Old Media, New Media, So What?

Boredom is the motivating factor in the realm of ‘new media’.  Janet Murray and Scott McCloud both, in one way or another, reference boredom with static media mediums as an inspiration to move forward – to have the medium itself “[exploit] its own expressive power” (Murray 67).  By highlighting this theme I do not intend to dismiss boredom as an inadequate instrument of change, but in reading these various articles and excerpts I find myself asking, ‘So what?’ 

And in asking myself this question I fear that I have come to my own (though most likely limited) conclusion that technological determinism is the driving force behind societal progression (so to speak).  To qualify, it is imperative that the technology is accepted before it can be deterministic.  And though this may be contradictory (to say that technology must first undergo societal acceptance before it alters societal direction), it is the best single rule for technological determinism I can purport without getting into a ‘what came first, the chicken or the egg?’ frame of discourse.  I come to this rather hasty conclusion for a number of reasons, some of which are implicit in the aforementioned authors’ discussions of developing forms of ‘new media’. 

In chapter 3 of Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace” Janet H. Murray highlights the importance of ‘hypertext’ in discussing the expansion of literary experience on the Internet.  She imagines a ‘Web Soap’ that “would exploit the archiving functions of the computer by salting each day’s episode with allusions (in the form of hot word links) to exciting previous installments.  Our clicking would then be motivated not by curiosity about the media objects (show me a video clip) but by the curiosity about the plot (why does she say that about him?)” (67-68). I find it hard to differentiate between the two, curiosity about the ‘clip’ v. curiosity pertaining to the plot.  Each is a distraction, but neither is more engaging than the other.  Perhaps I am too attached to the linear qualities of ‘traditional’ storytelling/reading, but in either case the distracting qualities of Wikipedia’s hypertext came to mind.  And how does this relate to technological determinism?  I think of the Wikipedia hypertext the same way I think of MP3 players, IPods, smart-phones, or even something like Danielewski’s House of Leaves – they all represent an inability to focus – causing, reinforcing, and capitalizing on today’s ADD-ridden society.  So what if the reader of an interactive text is more curious about the intermittent clip itself rather than its relevance to the story being read/navigated?  Both instances explore the possibilities of the way the platform supporting the text alters our reading/interactive experience, and both distract the reader from his/her ultimate goal – finishing the work.

Scott McCloud discusses his ‘infinite canvas’ as a means to break the conventions of comic/comic-book storytelling via online platforms, but it seems to be only that – a break from convention for the sake of adhering to social progression.  In terms of technological determinism, the ‘infinite canvas’ is a response to already grounded social preferences, failing as a technologically deterministic medium. So again I ask myself, “So what?”  Scott himself seems to doubt whether his ‘infinite canvas’ will ever be widely accepted because of peoples’ attachment to linear storytelling and the fact that it may be past its time to catch on.  I agree, and would also suggest that the death of the comics might also account for the inability of the ‘infinite canvas’ to take hold.  (Disclaimer: I’m sure there is a subculture that glorifies the comic, and if you are a part of this culture good for you.  Other than the cryptic ones I see in the New Yorker or other print publications, I don’t see a predominance of comics in contemporary society.) Also, the term itself (‘infinite canvas) sounds too overwhelming for a culture who’s people have trouble listening to the entirety of three or four minute song.