The Digital Dialectic: New Essays on New Media (Leonardo Books)

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9780262621373: The Digital Dialectic: New Essays on New Media (Leonardo Books)

Computers linked to networks have created the first broadly used systems that allow individuals to create, distribute, and receive audiovisual content with the same box. They challenge theorists of digital culture to develop interaction-based models to replace the more primitive models that allow only passive use.

The Digital Dialectic is an interdisciplinary jam session about our visual and intellectual cultures as the computer recodes technologies, media, and art forms. Unlike purely academic texts on new media, the book includes contributions by scholars, artists, and entrepreneurs, who combine theoretical investigations with hands-on analysis of the possibilities (and limitations) of new technology. The key concept is the digital dialectic: a method to ground the insights of theory in the constraints of practice. The essays move beyond journalistic reportage and hype into serious but accessible discussion of new technologies, new media, and new cultural forms.

Contributors: Florian Brody, Carol Gigliotti, N. Katherine Hayles, Michael Heim, Erkki Huhtamo, George P. Landow, Brenda Laurel, Peter Lunenfeld, Lev Manovich, William J. Mitchell, Bob Stein.

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Review:

By definition, the notion of the dialectic--that powerful philosophical tool for understanding the constant ebb and flow of argument, history, and reality itself--is hard to pin down. And so is The Digital Dialectic: New Essays on New Media, a smart collection of mostly academic essays, which aims to identify a dialectic at the heart of the digital technologies currently reshaping the way we see and know the world. Just what that dialectic might be varies from contributor to contributor--as does the quality of the essays, which originated as presentations at a 1995 conference--but Lunenfeld's elegant running commentary does a nice job of teasing out their common concerns.

Grouped in sections with headings like "The Real and the Ideal," "The Body and the Machine," and "The Medium and the Message," such sharp-eyed commentators as philosopher Michael Heim, literary critic N. Katherine Hayles, and new-media auteur Florian Brody grapple with the complicated give and take implied in those opposing terms. They use it to elucidate the pros and cons of cybernetics, Net porn, Neo-Luddism, hypertext, and a host of other ripe cybercultural phenomena. The parts of this book don't necessarily add up to a coherent sum, but their shared commitment to living with the dialectic--i.e., to eschewing the one-sidedness of both utopian and dystopian visions of the digital--sets an invaluable tone. --Julian Dibbell

About the Author:

Peter Lunenfeld is a Professor in the Design Media Arts Department at UCLA. Previous books include USER: InfoTechnoDemo (2005), Snap to Grid: A User's Guide to Digital Arts, Media, and Cultures (2000), and the editor of The Digital Dialectic: New Essays on New Media (1999), all published by the MIT Press.

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