The middleman

por josebakm


One of the most important concepts that we find in Software Takes Command  (2013) is that of ‘media’ -medium, maybe? However, after a good deal of the reading being done, the term ‘media’ starts losing some of its meaning. That’s why it might be of extreme convinience to stop and reflect briefly about the pressence and meaning of this key element of our cultural production and social organization.

Personally, I understand the idea of ‘media’ or ‘software media’ in the most material sense. When it comes to think about the two ends relation that we establish -as humans- with a source of information, it is impossible not consider the effects that the intermediary is going to have in our understanding and comprehension. Manovich clearly directs his attention towards the influence that software has on our understanding of the digital, and as he is going to point out, the software medium is not a simple channel with no influence on the content. Nevertheless, software presents to ourselves as  high content bearing media -what we could rephrase in MacLuhan’s terms saying that the “medium is the message.”

In fact, the influence that software has over the process of creating  information seems to overpower the influence attributed to the digital environment. The main difference that we could find if we were to compare the two “media” -and the use of this term is prone to become abusive and meaningless- is that software is some sort of comsuption media, while the digital is what could be consider storage media. If we stick to these ad hoc definitions, the distinctions become clearer: the digital environment constrains the types of information, while the software influence is going to be more focused on the way of arranging and consuming that digitally  stored information.

Personally, I would place Manovich’s reflection on the broader discussion about the effects and influence that the mere idea of mediation has brought to modern society. To have a clearer idea, we could include other concepts such as the narrator in literature, the middleman and money in business or the courtisan code in society. Those instances of intermediation are elements which have drastically shaped the modern world.

The narrator, the unreliable one, of course, is one of the main facilitators of the literary discourse. Without his skewed perception, the story would be reduced to a series of happenings, not necessarily interesting and meaningful. If the properties of the digital are defined by the particularities of the software, the properties of the literary come to definition by the particularites of a given narration. A variation on this intermediary role, but one that serves to the ilustration of my point, can be found on a early modern Spanish play called “La Celestina.” In this work, more of a dialogued novel than an actual play, we can see how the information is totally mediated by the matchmaker character, whose mission is to get as many benefits as possible from her love business. The most striking feature of this work is that we do not have a stated narrative instance, there is no third person narrator. However, it is not hard to demonstrate that the character of the old Celestina is a sort of  narrator. The greedy woman is a mediator in every sense, she meddles between the lovers, interpreting and manipulating the information, phrasing it on her own terms, and then she mediates between the actions displayed and the reader, reinterpreting the happenings for us in monologues scattered throughout the text. As a software, she incorporates an specific language for an specific environment with specific constrains. I honestly believe that we inhabit a highly mediated space in general, and the beginning of this mediation or codification has been brought by what I consider two of the most important elements in the consolidation of our actual practices and behaviour: the apparition of money and the codification of the european courtisans during the renaissance. If we think about it, the latter appears to be a mediation at a very basic level, one that pertains the person itself and the human mind and body when cultural transmission was highly oral and personal. So maybe, in the same manner than Davis began his Universal Computer dating back to Leibniz, we could consider the idea of wirting a history of media, and starting with a chapter on Castglione’s The Book of the Courtisan.