Modularity of New Media

Lev Manovich sites the five principles of New Media as Numerical Presentation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding. It is the second category, modularity, with which I seem to take issue. Manovich calls modularity the “fractal structure of new media.” This is to say that many examples of new media can be seen as fractal or modular. Manovich points to the fact that a QuickTime movie is made of may still images, any one of which can be separated as a single image; to an “object” inserted into a Word doc, which continues to maintain its independence and can later be edited; HTML and the many items which can comprise it; and particularly to the extreme modularity of the World Wide Web.

Indeed, all of this is true, since it really addresses multimedia, which is certainly modular. However, not all new media is modular (Manovich states this point, as well). For example, one cannot extract a single moment from an audio file in the same way one can do so from a movie, since a “freeze-frame” of audio is merely silence. One can certainly extract a chunk of that sound, but that does not really make it modular any more than tearing out  a word from a page text makes it modular.

That most new media is modular allows it to be exchanged and applied to other media. In this way, it ties directly to the concept of remediation, the process of creating new meaning in a new item by applying a module of another media to it. For example, the refashioning of the phone as an immediate means of communication into something like Skype can be seen as remediation.

One Response to “Modularity of New Media”

  1. Comment From Emil on May 14th, 2008 at 7:52 am

    Your point about modularity and ripping a word from a page brings up a good point for me. As I’m reading and thinking about these terms in relation to digital forms of communication they seem clear and descriptive, but when I start to think about them in terms of more traditional media, they become muddied for me. The more I analyze each term in more detail–as you did above with modularity–the more I run into the problem of thinking “everything is _________; therefore, nothing is.” In this case, I begin to ask what isn’t modular? We can remove the word from the page or just about any element from a larger whole, but does that make it modularity? Is there modularity and intentional or pure modularity? Was Glenn on to something when he focused on intent–that is, does the intention to create an actual modular object, whereas other pieces are not intended to be modular and as a result take on a lower-level or accidental modular level?

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