Discussion Leader: Principles of New Media

“The Principle of New Media” is a chapter from Lev Manovich’s book The Language of New Media. Lev Manovich intends to identify the differences between old media and new media by proposing “five principles of new media”, which are numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding. Learning from Manovich’s thorough explanation and examples, I interpret these concepts as following:

  • Numerical representation: all new media objects are composed of digital code, they exist as data, so they are numerical representations;
  • Modularity: media elements, such as images, sounds, shapes, or behaviors are independent collections, they can be assembled into larger-scale objects but continue to maintain their separate identity.
  • Automation: new media elements can be accessed, created, and manipulated automatically.
  • Variability: new media object is not fixed but can exist in different versions.
  • Transcoding: the logic of a computer can influence the traditional cultural logic of media.

Manovich states that these five principles are arranged in a logical order, by which principle 3-5 are dependent on principle 1-2, revealing that our culture are undergoing computerization.

According to Manovich, the key difference between old and new media is that new media is programmable. The concept of “computerization” is demonstrated in the five principles. Text, image, sound, and the alike media elements can all be digitalized. The digital elements can be independently used and modified, or combined to a large media object. In Photoshop, for example, the concept of “modularity” is most embodied by “layers”: a single image can be composed of many layers, each of which can be treated as an entirely independent and separate entity. By using all the computer programs, users create or modify media objects by templates or algorithms. So Manovich thinks “human intentionally can be removed from the creative process”. But the same time they can also customize their own content, Manovich calls this “variability”, allowed by new media which is not in “hardwire” fixed structure as old media. One example of variability is what we know as “hyperlink”, allowing users to take different path to different content. The media become interactive with the users and value individuality over conformity.

At last, Manovich stresses on the “more ‘deep’ and far reaching” principle of new media: transcoding. In his view, this is the most substantial consequence of media’s computerization, which not only affects human beings on the computer layer, but also on the cultural layer. The influence on cultural layer is the broader sense of transcoding. By adopting more new media innovations, our minds are transformed by the logic of the computer. This logic has reshaped how we think about and represent ourselves.

All the new media approaches mentioned in Manovich’s five principles are definitely the disruptive innovations defined by Christensen. Old media give way to new technologies in areas of content production and distribution. Relate to my term project, I see from the perspective that how these five principles of new media affect news production and distribution. When media elements become digitalized, when the Internet allows hypermedia, news content’s become extremely accessible and consumable, and easier to cultivate than before. Online news reporting differentiates from print and broadcast media by characterizing itself as faster, effective, multimedia, and interactive. One substantial change is the interconverting between newsmakers and audience. “Variability” and “automation” allows user-generated content, which leads to the boom of grassroots journalism. Besides, news agenda is no longer set by Big Media when users can freely choose whatever they are interested in by using various webpage manipulaters.

The tools and styles in media are computerized, but are our ways of thinking changing in the same way? The profound implication of this transformation lies in its influence on human culture. As Manovich observes that “the logic of a computer can be expected to significant influence on the traditional cultural logic of media”. News reporting gets richer in amount but poorer in depth; the creative energy of the writer and editor goes into the selection and sequencing of elements rather than into original design; the media value become super utilitarianism and market-oriented. What’s the next? I would like to discuss with my classmate on this perspective, which is more fundamental in new media quality.

To sum up, this chapter by Manovich is not only clear in structure, abundant in examples, but also generates new insights that help people to explore new media in both technological and philosophical levels.


  1. Among these five principles, what relate most to your personal experience?
  2. How would you address “the logic of computer can influence on cultural logic in media”? Any examples?
  3. What will be the consequences of this “transcoding”?
Manovich, L. (2001). Principles of New Media, The Language of New Media (49-65). Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press

Sorapure, M. (2003). Five principles of new media: Or, playing Lev Manovich. Kairos: A Journal for Teachers of Writing and Webbed Environments, 8(2), 1-7

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10 Responses to Discussion Leader: Principles of New Media

  1. Pingback: week 6 – From Mass Communication To Customized Information « COM546 : Evolutions

  2. Excellent job on your presentation Ting! You really got me thinking about the ways that technologies have encoded my life. Like Josh pointed out, I no longer remember telephone numbers or do math in my head, I also don’t usually call friends (unless I need something) or read paper books. Tracking the way people’s habits change as they adopt different technologies would be a very fascinating field of study.

    • kangting21 says:

      No memorizing telephone numbers, no phone call for friend….You are right on everything Corey. How can we slow down ourselves from going digital? I love technology, but I wanna keep some primitive part of me. This is something I need work on a little bit…

  3. Cathy Britt says:

    Ting – Great job on your presentation. It sounds like you read a really high-level theoretical study and you did a wonderful job summarizing the five main points. I loved your real-world examples of items that each of us know to help drive home the concepts. I will keep thinking about the fifth point and how transcoding and how the logic of a computer can influence us and our culture. I’d be interested to know more about this study to see how he determined computer logic transforms our minds and makes us represent ourselves. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Dominique B. says:

    This sounds like an interesting article and presentation, Ting. I think you raise good questions about the impact that new technologies have on the quality of the content that is produced.

  5. Madeline Moy says:

    Photoshop example is an excellent way to illustrate the concepts.

  6. Lisa says:

    Interesting post! I wish I could have seen your presentation as well. The point about the influence of new media creating a situation of quantity over quality in news reporting and writing is something I definitely see everyday – I feel like I read more than ever but take in only a little bit about everything.

  7. Burl says:

    Ting, I didn’t witness your preso, but I like your slides. I’m very much interested in how computer logic is influencing cultural logic. At my company, we’re constantly driving towards an automated creative solution for businesses by employing technology to collect ideas from far and wide, i.e. crowdsourcing. Anyways, good stuff, I look forward to digging into this article a bit more.

  8. theglassedge says:

    I felt that the discussion was really thoughtful, good use of example.

  9. Josh says:

    Very strong presentation, Ting. You had great command of the material and led the group through our discussion very well. It is interesting to think about how computers – and the need to translate between the language they speak vs. our own thought patterns and languages. The transcoding required on both of our parts for us to work together definitely influences our daily lives. Thanks!

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