Intro to Final (Draft)

In Inventing the Medium, Janet Murray draws attention to the problem of perceiving recent technologies as “new media,” as if the most observable quality of these forms of mediation were their novelty (8). And, indeed, the vast majority of research on computational technologies emphasizes their difference and distance from previous, usually analog, forms of mediation. However, much of the success of new technologies derives from the remediation of prior media conventions, genres, and affordances, and the socially and ideologically constructed positions always already in place before the introduction of newer media technologies. From this perspective, “new” media are in fact quite old and just as dependent upon specific social and institutional functions as all previous media. The “newness” of digital media derives from its existence on a computational substrate capable of simulating previous mediums (it’s a metamedium) through symbolic representation in binary code. This, in turn, enables a wide variety of Human-Computer Interactions (HCIs) through which previously fixed design features can be manipulated and individually curated. Through an analysis of the e-reader, this paper argues that digital remediations of the book rely on many of the same socio-cultural institutions as previous material incarnations of the author and book functions, and that these institutions continue to depend on the social and ideological functions of authorship and textuality, even and especially in the digital age. The introduction of e-books does not alter the bi-directional mediation between socio-cultural institutions and the book, but instead offers new means of interaction between reader and text. Nevertheless, in contrast to many speculations on the ability of the computer to absorb all mediums into a single metamedium, thus rendering analog media obsolete, print literature exists and will continue to exist alongside computational simulations in an analog-digital continuum due to the socially ascribed symbolic value to printed books and the unique affordances of the medium that resist digital remediation.