Saturday, November 15, 2008

Florian Cramer on the problem of new media paradigms

We moved on to discuss "new media" as a discipline and I mentioned how both Sher Doruff and Renee Turner had said one thing that attracted them (among other characteristics) was the lack of constraints on the field, because no body knew what was possible or not, and no one expected or required that any particular methodology be used. I'm afraid I also indulged in a mini-rant about how often I've seen presentations that were basically just descriptions of the speakers encounter with some situation involving new media, and just stopped at that--no analysis, no theory, no further data... Ahem. Anyway, Florian (as usual) had a far more thoughtful take on this issue.

I go even deeper than that and say that there is a lot in the so-called new media field, especially in the more alternative, or activist, or off-mainstream field, a kind of naive continuity of cybernetics. What do I mean by that? Well cybernetics in the 1950s and the 1960s was basically the idea that we operate with a notion of system-feedback-control and that these are descriptors that we could commonly apply to both artificial and natural systems. So that means we can analyze a society in terms of feedback, control or whatever. We can describe human organisms, we can describe politics, but we can also describe a machine.
And here I noted we had arrived right at Katherine Hayles! Florian agreed and continued.

Then what I see in the so-called new media field is that it was from the same paradigm except that it doesn't work with this classical behaviorist model which is really about almost totalitarian control fantasies, but their model is something like the rhizome. But the rhizome is just another cybernetic model and it is based on the same idea of using that structure in order to compare the internet to human society, etc etc etc. And that is something I find very questionable and I also want to do more critical writing on. And I think there is little reflection and little awareness of the continuity of these cybernetic paradigms. And nobody questions for example the notion of "system." System is a highly speculative construct. I mean you say we are systems, society is a system, the human body is a system, and a computer is a system. But I think this kind of rhetoric obscures and clouds more than it actually helps to analyze things and I think we have to go beyond that. For me, really critical media studies would be to question both notions.

But I see when I say this that I'm really making myself enemies. And even with people with whom I wouldn't have thought it. Well I thought they also come from a really critical camp. But it's really astonishing to see how deeply these paradigms are really embedded into the whole field.

So now, after these two entries, we are about 17 minutes into the interview, and I already feel like I've swallowed a rich media text! In the next entry we finally get to the actually reasons Florian got into this work.

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