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