Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wed: Is it the form or the content of the screen that is controlling?

In The Language of New Media, Manovich addresses recurring themes in both "printed word" and our "society of the screen". To begin with, Manovich seems to stress the importance of the page in media throughout history. Beginning with tablets, progressing to scrolls, then returning to pages in a book, and finally merging past forms with the a scrolling web page. Even computer OS will be comprised of the objects resembling pages.

Later in his piece, Manovich describes how screens dominate technology, old and new. His primary examples range from paintings to tv/computer. He goes on to describe how the the form of the screen makes it necessarily controlling.

However, I have issues with this.
First, it seems as though the thread he used to pull together the evolution of the "page" is very similar to that of the "screen". Both his definitions were largely based on the rectangular shape, and extend vaguely to the way content is displayed on each. For pages, it is that the text is linear, in columns, etc. On the other hand, screens are windows into the space of representation (95). In one example, a web page is an extension of the page. In another, the monitor on which a web page is displayed is a screen. In this context, doesn't a screen seem to be a mere adaptation of a page? With this is mind, where is the line drawn between written word and the modern screen? What is it that makes a screen able to exert control on its audience?

The first issue that Marovich suggests is that of the necessity for a common perspective for a screen. Thinking about TVs, desktop computers, etc. this seems logical. Thinking about newspaper, books, etc. we would also naturally not think this limitation applies to "pages" in written text. However, with the progress of mobile electronics, I think the distinction between pages and screens is severely blurred. How is reading an ebook on a kindle different from reading a newspaper? Furthermore, an iphone certainly seems more portable than many textbooks.

This seems to suggest that mobility is not the real issue. Indeed I would argue someone who is constantly texting, surfing, playing, and downloading on their iphone wherever they go is more controlled than someone who enjoys certain programs on TV. The issue of control then seems more of content capable on a screen than its form (and its form's dependence on perspective). It is not that a newspaper is mobile, but that it has a limited amount of information on it that does not make it controlling. On the other hand, (digital) screens can continuously display new information, controlling the audience who is captivated. For this reason, it feels like content controls, not form. I would therefore argue that the "screen" of a Renaissance painting is hardly controlling, despite its immobility and necessity for a certain perspective.

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