Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The materiality of media....

Materiality...a new concept in our discussions thus far. Hayles' reading on "Material Metaphors, Technotexts, and Media-Specific Analysis" reminded me a lot of The Medium is the Message. However, Hayles brings to the forefront the idea of materiality and the effect its presence has on the meaning of its content.

While focusing on the physical environment in which the content is embodied, Hayles suggests that the meaning of the content is derived specifically from within that environment. She continues to say that when that same content is recreated in a different media environment, the meaning of that content changes as well.

The key differentiating factor Hayles implies is the physical interaction the viewer has with the medium in which the content is embodied. For example, historically the act of reading a printed book has particular physical, psychological, and emotional associations that have become natural to us throughout the centuries. We use the activity of reading a book as a private time when we cuddle up with a blanket and a cup of hot tea and escape into a world far away from our own. Traversing the traditional book as well as interacting with the texture of its pages, cover, and size also hold sentiment. Sometimes we even hug the book in a gesture of intimacy or hold it up in delight once we have completed the reading. In all instances, it serves as a friend in which we interact with.

Now if we take the content of that same book and recreate it in a new form of media, how will the viewer interaction change? Obviously it changes everything. New bonds must be forged, physically, psychologically, and even emotionally. (Assuming of course that the viewer yearns for these bonds.) Even the interaction between reading a hardback book versus a soft cover book effect the meaning of the activity. The hardback book is treated with more respect and is held differently, if only by virtue of its' physicality. It is more common to see written notes or highlighted sections in soft cover books than in their hardcover counterparts simply because we interact with the two differently.

The advent of various new technologies has also changed the physical activity of interacting with content. The same text is consumed differently in each of the variety of media forms it is offered, bringing new understandings through each experience. The book above would be physically interacted with completely differently if its material form was digitized to be read on a computer screen. If its form was embodied in a book tape or CD, the interaction would be still different.

This concept of materiality exists subconsciously I think for most. The conversation of reading the book versus seeing the movie always brings with it comments on preference towards one or the other. The matter of interpretation and execution of book-to-film are always in the forefront of these conversations but Hayles' point is still made. Recreating the same text in the form of cybertext brings about similar conversations. The presence of animation, hypertext, imagery, etc., alters the meaning of the text in its own unique way, and is also often followed by the discourse of debate.

Whether new material forms in which literary texts are remediated effect the original text's integrity is always debatable. The point, however, is that these remediations offer new interpretations on every level of human interaction. Past the physical activity of consuming a literary text, from holding a printed book to adjusting a computer monitor to achieve a more convenient viewing position, our psychological and emotional reactions are also modified. Will we ever form the same type of bonds that have evolved through the historical materiality of holding and reading a printed book? Will we ever hug a computer screen the same way we hug a printed book? Or will our emotional attachments fade away in reaction to the cold impersonal touch of computers? I don't think so. Soon the same intimacy we've held so dear in our human interactions with printed books will evolve into a new type of intimacy for the interaction with our computers. One thing holds true though. We will come to experience our dear old friend the book in new and different ways as we comfortably adjust to our intimate new cyber environment.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this post, Carol! I agree that there is a difference between even a hard copy and a paper back copy of the book. I also agree that I think the emotional bond will change not necessarily dissolve. I know people that hold their iPhones or iPads very lovingly just like I would a book. Now that I own an iPhone, I have realized I have started being that way as well. If I accidentally drop it, I freak out and pick it up and stroke it and apologize for dropping it (I can't believe I'm admitting that...). I'll even admit I've done that to a beloved hard bound book too. The emotional bond is still there, it's just a different type of bond.