This month’s quote comes from a fascinating essay in Cultural Studies Review (Volume 12, Number 1, 2006) by Ross Gibson titled “The Rise of Digital Multimedia Systems.” The essay echoes Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel , the classic treatise on why the novel emerged in the beginning of the 18th century as such an influential “technology.” Ross summarizes: “By studying how aesthetic and semantic systems engage with the intellect and the sensorium of the user, you can understand the temper of the times. When a new form of art or a popular mode of communication arises and takes hold, it reflects changes that have recently occurred or are presently occurring in psychology and society.” This applies to the novel, but Ross extends the premise to what replaced the novel, cinema, followed by digital multimedia.
“A definitive characteristic of the movies is the way they ‘lock off’ their several dynamic parts into a final version, the ‘release print.’ This ultimate inflexibility of cinema is similar to the way most national-scale communities responded to the turbulence of modernity by insisting that their societies first synchronize energetically to the machine world and then stabilise permanently once the new political state was realised. As its production regimens drive toward ‘lock off’, cinema is a conservative form, like nationalism. Cinema and nationalism; each serves a popular, paradoxical desire for the acknowledgement and the cessation of change. Indeed, this is one of the traits we love about cinema: it shows us the thrill of energetic convergence and world-creation at the same time as it proposes an eventual end to flux and uncertainty. With a film, the final edit is a stable state, a kingdom of kinetic excitement with a reassuring climate of completion.
Comparing the nexus of cinema and nationalism with the contemporary dyad of digital media and transnationalism (or globalisation), we can ask whether digital multimedia systems have arisen to reflect and impel our contemporary psychic and social conditions. Like cinema, digital multimedia can federate disparate elements (sound, texts, graphics, perspectives, vistas and audio-visual rhythms) into astonishing new configurations…But unlike cinema (and unlike nationalism), digital multimedia produces syntheses that are always explicitly provisions. (Yes, in this respect it is like transnationalism.) Because of the dynamics of its file structures and the integrating, evolving codes that get applied to those files, any digital multimedia configuration is a contentious event in a continuous process rather than a completed, content-full object; it is always ready to be dismantled and re-assembled into new alignments as soon as the constituent files have been federated in response to momentarily prevailing ‘world conditions.’
In other words, because multimedia rarely gets ‘locked-off’, its component element can always be pulled apart, sent back to their databases and then instantaneously rearranged into newly iterated federations. (Yes, in this respect it is like our unstable contemporary lives, so buffeted with ever-altering values, opportunities, anxieties and obligations all upwelling because of globalisation, migration and multiculturalism.)…Taking some of their dynamics from the channel-switching montage-effects that radio and television have always afforded, digital multimedia systems can re-conform themselves restlessly in ways that a cinema print is not designed to do. Such systems can reflect and impel how we live now in relational engagement within a myriad influences that are dynamically networked in constantly evolving systems of communication and stored, searchable information.”
–Ross Gibson, “The Rise of Digial Multimedia Systems” Cultural Studies Review, Volume 12, Number 1, March 2006, p. 144-145