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Cinema by Numbers


For instance, old media involved a human creator who manually assembled textual, visual, or audio elements (or their combination) into a particular sequence. This sequence was stored in or on some material, its order determined once and for all. Numerous copies could be run off from the master, and, in perfect correspondence with the logic of an industrial society, they were all identical. New media, in contrast, is characterized by automation and variability. Many operations involved in media creation and manipulation are automated, thus removing human intentionality from the creative process, at least in part. For instance, many web sites automatically generate pages from databases when the user reaches them; in Hollywood films, flocks of birds, ant colonies, and even crowds of people are automatically created by AL (artificial life) programs; word processing, page layout, and presentation software comes with "wizards" and "agents" that offer to automatically create the layout of a document; 3D software automatically renders photorealistic images given the scene description.

New media is also essentially variable (other terms that can be used to describe this quality might be "mutable" or "liquid").[1] Stored digitally, rather than in some permanent material, media elements maintain their separate identity and can be assembled into numerous sequences under program control. At the same time, because the elements themselves are broken into discrete samples (for instance, an image is represented as an array of pixels), they can be also created and customized on the fly.

The logic of new media thus corresponds to the postindustrial logic of "production on demand" and "just-in-time" delivery, which themselves were made possible by the use of digital computers and computer networks in all stages of manufacturing and distribution. In this regard, the "culture industry" is actually ahead of the rest of the industry. The idea that a customer determines the exact features of her car at the showroom, the data is transmitted to the factory, and that hours later is delivered the new car remains a dream; but in the case of computer media, it is already a reality. Since the same machine (i.e. a computer) is used as a showroom and a factory, and since the media exist not as a material object but as data that can be sent through the wires at the speed of light, the response is immediate.

This is the new logic of new media, or at least some of its axioms; but how does this logic manifests itself on the level of language? In other words, given the new structure of media on the material level (discrete character on different levels; distributed--that is, network-based--representation), and the new kind of operations we can perform on it (copy and paste, sampling, digital compositing, image processing, and other algorithmic actions), do we create different-looking images? In particular, since filmmakers can now compose feature films entirely on a computer, do they make radically new kinds of films?

Article  1999