The Mote in Your Eye
Here goes. This is the academic bit. We make no apologies for it, as missing this point is the singularly most important thing that’s landed us in the state we find ourselves today.
Remediation is a flawed strategy.
The manner by which we understand a new medium is completely intertwined in our understanding of the media around us.
The initial content of a new medium is an old one.
The computer is the medium that eats all others. It consumes their affects and spits out its form, whole and subsuming all that came before.
Okay, in English then.
When a new thing emerges, our understanding of it is filtered through what we already know, what we have around us, and can already make use of. Hence television is ‘radio with pictures’ or ‘film in a tiny screen’. Film is ‘recorded theatre’. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that perspective, since any other point of view is almost impossible to imagine. We filter and we understand because we live in the world. Then, over time, as a medium matures, we reassess what it can do. It shows us. Bright, talented people make work in it that define the edges and shape the insides and gradually generate a grammar for the form. It grows up. Until then, its arguable that the medium is an infant; defined by how closely it resembles it’s parents. Hang on to that childhood metaphor; we’re going to come back to it.
The problem (there are many, but let’s take one) with accepting that viewpoint is that we do live in the now, and now has an awful tendency to pronounce. For example: “the new medium remediates by trying to absorb the older medium entirely so that the discontinuities between the two are minimised”. Well, it might, and it might not, but when that kind of absolutism is taken as gospel, then problems start to arise. A book is not an App. Taken that way, looking at the problem backward, it seems plain and clear. But we treat Apps (and a whole range of other digital experiences) as books, as if we can design and produce them in the same terms, as if they’re the same thing. The new thing isn’t the old thing, it is a new thing. A thing with it’s own rules, affordances and properties. A thing that needs to be understood, explored and addressed as if it were something we hadn’t seen before. Until we can do this, we’re blind men appraising an elephant, or Durer etching his rhino.
The new deserves a name, a way to distinguish it. We’re going to use neoteric.