Katherine Greene Recommends “Remediation: Understanding New Media” by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin

In the latest installment of our Recommended Reads series, Ph.D. student Katherine Greene recommends Remediation: Understanding New Media by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin.

Just by reading this blog post, readers must operate in hypermediated spaces—spaces that both want the readers’ technology to disappear, while simultaneously calling readers’ attention to it. For example, to read this post, readers had to use a smart phone, computer, or tablet to follow links on different webpages. At the same time, readers might have been streaming music in the background or hearing the familiar dings of inbox alerts. As readers interact with this “Recommended Reads” post, their digital technology attempts to provide a transparent interaction with the text, all the while, reminding readers they are reading a blog post via digital technology. This paradox of new digital media is the center of discussion in Remediation: Understanding New Media (1999) by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin.

In their consideration of the dual logic embodied in new digital media, the authors argue that all new digital media are representations of older media (15). New digital media, as Bolter and Grusin define it, have three characteristics: immediacy, hypermediacy, and remediation. Immediacy is digital media’s attempt to operate transparently with its user, providing an immediate connection with representations of the real world (21). Hypermediacy refers to the ways (either subtle or explicit) in which digital media reminds its users of the media in use (34). Immediacy and hypermediacy are the strategies used in digital media to mediate, or represent the real world (59). Yet, digital technology also remediates, or fashions and potentially improves one medium in another (45). The authors note that remediation is not a new concept as the first printed books remediated (or attempted to improve) manuscripts, and early photography remediated oil paintings (68-69). According to the authors, “The gesture of reform is ingrained in American culture, and this is perhaps why American culture takes so easily to strategies of remediation” (61). The significance, Bolter and Grusin argue, in this is that remediation is accomplishing social change (61).

Remediation: Understanding New Media is organized into three parts (theory, media, and self), which are not intended to be read linearly. In this sense, the authors attempt to remediate a webpage with its non-linear structure, including bolded page “links,” which operate like webpage hyperlinks. Page links in the theory section connect readers to discussion of a related medium in the other sections and vice versa. Though this is an interesting idea, it is distracting. The functionality of flipping physical pages was not as seamless as clicking a link, which opened a separate webpage. Additionally, the book is dated. Conversations of specific media (computer games, digital photography, photorealistic graphics, digital art, film, virtual reality, mediated spaces, television, World Wide Web, ubiquitous computing, and convergence) do not always apply to current practices. However, the theoretical foundation and in-depth discussion of immediacy, hypermediacy, and remediation, which are at the core of the authors’ argument, continue to be timeless, providing a lens through which we can view current digital media and relevant concepts applicable to media that did not exist in 1999, such as social media websites.

Bolter and Grusin say, “…these new media are doing exactly what their predecessors have done: presenting themselves as refashioned and improved versions of other media” (15). As a writing instructor, these are key ideas to communicate to my students in an effort to instill an appreciation or understanding in them that current technologies are representations of older media. As a writing researcher, I am interested in new digital media as agents of social change (61). Also, I see vast opportunities for investigating new digital media’s trend of appropriating older media by converging or blending them, and understanding how users interact with or adapt to the continuous change in digital media.

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