Software Takes Command (International Texts in Critical Media Aesthetics)

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Lev Manovich

It might become a little more embarrassing to admit that I also use my calculator to find out what seven times eight is. This is probably what our ancestors thought as well when they invented tally sticks. A tally stick is an ancient memory aid device used to record and document numbers, quantities, or even messages. It is an extension of our brain. Then what is a computer? This can be answered very easy.

Software Takes Command : Lev Manovich :

A computer is a device that computes. Actually, any device that processes information qualifies as a computer. In this sense, even a human being is a computer. Other early examples of computing devices are the abacus and the slide rule. Along with the tally stick, they are analogue tools to aid calculation, some going back as early as 20, BC. The computer as we know it today was originally invented for the same purpose: to do arithmetic computation.

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Modern computers are based on integrated circuits. Therefore they are millions to billions of times more capable than the tally stick, the abacus and the slide rule. The computer is an algorithmic machine by excellence. It has become a part of human life. It is a device on which we do research, watch videos, listen to music, play games, have contact with each other.

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The list could go on for a while. When the first computers were built around , their use, as media for cultural representation, expression, and communication was not yet possible. But slowly things started to change. In the s various techniques like text edit, drawing and the moving of virtual objects like the mouse were developed. And only when a computer became a cultural medium—rather than merely a versatile machine—could it be used as so. The computer became something no other media had ever been before. But besides representing all other media the computer had another important feature. It is an active medium. It can respond to questions and experiments. The messages may involve the learner in a two-way conversation.

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In other words, a computer can be used to create new tools for working with the media types it already provides as well as to develop new not-yet-invented media. When Alan Kay formulated the term meta-medium, it could serve as a tool to analyse how the overall computing has evolved. Our relationship with the computer changed in a more focused experience of the media. Alan Kay points to the title of a book by the American media theorist Douglas Rushkoff as a contemporary example and statement of how significant this change is: Program or be programmed.

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How do their interfaces and tools shape the visual aesthetics of contemporary media and design? What happens to the idea of a 'medium' after previously media-specific tools have been simulated and extended in software? Is it still meaningful to talk about different mediums at all?

Lev Manovich answers these questions and supports his theoretical arguments by detailed analysis of key media applications such as Photoshop and After Effects, popular web services such as Google Earth, and the projects in motion graphics, interactive environments, graphic design and architecture.

Software Takes Command is a must for all practicing designers and media artists and scholars concerned with contemporary media. Software Takes Command.

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Lev Manovich. Understanding metamedia.