Software Takes Command: 5 (International Texts in Critical Media Aesthetics) Paperback – 29 Aug 2013
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The language of new media is embodied and expressed---lent visual and interactive form---through software. Software is the agent of our every digital experience. And software is a quintessentially human artifact. The fact that it is intangible---you can't reach out and touch it---is the least interesting thing about it. This long-researched book, which synthesizes critical theory, human-computer interaction, and media history as well as newer approaches from the digital humanities, allows software to take its place as a commanding element in our conversations about computers, and how we work, play, learn, and create. -- Matthew Kirschenbaum, Associate Professor of English and Associate Director, Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, University of Maryland, US With Software Takes Command, Lev Manovich seeks to answer a central question: 'Why should humanists, social scientists, media scholars and cultural critics care about software?' His answer is a provocative, historically informed book that breaks new ground in digital humanities, in new media studies and in what Manovich defined in his earlier book The Language of New Media, as software studies. Through a theoretical analysis of the computer as cultural metamedium and a probing history of 'media software' such Photoshop and After Effects, among others, this is essential reading for anyone interested in how software has changed how we work, create, and perceive the world. -- Tanya Clement, Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Texas, Austin, US Computers haven't transformed media--they've shattered the very idea of a medium. Lev Manovich connects the dots of software society, from layers in Photoshop to layers of data, interpretation, and meaning. --Martin Wattenberg, Software Artist and Scientist
About the Author
Lev Manovich is the author of Soft Cinema: Navigating the Database (2005), and The Language of New Media (2001) which was described as 'the most suggestive and broad ranging media history since Marshall McLuhan.' Manovich is a Professor at CUNY Graduate Center, a Director of the Software Studies Initiative at California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, and a Visiting Professor at European Graduate School.
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Through a series of theoretically informed and empirically rich chapters, Manovich reflects on how different media became thoroughly infused with software, how it altered different practices, and how to make sense of software’s effects. He persuasively argues that softwarization has led to the formation of a new ‘metamedium’ in which what were previously separate media become fused. This metamedium is composed of a composite of algorithms and data structures, and techniques that are general purpose (such as cut-and-paste) and those that are media-specific which combine to produce various forms of ‘hybridity’ and ‘deep remixability’.
Given the logic and power of the argument forwarded it is relatively straightforward to begin to translate Manovich’s argument and approach to other domains. Software, after all has gradually been infusing the practices of work, science, home life, communication, consumption, travel, and so on. It will be interesting to see such translations being made and for the theory to be fleshed out as it encounters new scenarios and phenomena.
My view is, however, that such translations need to be broader and more ambitious in their scope. Whilst Manovich is undoubtedly right that software is a key metamedium utilising new metalanguages that are reshaping cultural practices, the analytical framing adopted over-fetishizes code at the expense of its wider assemblage of production and use. This is because his proposed approach is quite narrowly framed. However, we need to be careful not to lose sight of the fact that software is bound up in a whole suite of discursive and material practices and structures (systems of thought, forms of knowledge, finance, political economies, governmentalities and legalities, materialities and infrastructures, practices, organisations and institutions, subjectivities and communities, places, marketplaces). Understanding software then requires placing it within its wider context.
Manovich rightly contends that software is a new ‘medium in which we can think and imagine differently’ (p. 13), but we should not fall into the trap of over-fetishizing and decontextualizing it. Nevertheless, Software Takes Command is a very good starting point for understanding the ways in which software is taking command.
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Content-wise, Manovich intelligently draws the chain connecting historical digital software development to how software consumption and development exists now, hinting how it may influence the future. Since Manovich is tracing media history, he pulls upon specific inventions, software, and artistic movements to make his case, giving quite a lot of useful references to existing authors, literature, and software examples that you can look up with your rather postmodern, hybrid, metamedia computing device.
Overall, recommended if you are ready to learn about a potentially trendsetting media narrative, and don't mind dealing with sections or paragraphs that are tough to get through for the wrong reasons.
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