Manovich, Lev. (2002). The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

Manovich seeks to investigate the effects of digital media (what he calls  “the computer revolution”) on visual culture at large. Manovich draws from art history, literary criticism, photography, design, and most importantly film studies to ask the question: what is actually new about new media? To answer this question, Manovich engages a set of sub-questions:  1) How does the shift to computer-media based media redefine the nature of static and moving images? 2) What is the effect of computerization on the visual language used by our culture? 3) What new aesthetic possibilities are available to us? In The Language of New Media, Manovich drives home the telling fact that “today’s digital designers and artists use only a small set of action grammars and metaphors out of a much larger set of all possibilities” (Manovich 71).

Developing the possibilities of a new language for new media, Manovich develops the idea of a newly fashioned cinematic language, which builds on the aesthetic strategies of previous cinematic languages. These previous aesthetic strategies exhibited: “a particular configuration of space, time, and surface articulated in the work; a particular sequence of the user’s activities over time in interacting with the work; a formal, material, and phenomenological use experience” (66). Working toward building a new cinematic language, Manovich suggests: “If there is a new rhetoric or aesthetic here, it may have less to do with the ordering of time by a writer or orator, and more with spatial wandering” (78).

Manovich  observes that communication or telecommunication as social, cultural activity can drastically change the “paradigm of the aesthetic object.” He asks the following questions of the aesthetic:

”Is it necessary for the concept of the aesthetic to assume representation? Does art necessarily involve a finite object? Can telecommunication between users by itself be the subject of an aesthetic? Similarly, can the user’s search for information be understood aesthetically? In short, if a user accessing information and a user telecommunicating with other(s) are as common in computer culture as a user interacting with a representation, can we expand out aesthetic theories to include these two new situations?” (164).

While Manovich never answers these questions outright, he does develop several elements of the “new cinematic language” which can help point toward answers–elements which can cope with our data-rich, data-demanding lives. These elements include hypertext reading, montage, simultaneity, and the aesthetics of density. According to Manovich,  the aesthetics of density is  about representation of “contemporary information displays such as web portals, which may contain a few dozen hyper-linked elements or the interfaces of popular software packages, which similarly present the user with dozens of commands at once  Manovich ends by with more questions: “Can contemporary information designers learn from information displays of the past–particularly films, paintings, and other visual forms that follow the aesthetics of density? “ (327).

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