Databases, Interactivity & New Media

Before I begin discussing this topic it is important to know what new media is. New media includes interactive television, web apps, pretty much any content available on-demand through the internet. New media is like a web of narrative. Everyone’s experience of narrative differs from person to person. When you’re retrieving information from a database it is random access in the back-end, but on the front-end to our perception it seems to be linear. How and what someone accesses within a database becomes their own unique narrative. Traditional media (or old media) depicted a general idea of a linear narrative, a timeline of some sort. Think of the films such as Pulp Fiction or Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. The story might be fractured, but it has a beginning and an end. Nowadays ALL new media is modular meaning that information/data can be broken down into units and stored.  Modularity is one of Lev Manovich’s five principles of new media, which I will inform you about in another post.

Information can continue to be broken down to smaller components until eventually binary code is reached. A digital image, as opposed to a painting, can be broken down to its individual unit. We know exactly how many pixels it’s made up of and each of these individual pixels have their own RGB value between 0 and 255, at a specific point on an X & Y axis. Thus digital imagery being linear. By modularising and storing information (in websites, applications and video games etc) the visual representation of data is crucial as this constructs the audience’s narrative. Their narrative’s are produced through their own choice in new media as opposed to traditional media. Interactivity paves the way for them to choose a particular direction of navigation or experience, and in any order they wish as well. This however is not achievable through books and television. Navigating within new media can be:

  • Different from one form to another (i.e. from a website to a video game)
  • Different within forms (i.e. from one website to another)

Databases and visual representation allows for versatility within new  media, but adds a lack of consistency. There’s less predictability for a user and so is difficult for them to meaningfully navigate. For example a user may not know what is going to happen next when they click a button. An advert may very well pop up.

Lev Manovich, who is an author and professor of computer science, explores the idea that databases are as important to new media as narrative is to cinema or literature. He says in an article that he wrote in the Millennium Film Journal, “after the novel, and subsequently cinema, privileged narrative is the key form of cultural expression of the modern age, computer age introduces its correlate – database”.


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