force instead. Sadly, that is the once function computers cannot do, which is generate new ideas from nothing. When people interact with this new technology art and experience the illusion of the 4th dimension, they actually put their damn phones away for a minute, crane their necks back, and focus on the physical world around them. Computers are not the enemy; they have been nothing but good since their creation. However, people’s insane abuse of the computer machine’s  abilities has consequently created a mutation in social habits that is essentially making us all more apathetic, less intelligent, and  generally a lot less interesting (although I like the cats. We can keep the cats).

</communication>

Art Accessability and Computational Media

When we started this class we were discussing what computational media is. At that point if had I been asked to define it I wouldn’t be able to and I probably would have babbled something out about computers and art and “stuff”. Even now I don’t think I can articulate it very well and I would say that it’s not entirely a short coming on my part, but that it’s also hard to define succinctly. So to quote the late Justice Stewart, “I know it when I see it.” Beyond that I know that computational media and physical computing are revolutionizing art everyday and that blows my mind and has shaped my concentration at the same time.

Computational media has allowed for a whole new level of interaction in performance/installation art that wasn’t there before. It allows for a higher level of multi-media interaction between performer and audience or the audience performer and art. It also helps make it more accessible to audiences in ways that may not have been often thought about before. For example, using physical computing components like the gloves developed by Imogene Heap, a project that is only in the idea stages in my head would allow Deaf individuals interact with music in a way that would bring enjoy meant to hearing and non-hearing people. This project would allow individuals to paint on a projection (using LED tracking), and would allow them to change color and line quality through manipulation of the gloves. This aspect is the visual and tactilely appealing part for those involved (but especially Deaf individuals). A program similar to this one: http://games.fugly.com/Game/repeating-sound-grid.swf would then take the color and location of the drawing and create a looping sound that would always sound good together (go ahead try the program, it is tuned so that any combination of notes sounds good together unless you just click too many than it just get’s jumbled but whatever) which would be the appealing part for hearing individuals. In other words this allows Deaf people and hearing people to interact in a way previously barred to them, it would create a bridge between the two in art. Without computational media I personally don’t see a way that this project could come into being.

This is just one of the ways that I feel computational media has had a positive impact on the world and why I feel like it should be pursued. It allows for further accessibility for those with different abilities, sometimes in ways which one wouldn’t expect. So though some may fear what the future holds in this field, I for one am looking forward to the future.

Transmedia storytelling and all

Some talk:

For my main interest area, which is animation, I’ve always seen computational media as an interactive platform that may expand the compatibility of the work. After taking this class and seeing lots of projects being made, I definitely see the dynamic range of “computational media” as a term, but also make me determined in utilizing such a great tool into my projects. We could basically do anything: programs that not only benifit to computers, but also literature, game, performing theatre, narrative and experimental film…

While thinking about this topic, I’m revisiting my expanding cinema class last semester in which, though not as half interesting as ICM, discussed a ton about trans-media storytelling in its economical and social influence on films. The variability and automation of new media, as Manovich talked about in his book “the Language of New Media”: “The user plays an active role in determining the order in which the already generated elements are accessed.”The ability to do so doesn’t only save us energy and time in performing various branches of a plotline of the film that would interact with the user’s preference, but also create a unique experience for difference users (audiences).

I noticed that everything sounds really vague…What I’m trying to get at is that interactive interface is not a new topic anymore. I’ve always been amazed by interactive projects and how accessable it is comparing to film. How much something that you could actually touch attracts you. Animation is two dimentional, and the storytelling is limited to the screen. Using the motors, photocells and leds, I guess eventually I will be able to communicate with the audience, and make that experience part of the story I want to tell.

Characteristics of Computational Media

As we concluded on the first day of class, “computational media” is a relatively vague term. However, participation in this class has given me a more specific sense of what the field can offer and the sort of skills that are required to create computational media projects. Initially, I could not identify the difference between digital media and computational media. However, what I’ve discovered is that the latter involves a much deeper understanding of how computers work, even in their most basic forms. In particular, the Arduino demonstrated how physical computers can be in their interactions with the “real world.” Both Arduino and Processing revealed the tedious nature of coding, but they demonstrate a certain learnable reasoning that is involved in the reading and writing code. I’m still baffled by the way in which computers can seemingly understand any variable imaginable, but I guess that’s what allows us to use them as creative tools. To sum up the characteristics of computational media, I guess I’d say that the key elements are code and an original idea. The element of creativity and innovation separates it from basic programming and computation so that the computer functions like any other medium and artists’ tool, just like paint & a brush or pencil and paper. It simply carries out a coded concept in electronic form. For that reason, I’ve developed genuine respect for computational media as a form of artistic creation.

rantrantrantrant

computer_-_happy

In the interest of my field of study, I am going to blog about the nature of “New Media” rather than “Computational Media” (which, I suppose, could be argued to be the same thing). I acquired a copy of The New Media Reader with intros by Lev Manovich and Janet Murray.

Manovich’s “New Media from Borges to HTML,” which discusses the history of the new media field. It wasn’t until the late 80s that the field really began to develop in mainstream culture. There were precursors to new media as we know it today throughout the 60’s and 70’s with Fluxus art and happenings. These emphasized infinite possibilities for an art event or object depending on which branch of narrative you followed —- a very Borgesian approach to art. New institutions dedicated to new media were opening up around Japan and Europe, which had government funding to explore technology as an art and creative endeavor. In the 80’s and early 90’s when new media technology was being further developed, America, for the most part, was still attached to the idea of artistic works being one-of-a-kind, tangible creations of single artists. In the mid-90s, universities in the western states began to introduce digital new media programs into their institutions. The thing about New Media, is that it’s difficult to define, especially at the rate with which new technology is being created and implemented.

Software design is the biggest proponent and shaping force in the new media discussion, particularly the GUI developed by Apple. It had a great impact upon modern art. With the development of computer software, artists are able to utilize such technology in augmenting their artistic visions. Putting the user against a static digital environment, like a desktop, allows infinite possibilities of where software and the web could take the user. This is where Borges’ ideas become synonymous with new media. Manovich claims that the software developers and pioneers in inventing new media technology are the true artists, who then allow others to add on and create within their vision. Manovich says that “the fact that the user can easily change everything which appears on her screen, in the process changing the internal state of a computer or even commanding reality outside of it.”

Computers were initially invented to complete algorithms, and to complete them more quickly and efficiently than a human being could. These algorithms were operated by means of machine code. This acted as a sort of “Tower of Babylon” in that it created and held a universal language that could be understood and processed in any country and on any machine. All of a sudden, walls and language barriers between countries and cultures were destroyed. Communication grew faster and faster, and tools were being created to enhance human skill. Computing act as tools in this way, where they have the ability to enhance human capabilities, while also acting as a communicative and creative entity at the same time. The digital medium is a singular concept with numerous iterations and forms. It has no start and end and weaves off into other parts of itself, but still is one cohesive thing. Networks and the web are the clearest example of this weaving and branching image of digital media. The web is a computer technology that is used as a means of distribution and can be used as an artistic medium itself.

Janet Murray is a well known as an early developer of humanities computing applications and a seminal theorist of digital media. In her essay, “Inventing the Medium,” she defined new media in as having four distinct qualities:
1. Procedural: as in completing a series of tasks efficiently.
2. Participatory: having an interactive component where humans converse with the machine.
3. Encyclopedic: the ability to sift through and store vast amounts of information. She sees this as having the most significance in influence
4. Spatial and multidimensional properties: the ability of a computer to create a new dimension of universe within itself. This is the idea of the computer as being a portal to a new realm.

Through this essay, Janet compares and contrasts Jorge Borges’s “The Garden of Forking Paths” to Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think”, analyzing the crossovers and deviations from the humanist school of thought and the scientific approach to examining digital media. She writes that Borges is fascinated by the frivolousness of language itself, whereas Bush interprets the world not as an imprisoning labyrinth, but a complete maze that can be traversed and solved by strategically organized and collaborative effort.

Going back to Borges, Murray examines his idea of the infinite space of the Internet and cyberspace that is found in “The Garden of Forking Paths.” Having written this before the Internet, it’s interesting to think how he was inspired by a similar mindset that media theorists analyze today. Borges was “exhausted by war and exhilarated by a dawning sense of globalism.” Today, we carry access to the world in our laptops and mobile phones. How much smaller can the world become in that sense? He feared the failure of linear media to capture the structure of our thought. Borges redirects our attention to look at how we think and how our minds are working. Not linearly, that’s for sure. With the digital age, we have access to unlimited information and our choices and possibilities are infinite. “We will be the makers of the labyrinth, the gods of our own machine,” says Murray.

Our abilities to “choose our own adventure” in the digital age are neither good nor bad, just different. Technology has changed the way our brains function, just like the invention of the clock came to dictate our internal schedules. Before clocks, we would eat whenever we were hungry, sleep whenever we were tired, and work whenever we felt motivated. The clock now says that noon is lunch, 5pm is time to go home, etc. Similarly, the web has changed how we think and create. If we have a tangential thought, we can research it immediately, thus shortening our acuteness of single subjects, and creating a huge emphasis on remixing and interdisciplinary thinking. The days of long, meditative tasks and sharp focus are dwindling.

Murray makes an interesting point of how technology is a self-portrait of the culture that creates it. “The machine, like the book and the painting and the symphony and the photograph is made in our own image and reflects it back again.” I thought that was interesting to think about. As cultural lines and concepts of distance and space are dwindling and our minds change to be more like Borges’ garden, it’s interesting to think whether computers are the result of our changing minds, or if computers were the ones that changed us.