new media and its users

Marty cited the well-known quote from Marshall McLuhan: “The Medium is the message.” Although the expression elicited lots of debates and some scholars even raised a different idea, “the message is the medium”, his thinking still makes sense to me in some degree. I believe that the characters of different medium would influence how people perceive the content the medium communicates.  

Inevitably, the annotation might lead to the discussion about how audiences receive and decode these messages. Espen J. Aarseth, a scholar from Norway devoting himself to computer game research, has explored the aesthetics and the textual dynamics of digital literature and its many diverse genres, such as computer games and collaborative Internet text. He explained that Aristotle thinks the author, the narrator, the narrate and reader have no gap among each other. That means narrate and reader get directly what author and narrator want to communicate. If the medium changes to novel, narrate and reader might have different perception to the text from the original idea the author and narrator want to communicate. That means narrate and reader make their own sense to the message. 

However, in the new media, Aarseth believes that the hypertext enables and forces readers to create their own meaning. They do not receive messages passively. Rather, they can add information to the contents and explain what they perceive. Through this process, they know, construct and find themselves. The hypertext itself has no unified meaning. 

I am not a good explainer. What I would like to say is the characters of the new media release more right to the readers. And the readers can also define or redefine themselves by contribute to and interpret the messages new media communicates. Last week, G. Smith thinks that the interaction designers still cannot make their design do how films and novels engage us. If the digital artifacts are counted as new media, which means users have more power over the products and are able to define themselves through using them, based on Aarseth’s theory, the author(as the designers here)do not have as much effect on user’s interpretation as they do in designing films or novels. So, how can designers engage users? The users have to engage themselves. Does it mean that every design should be able to be redesigned by the users in a certain way when they are using it? Does interaction design now serve as a medium which enables people understand themselves better?


  1. thismarty

    Intersting insights, yenning! It reminds me of Marshall McLuhan’s concepts of “hot” and “cool” media. McLuhan saw forms of mediua that required the viewer’s attention and even participation (i.e. print, cartoons) as “hot”, while those that direct themselves insensely at one or two of the viewer’s senses, allowing a mora passive stance (i.e. film, radio) are “cool”. When you talk about hypertext and engaging users, I thought about when I first read about McLuhan’s media types and realized that most new media are neither completely hot or cool, but rather, exist somehere on the contimuum that lies between the two extremes – a sort of “warm” media that engenders active participation sometimes (ie. navigating content) and directed engagement at others (ie. images, animations). You might want to exmaine this aspect of McLuhan’s work as a new perspective and possible source of inspiration in resolving the issues that you mention.

  2. jeffreybardzell

    This distinction comes elsewhere in media theory. For example, Roland Barthes (structuralist and later post-structuralist) talks about “readerly” versus “writerly” texts. The former are texts you passively consumeh, like a trashy novel or TV sitcom. Writerly texts are ones that challenge you; they force you to help them become meaningful. Presumably, writerly texts make you grow and last with you longer, you know, like literary wheat bread or something. Note that distinctions like these help maintain distinctions between “high” and “low” or “pop” culture.

    Excellent post, Yen ning, and I am glad to see someone is reading Aarseth. I don’t always agree with him, but his ideas are provocative. 🙂

  3. thismarty

    Cool, Jeff! I have a feeling I’m going to learn a lot about literary critique this semester!

    Another perspective comes from a popular discourse in traditional Design, where we talk about the notion of poetic versus scientific visual interpretations. Poetic works are more abstract, and thus engage their audience intellectually, whereas scientific works are more literal and spell everything right out. What’s intereating about the so-called poetic stuff is that in engaging the audience by having them interpret and surmize a bunch of evocative hints and clues to meaning, we get them more involved in the experience – they feel a greater investment in and ownership of it.


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