Being bad can have a big impact.
I’m reminded of the worst class I ever took more frequently than the best. The lessons from the best teachers and classmates have, hopefully, become natural (no need for overt recall).
The big fallacy of the course rang out again yesterday as I grappled with some interactive media concepts. The teacher, who was widely respected by the student population for his politics and pop star status (in the poetry world), made the proud proclamation “THERE IS NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN”.
This was in 1993. A couple years before the commercialization of the Internet.
Now you can say, “But, but…The internet is just like television -same thing MASS COMMUNICATION!” And television is just like the moveable type printing press, right?
“But, but… They’re all just media in which to tell stories!” And Stephen King’s version of “The Shining” is indistinguishable from Stanley Kubrick’s.
Had the lesson been -”We’ve all been telling the same two stories for ten thousand years, you’re not gonna come up with a new one” -that would have been understandable.
In fact, there are novel ways to recount stories. Technology plays a role by allowing humans to develop new methods of seeing and thinking about the world.
Motion pictures changed the way humans process visual information. Look at a cartoon from the pre-cinema era. “The Yellow Kid”, begun in the annus mirabilis of film (1895), is a perfect example.
The image is read in layers. Time piles on, burrows in.
It may just be coincidence that the father of animation is also the father of the sequential cartooning. It may also be that Winsor McCay had an instinctual vision of time that paralleled film time and applied it to his print work.
These aren’t storyboards, but they do demonstrate a linear approach to time. This type of cartooning existed before 1895, after the advent of the motion picture it became dominant. Film instigated something new. A new way of understanding.
As the summer sun beats down on this new form of new media -apps and on-demand and html5 and whatnot -resemblances to the old ways of seeing shine. There are linear elements like in film, there are burrowing elements like “The Yellow Kid”, there are stream of thought elements like in a novel, there’s immediacy like the nightly news. Assigning these individual elements authority over the whole is akin to saying television is like a stage play mixed with electricity -it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the impact of the direction narrative forms are heading. The personalized media (the apps, et cetera) signify an evolutionary change in human thought on the level of moveable type meeting the moving image.
Every so often, there is something new.