Thoughts on Lev Manovich’s “The Language of New Media”

From this week’s reading, what I enjoyed reading most and took away from it was the semiological theory of syntagm and paradigm and how it helps define the relationship between database and narrative, as well as differentiate ‘new media’ from traditional media.

While the syntagm is an explicit combination of elements in a linear and deliberate sequence, the paradigm is an implicit formative system which elements would be chosen from another set of related elements. Traditionally, in literary and cinematic narratives, the literal narrative being presented on the screen or paper is the syntagm while the database of choices, the imagined and ‘what ifs’ of the narrative is the paradigm.

However, in new media, this theory is reversed. The database, which is the paradigm become explicit and materialised while the narrative becomes implicit and dematerialised. With the understanding of this theory, I was able to understand how “Memento” was and should be considered under ‘new media’, even though it was presented via a traditional medium. By giving emphasis to the database of details or clues in the film, the narrative is formed in the viewer’s mind by linking these elements together, creating a trajectory of thought. The narrative is virtual or immaterial while the database is real and material on the screen.

Using this theory, I would hence assume that any medium that can reverse this relationship between the implicit and explicit can be considered as ‘new media’.

An interesting thought that crossed my mind; would the auto-correct/predictive keyboard system be considered new media? By allowing users to choose options from a database of predictions, they can create a narrative by linking the words together.

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