Manovich and Remediation

In Software Takes Command, Manovich challenges Bolter and Grusin’s remediation theory, claiming that computers surpass the mere remediation of previous mediums. Instead, the computer is “‘a metamedium’ whose content is ‘a wide range of already existing and not-yet-invented media‘” (105; italics original). In addition, computers provide the ability to translate various mediums into other mediums (e.g. audio into visualizations) and to control the viewing of a medium’s content.

However, what are we to make of the continued presence of older media? Although Manovich revises remediation theory’s understanding of new media, he entirely overlooks the more interesting, or at least less intuitive, claim that older mediums remediate newer ones in an attempt to compete economically, culturally, and aesthetically. As the title of his book suggests, for Manovich, software takes command. Therefore, there is no such competition between old and new media; new media easily encompass the old and, further, add to it. Why, then, the continued existence of oil-on-canvas paintings, print, cable, vinyl records, AM/FM radio, etc.?

Although new media is capable of simulating and adding new perspectives  to older media, it appears that some quality of older media may be lost in digitalization. Specifically, the meaning of text (in the broadest sense of the word) must change when it transitions into a digital medium. Manovich addresses this dynamic when he writes about hypertext and the various options for viewing, or otherwise experiencing, digitized media. As his quotation of Nelson suggests, “the philosophical consequences of all this are very grave” (80); hypertext “destabilizes the conventions of cultural communication” (81). Nelson remarks that hypertext may have “more teaching power” than previous means of dissemination, and perhaps it does. However, unless we are to perceive the continuation of old, mostly analog media as merely the remnants of the pre-digital past, and those who consume these media as merely conservative Luddites or retro fetishists, Manovich’s theory is incapable of answering why these technologies continue to exist and how they function within the broader media landscape.

If we are to take up Bolter and Grusin’s claim that these old mediums remediate the new in a competition for cultural and economic supremacy, we can shift the focus from how new media is more than the remediation of older media to how older media are possibly more than the remediation of anterior and posterior media. What happens when an older medium, say, literature, remediates digital technologies? Manovich somewhat examines the dynamic of translating a material sign into a digital sign, but how might we understand the reversal of this process?