Manovich’s 5 Principles of new media

Lev Manovich

The 5 principles that new media operate under, according to Lev Manovich are:

  1. Numerical representation
  2. Modularity*
  3. Automation
  4. Variability
  5. Transcoding

* Core principle that allows interactivity

Numerical representation – According to Manovich, the key difference between old and new media is that new media is programmable. All new media is comprised of digital code, therefore essentially being ‘numerical representations’. It can be described mathematically and new media can also be manipulated via algorithms. When discussing materialistic properties of a new media object you can only really talk about the numbers and formulas that it’s made up of.

Modularity – The foundations of any new media object can be measured and independently modified and reused. They are essential and when combined a new media text is created. Pixels, vectors, images, text, audio, video, frames and code can all be broken down until you eventually get to binary. These modular entities are the numerical representations of binary code which is the language that a computer understands. But it outputs it to us in a different language, a language that is programmed by a human so that we understand.

Automation – The production and combination of modular entities can be completed through the use of highly automated systems. Often found in computer programs, automation allows users to create or modify any form of media using templates or algorithms. Photos can be automatically edited  to improve image quality using certain editing programs such as Lightroom and Photoshop. Websites automatically adjust to specific user’s needs aswell, providing them with information in relation to other sites they’ve visited.

Variability – Any form of new media is not something fixed. It can exist in many different versions and it doesn’t include a structure. Variability can be found in hypertextual or interactive media where users choose different paths navigating through text, thus accessing different content. And this goes for everyone. This principle of variability assures users that their choices, thoughts and desires are unique to an individual.

Transcoding – A new media text can be converted/translated into another format. Data is gathered, then transcoded in to computerised categories. The ways in which computers are transcoding data and organising it to databases is influencing how we as a culture organise and store our data. The transcoding of this information is now re-expressing media content and cultural texts in new ways as apparent in the ways that websites, DVD’s, or computer games employ new ways of organising/systemising experience and engaging users.


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