Blog Post #3

Acknowledge It and Move Past It

Manovich’s argument for the myth of interactivity is persuasive. After all, as he asserts, all computer-based media is interactive, so we needn’t concern ourselves with that; we can set aside the most obvious sense of interactivity. Interactivity, in other words, is not the transparent or external and it’s not even particularly noteworthy. What

it is, then, is the user’s mental process, which focuses on “filling in, hypothesis forming, recall, and identification” (72). But this should not be mistaken for merely using “an objectively existing structure of interactive links” (72). It’s interacting with information to produce and synthesize views.

As someone who is in a constant state of waiting for the world to crumble, I love how wonderfully apocalyptic this new media myth of interactivity is; I see us all trapped in some visually rich but semantically dull world, not too far off the one in the “Fifteen Million Merits” episode of Black Mirror. It isn’t simply that interactions are between us and a new piece of media — interactions are part of a “modern desire to externalize the mind” (74), where we are “asked to mistake the structure of somebody else’s mind for our own” (74).

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Who hasn’t felt just a little bit manipulated by the world of media around us? Consider the exteriority, in that we all see the same images, and then imagine reading a book, in which the images are inside each of our minds. It’s much harder for instruments of power to control the latter. And as Prof. Darlington so rightly pointed out in a comment, “it’s easy to cry over an SPCA video, but when you can click a button and turn the channel (or take off your headset), how deeply can it really impact you on the long term?”; the problem is that when you are interacting, consciously or not, with a whole network of emotion-grabbing or manipulating products, how can this network not impact you somewhat? How much do discrete units pressure us and how much is the work of the entire network? Are be being consciously pressed into this “ultimate nightmare of democracy — the single mental space which is shared by everybody, and where every communicative act is always ideal (Jurgen Habermas)” (72)?

I think today the myth of interactivity is viable. To return to the apocalyptic: as our internal lives are further externalized, will escape be achievable? It’s virtually impossible, now, to exist without using social media, unless you’re fine with being a near pariah. Imagine trying to have a conversation with anyone and not mention any form of “new” media, any digital photos or shared Facebook memes or Reddit posts or news stories. Perhaps one hope is that, while there are plenty who applaud technological developments that allow us to enter into a web of media, there are plenty more who worry about becoming trapped in the matrix. Of course, if you follow an extreme line of the myth of interactivity (or maybe critical theory), we might already be there.

Works Cited:

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. MIT Press, 2002.

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3 thoughts on “Blog Post #3

  1. I appreciate that you pulled the argument around externalization of our minds into the myth of interactivity. I know Manovich spent a fair amount of time on it, and I believe most of us referenced it to some extent. But your comments about manipulation caused me to put the two together, although I remember Manovich talking about the ability to control and manipulate the collective mental processes. You use the wording, “whole network of emotion-grabbing or manipulating products,” but I see the connection and I think you and Manovich are saying the same thing. If people’s mental states and cognitive processes can be standardized, then how close can they get to behavior control or emotional manipulation (your point)? It is humorous that you talk of a crumbling, apocalyptic world, and yet that is what comes to mind if I buy into the idea that the corporations may have finally figured out how to truly control us. And if that is true, then interactivity is a myth because we have no individual thought anymore – only the predetermined course of events that have been programmed into the illusion of independent choice. It is some pretty dark stuff, but I don’t buy into it. I think there are some similarities to the way we all think, plan, and execute, and they do enable media creators to incorporate some assumptions about our interactions with media objects. I do not think that we are to the point of mass externalization of our minds.

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    1. Hi — Thanks for the reply. I like the way you’ve explained that interactivity is a myth if we have no individual thought any more; I suppose this is part of what Manovich is saying at this point of the work, although in a much more expansive fashion. I’m glad to hear that you have a more positive outlook, though. Perhaps I spend too much time reading the news, which isn’t too cheery nowadays.

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  2. Your comparison of the experience of reading with the experience of visual media brings to mind some interesting questions which align with the way you are thinking here. If we are all being shown the same images versus each having a unique “mind theater,” as it were, does this increasing group focalization have an impact on our ability to tell unique stories – is the fact that in many ways we are all seeing the same a precursor to our current state of seemingly perpetual media recycling far outweighing the “new”?

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