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This review is taken from PN Review 154, Volume 30 Number 2, November - December 2003.

SPRIGHTLY PEAS OR LANKY BEANPOLES? The New Media Reader, edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort (MIT Press)


This volume, according to its editors, is an 'effort to uncover and assemble a representative collection of critical thoughts, events, and developments from the computer's humanistic and artistic past, its conception not as an advanced calculator but as a new medium, or as enabling new media'. Their phraseology suggests a dichotomy - between 'critical thoughts' on the one hand and 'events and developments' on the other. Is The New Media Reader a collection of criticism and theory in the new media field, or a history of the hardware and software developments which have made it possible for us to regard computers and the Internet 'as a new medium, or as enabling new media'? To some extent it is both, and there are good reasons for this.

The theory of new media art - especially hyperliterature, which this collection deals with more thoroughly than any of the other forms - cannot be properly understood without tracing the technological developments which have taken place in computing over the last fifty or sixty years, and the surprisingly philosophical ideas which have often underpinned them. Vannevar Bush's famous essay 'As We May Think', from 1945, sets the tone by suggesting that computerised information should not be filed away in predetermined categories, but linked together by individual users into 'associative trials', because such an arrangement will be more sympathetic to the workings of the human mind:

Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality ...


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