Understanding New Media – Multimedia

With every tool, man is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory, or removing limits to their functioning. – Sigmund Freud (1929).

Veltman, Kim H. Understanding New Media: Augmented Knowledge & Culture. University of Calgary Press, 2006.

Veltman lists the major functions of computers as their ability to perform calculations, write, visualize, create multimedia, enable multi-sensory study, permit inter-media, interact, augment, delegate information/knowledge, and simulate synthetic reason. Of those on the list, I want to focus on multimedia, which is linked with three of the other listed functions: multi-sensory, inter-media, and inter-action.

Multi-sensory
This has to do with the discussion that everything we create is an extension of our selves and our functions. As the lead-in quote to this post suggests, we are constantly creating tools to improve, simulate, and make easier the physical aspects of the human condition. For example, telephones are extensions of our ears and voice and allow us to hear and speak to individual at far greater distances than we ever could with the limits of the human body. Television, computer interfaces, cameras, etc. are extensions of our eyes, ears, and memories, again allowing us abilities of which would could never dream or conceive in regard to experiencing communication and interactions unassisted with the human body. The existence of Webcams enhances both one-to-one personal communication, and also a more public communication, such as news and public address. Both of these conditions exist without any spatial concern; such communication can take place at any distance around the globe (and beyond, as broadcast conversations with orbiting astronauts show us).

Beyond the enhancements of sight (cameras, televisions, computer displays, etc.) and sound (microphones and speakers), there are also tools that enhance other senses, such as smell (smell-o-vision ala John Waters, and other companies, such as Digiscent that are creating units that actually puff various combinations of scents toward a user to correlate with on-screen content), touch (the feedback gloves that are a part of virtual reality devices), and even taste (the still experimental and not too successful technology that simulates smells correlating with on-screen content).

Inter-media
This refer to computers’ ability to link (as intermediary device) other devices, such as printers, speakers, monitors, cameras, etc. Digital communication offers different options of communication in regard to public/private, synchronous/asynchronous, and longevity. In pre-literate cultures (primary orality) authority was based in the speaker, who spoke live to individuals within a hearing distance and the scope of knowledge (and memory) was limited. With the advent of writing, the dynamic changed. ). The scope of knowledge, access, and memory longevity increased.

Of course, conversation continued, but the written word came to have greater authority. … The shift from oral to written, to manuscript, and later, printed knowledge, entailed an increasing universalization in the scope of knowledge. For the past two millennia it seemed that each innovation meant abandoning one medium and replacing it with another. (14).

Conversely, computers do not necessarily seek to replace any previous media but instead remediates them into new forms. “Computers embrace rather than replace earlier methods a) by integrating them into a single system and b) by providing tools where one means of communication can be translated into another” (14-15).

Inter-action
Similar to the preceding section (Inter-media) in which computers link to various media, they also link to other devices, such as embedded devices that regulate other parts of our lives, such as cars, thermostats, lights, etc. “[T]he Internet revolution is about connectivity and not machines” (20).

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