Month: February, 2014

The Language of New Media, Chapter Two

In Chapter Two of The Language of New Media, Len Manovich delves deeper into how we consume and create modern media. Two points in particular from this chapter resonated with me. The first is the shifting idea of “tools” in the digital age and how we use them. As Manovich describes breakthroughs in user interface design and interactivity I was struck by a brief aside about how the tools we use to work have also become the tools we use to play. We enter data into spreadsheets at the office and go home to play a game on our own computers, erasing any barriers that might have existed between work and personal time. This breakdown of a clear delineation of work and play means we are an always connected society sitting at a computer.

As we sit at a computer for leisure we also have learned to ingest new media in various methods, most notably in the guise of a video game. Games have taken many shapes since their creation, but one of the most important and innovative formats was created in the late eighties and perfected in the early nineties with the game Myst. Myst is an “interactive adventure” that presents players with a mystery that is unraveled by traversing a digital landscape, using input commands to manipulate the environment, reading text and watching snippets of video. These methods existed in separate forms in previous games but Myst and several games that followed wrangled these media delivery formats into one effective package. What is most significant is how this information was presented inside a form of new media itself; the game is a delivery system for new ideas. While the game is now dated and considered archaic by industry standards, it helped usher in a method of media consumption that is still important to this day.

Media delivery is still evolving, creating new methods of digital communication that are  often masquerading as a seemingly unrelated media package. Games themselves are pushing boundaries and testing the limits of interactivity and presentation. I believe games are a valid and acceptable form of media delivery that can contain a message, but that is an opinion that I have only come to share. This article outlines some of the reservations I had, and still somewhat have, but as I see the medium grow I believe we are exhausting our new media options and will need to branch out into new methods of content delivery. Our tendency to combine work and play will help facilitate these breakthroughs.


South Campus

Impact Font and Silly Pictures


Meme [meem]

a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition and replication in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes.
a cultural item in the form of an image, video, phrase, etc., that is spread via the Internet and often altered in a creative or humorous way.


When linguist Richard Dawkins coined the term ‘meme’ in 1976, it’s not unreasonable to believe that he didn’t have cats with a poor grasp of the English language in mind. Meme, a shortening of mimeme, suggests a viral-like idea or behavior that somehow propagates itself throughout a community; an inside joke in a circle of friends is an example of a meme on a very small scale. But what if that circle of friends has expanded to such a huge degree that it encompasses the entire internet?

Memes as they are now known in popular culture have attained a cultural status that is instantly recognizable to everyone in on the joke. They convey a message using brevity and recognizable images that more often than not is humorous and might be seen as inconsequential, but the method of delivery could prove to have long reaching implications in how ideas are presented online. Or it could just be a showcase for cats with a very poor grasp of the English language. Who knows.

MDW #5

Linguistics is a complex endeavor that seeks to explain a very fundamental part of being human: the way we communicate. Suffice to say, the field of linguistics is dense and some extremely intelligent people have devoted their lives to studying centuries worth of information to provide the groundwork for how language is used. One of these linguists, Hans Kamp, is a renowned author and professor who participated in a podcast produced by the University of Chicago to explain a few basic tenets of English linguistics. What follows is a brief summary of these terms and the way we relate to them.

Formal Semantics can be approached from a mathematical perspective; sentences are constructed like equations and can be processed by the human brain in much the same way as a math problem. For example, we see words in a sequence and our minds fill in the gaps through connectors such as “and” or “not”. 

Matt Teichman provides a succinct and approachable view of formal semantic theory:

“Give me some definitions of individual words, tell me the order in which they were combined, and by means of a mechanical algorithm, my theory will predict what the resulting sentence means.”

Formal semantic theory takes a granular view of what we say, grabbing the little bits of information that make up a sentence and grouping them into a larger whole. That whole is what we interpret the sentence or statement or question to mean.

If FST resembles a math problem then Kamp’s Discourse Representation Theory appeared to me as something of a construction site. DRT builds on FST (apologies for the acronyms) by providing an explanation for how the words we use connect and interact with one another. DRT is something of an evolving construction site, however, because it deals with the changes ideas experience as they are expounded upon by any following sentences.

DRT also approaches the problems inherent in computational linguistics by examining anaphora such as the “Donkey Pronoun”, which is a sentence usually constructed as such: “Every farmer who owns a donkey beats it.” Humans interpret the sentence correctly while computers get hung up on syntax; they don’t get the semantics and we do.


Computational linguistics is the emerging breakthrough that is just around the corner, and it is exciting to see the progress made by programmers and linguists towards creating an artificial intelligence that can communicate clearly and understand both syntax and semantics. There is still a long ways to go, however, as evidenced by IBM’s supercomputer Watson.  Watson is able to process vast amounts of data and language, but when IBM matched Watson against Jeopardy! champions, it was clear that the computer was having a difficult time with the foibles of language, such as puns and semantics. Watson pulled off some impressive victories, but the age of true artificial intelligence is still some time away.

Special Delivery

FedEx ad


The advertisement presents something resembling the wall of an building, most likely a residence. There are two windows in a vertical line, each with a person leaning out towards the camera. A flat world map is projected on the wall of the building. The positioning of each person seems to correspond to a geographical location on the map: the man in the window above is on the eastern coast of North America while the woman in the window below is placed on the eastern coast of South America. The man is holding a FedEx package and reaching down, either to accept the package or give the package to the woman while the woman’s arms are outstretched.


FedEx is implying that using their delivery service is as simple as passing a package from hand to hand with a person in near proximity.  The positioning of the map on the wall and the locations of the people suggest that FedEx is able to bridge long distances easily and quickly, even on separate continents. The man and the woman appear to be occupying the same physical space but the implication is that they are actually in different cities. Packages are sent for many different reasons but the general idea of sending something from one person to another is to get that package to the person as quickly and easily as possible.

Linguistic Message

There is no obvious text on the ad other than the FedEx logo, web address and a corporate phone number. The FedEx logo is prominent on the package in-between the man and the woman, drawing the eye to the center of the image.

One definition of “federal” is:

…Of or pertaining to a compact or a league, especially a league between nations or states.

“Federal Express” suggests that they provide a fast delivery service throughout a connected network of people and locations. When the company shortened the name to “FedEx”, the connotation remained due to  the easily inferred word association. “FedEx” is a fast way to refer to a company specializing in speed.

Examining the first lessons of “The Language of New Media”

There’s an element of risk when attempting to explain something as intricate  and temporal as “new media” without immediately dating oneself. Media composition changes at such a rapid pace it is easy to fall behind, especially when using a traditional method of delivery such as the printed word. Manovich’s The Language of New Media avoids this pitfall while providing a comprehensive and contemporary breakdown of what new media is and how it has evolved from traditional methods of communication. While doing so, Manovich creates a view of media that stays consistent and grows at the same time.

“Media” itself is a broad, overarching label that encompasses multiple disciplines and philosophies. Adding the prefix “new” to a word is usually an attempt to create buzz and excitement around a product, movement or cultural experience, but in the case of new media, it is a succinct description of where the future of information delivery is headed.

Manovich’s theories of what constitutes new media evokes images of geological strata; new media is an extension of what came before, creating layers of technology built upon one another. Print, photography and cinema provided the foundation of visual communication, until the development of the computer propelled them into what has become the standard for popular media consumption.

The advent of the computer also importantly re-aligned traditional media into using a common language: mathematics. This is one of the five tenets of what Manovich believes signify new media, along with modularity, automation, variability and transcoding. These facets of new media create a view of how we interact with media that is just as important as the product itself.

New media is not, however, “continuous”. Manovich argues that new media is seperate and distinct, providing an individual base from which new forms of expression are generated through the five tenets. New media is an evolution and a foundation allowing content creators a path to expand upon technological strata.

MDW #4


How The Super Bowl Turned The NYC Macy’s Into A Massive Screen

I’ll start with an embarrassing admission as an IT professional: I cannot for the life of me set up a projector with any measure of accuracy. It is something I dread doing, and it rarely turns out how I want it and there is endless fiddling and tweaking and fussing that needs to be done to attain a picture that is just right. Imagine my amazement and jealousy when I saw a high definition video projection displayed on a modern architectural landmark in the middle of the busiest metropolis in the world.

Moment Factory, a technology studio that specializes in multimedia installations, turned New York City’s Macy’s into a giant display to broadcast football to anyone caught underneath its flashing facade that demands they get hyped for the Super Bowl.

“…the installation plays an overwhelming eight-minute barrage of swirling images: Cubist footballs, crazy confetti, and, confoundingly, licks of flame that melt down the side of the building like oozy Velveeta cheese.”

The Super Bowl is the biggest sporting in event in America. It would be extremely difficult to find someone over the age of five that could not detail just what the Super Bowl is and what it’s about. That doesn’t stop the NFL from buying untold amounts of advertising to drill home the fact that this is a big deal and everyone should be watching. The upside to this is that the biggest game gets the coolest technology to advertise the product.

Moment Factory had numerous challenges to overcome, from nearby light and noise pollution from Times Square to the logistics of projecting a clear image on a building known for its architectural intricacy.

“…if you want to use real footage of real human beings doing things, you need a flat surface—which gets screwed up by the Macy’s building’s huge recessed windows.

The solution was to drop huge draped screens over each of the windows to make the surface a flat canvas.”

A project like this is a ridiculously complicated undertaking, but Moment Factory pulled it off and it looks amazing. Their approach to the problem was inspiring, and the result was more than worth it.

Social Justice

High profile court cases have become staples of daytime television and prime time news programs. Viewers demand unrestricted access to the court room, hang on to every detail that trickles out from behind chamber doors and flood the internet with their opinions and armchair legal analysis. This glut of information, however, is threatening to deplete an already shrinking and essential resource: an impartial jury pool.

The sixth amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that a defendant is due a speedy and public trial and an impartial jury of their peers. The term “public trail” has evolved significantly in the Digital Age; if a case warranted a back page article in the nineteen-sixties, today it would get an hour-long special on Headline News. How can the legal system navigate a hyper connected populace that is willing and able to share their beliefs and opinions through social media and consume endless details about a case?

A Wayne State University blog post by K. Brooke Moynihan illustrates some of the hurdles that both prosecutors and defendants must overcome in order to keep the gears of justice turning:

 “The problem with these types of incidents is that when jurors communicate about or research issues presented to them in a trial, they jeopardize a defendant’s 6th Amendment Constitutional right to a trial by an impartial jury.”

Water cooler talk has evolved to Facebook wall posts seen by hundreds of people at a time. A potential juror must be unbiased and unprejudiced to the particulars of an upcoming case. A juror that does not watch the news or read the papers is a rare event; even rarer is someone that does not actively engage in social media. It’s possible to not be swayed by an impersonal article by a stranger that details the facts of a case but much harder to ignore opinions posted by friends and family members, people whose opinions are valued and held dear. Is the impartial juror a relic of a bygone era?

Information Policy for Everyday Decisions. (2012, November 3). The Impact of Social Media on Juries [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.wayne.edu/informationpolicy/2012/11/03/the-impact-of-social-media-on-juries-2/