Week 14 Learning New Media

As new media afford us new perceptual capabilities that we didn’t have before, we have to learn how to perceive through them. An example of this is the microscope, suddenly we could see things that we couldn’t before. Or the telegraph, that restructures language because of the structure of the system that demands short, concise messages that carry a lot of information, in other words: code. How do we understand this new information? By learning to see we are placing it in the wider context of our learned perceptive skills that have developed over our lifetime. Anything new is understood in relation to what we already know, and then tested repeatedly as we are exposed to this new medium, building up an understanding that is both conceptual and embodied.

Using new media in representation and artmaking will always start as a testing of the capacities of the media, seeing what they can do. As new media become established in everyday life, the aesthetic challenge is to see what they can do beyond what they are used for in a mundane way, or perhaps just to focus on precisely what their mundane use is so as to make it strange. This would have the effect of when you repeat a word over and over until it sounds strange to you and you are no longer sure you are saying it right. Or in Taussig’s text, “A shot of a traffic light held too long is no longer a traffic light.” This is also a way of learning to “hear” and to “see” through the medium, but it is a deeper understanding that may in fact alter the way that the medium is understood generally.

Politically, new media can be a huge problem, because it can be used to get behind the critical barriers of the public. With traditional mass media, there is a common knowledge, however simplistic, of inherent problems and a sense that not everything that is communicated is to be taken at face value, but because no critical discourse has been developed and disseminated with regards to how new media works and how it can be exploited, the public is caught unawares. In this way, new media technologies can act as a Trojan horse, infiltrating the everyday lives of people by accessing their domestic routines and habits. By blurring the boundaries of the personal sphere and the public sphere, the integrity of public discourse is compromised. On the other hand, new media have the potential to be turned into an advantage for progressive politics, engaging more people in humanitarian causes and the struggle for equality, as well as disseminating critical engagement itself. We are all, always re-schooled by new media in a process that has no end. As we develop new tools, those tools in turn develop us, and create a need in us for other, new tools.

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