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22 Apr

Today at High Pressure Days, we have a curious blast from the past.  I would like to take some time to consider the Introduction to a book published aaallllllll the way back in 1999, when the Digital Humanities was young, fresh-faced, and filled with a sense of optimism for the future, as uncharted and tempestuous as it often seems.  The book is Redmediation: Understanding New Media by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin.  The purpose of this particular book is to study the process indicated in the title- Remediation.  As far as I can tell, the central concern of Bolter and Grusin’s text is to establish a much-needed sense of continuity between the so-called (and it should always be called ‘so-called’) ‘New Media’ and older forms of media.  The process of a newer form of media borrowing from the features and techniques of older media is remediation.  The key to understanding any novel media formation is to consider the primary function of all media- to mediate experience between actors.  Remediation is the changes undergone by technologically constructed forms of communication.  

The most tantalizing question that I asked myself while reading Bolter and Grusin’s piece involved the debate over the possibly teleological nature of technology, or whether or not media technology and new media forms were ‘going somewhere’, and the possibility that there may come a time when media reaches a perfect form, making no further alterations or developments neccessary.  What would that perfect form look like?  The Introduction to Remediation begins with an account from the film Strange Days, a curious science fiction effort that depicts a new form of media called ‘the wire’ (no relation) that allows a person to come in direct contact with another consciousness.  It is a form of media that effectively obliterates mediation as such.  If technology generally, and communication technology in particular, has a telos, i imagine it would resemble in form and function something like the wire. 

This suggests that the ongoing tendency to alter the nature of mediation through the development of new media platforms and technologies is essentially a desire to go beyond mediation as such.  Since the act of communication (here understood to be nothing more or less than the transference of information from one party to another) is of central importance to media, the question I am inclined to ask is why are people so keen to alter the way they communicate, and why the ‘perfect’ form of communication suggested by ongoing technological developments is what it is.  My own pet theory would be the ‘theory of scale.’  Human communities keep getting bigger, more stratified, and ever more complex, and our ways of communicating and conceptualizing other human beings has not quite kept pace, and modern alienation is the order of the day.  In this kind of post-industrial social environment, the desire to experiment with new forms of making contact with others and forging human bonds must be very strong, although whether modern media such as the World Wide Web has increased or decreased the overall sense of alienation in the wider culture is very much debatable.

Like everyone else involved with the Digital Humanities, Bolter and Grusin are concerned with the interface, and identify the experiential extremes of immediacy and hypermediacy (What’s a new humanities paradigm without a neologism?).  Immediacy is the interface which most allows the user the feeling of direct, or immediate contact with an experience, while Hypermediacy is close to the exact opposite, an interface that draws attention to itself and conspicuously alters the nature of the experience being mediated.  Bolter and Grusin seem to not unreasonably believe that there is demand for both kinds of mediation, and the interplay between these two extremes no doubt informs a great deal of what is of the greatest interest in the process of remediation.  It is also what will probably most undermine any ‘teleologically’ oriented understanding of the development of media.