Thoughts on 'The New Media Reader'

"[A computer is] like an Old Testament god, with a lot of rules and no mercy.
-- Joseph Campbell

I read and re-read the Table of Contents, the User's Manual, and the Statement of Purpose in order to grasp the 'New Media Reader's big picture--it's trajectory, organization, and purpose.

Divided into four major themes, and arranged chronologically, 'The New Media Reader'
attempts to thematically unite the divergent texts of computer scientists, artists,
architects, literary writers, interface designers, and cultural critics spanning fifty years, from WWII to the WWW. The accompanying CD contains audio-visual samples of early games, digital art, independent literary efforts, as well as digitized video documenting new media programs. The form follows the function of this ambitious tome, which claims--convincingly--to be the first authoritative history of new media. The anthology is concerned with a field of study that has developed around the potential of the computer and about whose application, importance, history and future nearly everyone has a different idea. Furthermore, the field itself is a moving target, transmogrifying at a rate faster than it can be defined.

Murray talks of two strands running throughout the story of New Media--the engineers and the humanists. They are often at odds with one another yet coming together energetically in collaborations focused on new structures of learning.' Despite the myriad miscommunications/tensions between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, (and civilization, at large), we are united by our profound desires to learn, to improve, to be smarter and do things better. And no one can argue, whatever their ideological position, that the computer does not promise to do all that and then some. Murray argues the representational power of the computer derives from four qualities: encyclopedic and spacial, (which create the illusion of immersion in an explorable space), procedural and participatory, (which provide 'interactivity'). This last is the function of the computer that humans find most exciting, and immediately applicable, since now it can begin to act like 'us.' Yes, Igor, that's what I mean, 'It's alive!'

"So God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him..."
Genesis l. 27

Interactivity has been applied in a variety of artistic mediums. Thus far, it is in thefield of video games that the creation of detailed, immersive, expressive storybook worlds have been most commercially successful.

However, the origins of interactive fiction lie in the dusty halls of an Argentinean
library, where Jorge Luis Borges imagined the first hypertext novel twenty years before the computer. Of course, his version is more akin to the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' children's books that ran from 1979-1998, and which captured my imagination intensely when I was a kid.

In the 'Garden of Forking Paths' (1941) we see most importantly the philosophical idea of multiple worlds of potential action existing simultaneously. (There is also a strong precursor to postmodernism apparent in the use of a 'book within a book'--as David mentioned in his comments). Proponents of hypertext fiction look to Borges as their godfather as they attempt to create interest in and momentum for their largely
marginalized and academic niche movement. We certainly have not seen 'The End of Books,'as Coover predicted in 1992; however, one could argue such a bold claim fits within the paradigm of 'technomyopia,' since the movement needs some time to heat up, culturally speaking. This is the area of the reading that is most interesting to me since the focus of my M.S. research will probably be the potential of hypertext fiction--an immersive hypertext-based story that utilizes sound, animation, and film.
From a creative writing standpoint, the true challenge, I believe, is to come up with enough narrative material to effect a willing suspension of disbelief sufficient to immerse the audience.