In Remediation, Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin analyze new technologies and their implications for American society. Although the book emphasizes the ways in which new media can be conceived in terms of recent literary and cultural theory, the theoretical discussions do not pervade the work. Therefore, the book can still be quite useful to those who don't wish to delve too deeply into theory. In fact, Bolter and Grusin acknowledge the different emphases of the book's chapters in their introduction and offer readers a guide to help them make the most of their experience with the book, with respect to the readers' goals. The three sections of the book discuss the authors' theory of remediation, the place of new media in American society, and the place of the Self within the context of new media.
In the first section of the book, Bolter and Grusin offer the notion of "remediation" as a way of thinking about new media. What they term "remediation" is "the formal logic by which new media technologies refashion prior media forms" (273). Bolter and Grusin attempt to contextualize their theories about new media within the framework of modern preoccupations with what they term "immediacy" and "hypermediacy." The desire for immediacy is a desire for a transparency in media that obliterates or lessens the perception of the media themselves in the viewer's mind. The reality of hypermediacy is the preoccupation with media itself and a hyper-awareness of the media through which our information comes. Bolter and Grusin place the logic of remediation within the context of our historical preoccupation with these trends. The new media discussed are primarily the visual: computer games, digital photography, photorealistic graphics, digital art, film, Virtual Reality, mediated spaces, television, and the World Wide Web. Discussing each of these media in great detail, the authors devote the second section of the book to demonstrating the way that the idea of remediation plays itself out in each. Bolter and Grusin examine how each new medium refashions older media and how they are often refashioned themselves. For example, they show that animated computer graphics draw upon the tradition of film and that film is now starting to draw upon the new offerings of computer graphics. They cite as their evidence a film such as Toy Story. Another example they point out is the remediation that occurs between television and the Internet. The Internet uses patterns established by television in order to determine how to appeal to viewers, and television uses new strategies of windowing images with the scrolling tickertapes and texts it has borrowed from Internet styles. Within the remediations that both new and old media undergo, Bolter and Grusin demonstrate how the twin desires for immediacy and hypermediacy are at work.
The final section on the Self attempts to discuss how the presence of the new media in our society affects individuals' perceptions of their own identities. By allowing people to engage in different discourse communities with different levels of immediacy and hypermediacy, the new media allow for a remediation of the notion of self and community. Bolter and Grusin specifically point to the immediacy of Virtual Reality as a starting point for empathy with other people and beings. If a person can use Virtual Reality to play the role of a gorilla, that person gains a new concept of his or her identity with respect to his or her experience as set apart from that of a gorilla. Bolter and Grusin also examine in detail whether the new media have implications for the mind-body split that is central to the theory of Cartesian dualism. Some argue that technologies such as Virtual Reality emphasize the split by creating a disembodied environment for the mind to inhabit. Bolter and Grusin, however, ultimately claim that such technologies cannot allow people to escape the perception of their own bodies. In fact, by allowing for new ways to conceive of the body and the mind, new media allow for a remediation of the body that is parallel to the remediation of the Self.
Overall this book offers interesting theories about the way technology functions in our society. It is, therefore, a good starting point for anyone who wants to consider the implications of using this technology and thereby becoming complicit in the culture's striving for immediacy and hypermediacy in our interactions with technology. Those implications would continue further for us as we remediate our old styles of teaching or otherwise interacting with technology to suit the newer forms that will inevitably appear.
Of course, to be concerned about how your use of technology fits into this framework, you must first be convinced by Bolter's and Grusin's arguments that remediation is a force at work in our society. Personally, I find their arguments convincing in their simplicity of structure and in their wealth of evidence. Although the discussions of Lacanian, Freudian, feminist, Marxist, and other theoretical approaches can be at times heavy-handed, underneath there is an insightful commentary on the way technology functions in our society.