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Book Review
Remediation: Understanding New Media

written by
Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin
reviewed by
Jeffrey A. Wigal,
Residence Hall Director
SUNY College at Cortland
Posted February, 23, 2001         Student Affairs Online, 2 (Winter)

This is not like TV, only better. This is life. It's a piece of somebody's life. Pure and uncut, straight from the cerebral cortex. You're there. You're doing it, seeing it, hearing it, and feeling it.

Nero attempts to sell a futuristic device, called "the wire" to a potential customer in the movie Strange Days. Similar to virtual reality, the user places the device over her head and allows the device to interact directly with her brain. In this movie, Nero tries to convince others that the wire will make other forms of media obsolete.

Similar to the movie, many have thought that the rapid explosion of media technology could make our traditional media obsolete. Authors Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin argue this is not the case, and that we have seen this kind of improvement and refashioning of media throughout history. They believe that a transition is taking place; our culture strives to expand and improve our media, in an effort to provide the recipient with the ultimate "transparent" experience. In other words, media try to make the viewer feel like they are involved and experiencing reality, rather than simply interacting with a computer, watching television, or reading a newspaper.

The book claims that this effort is two sided. The first method, called "immediacy" attempts to blur or erase any evidence of the media itself. For example, a virtual reality simulation attempts to put the viewer in the proverbial driver's seat, attempting to give the viewer an experience as close to reality as possible. The second method, called "hypermediacy" attempts to improve technology by reminding the viewer of the media. This method often shows itself as "functionality over form". Among others, the USA Today website offers readers a fragmented "at-a-glance" view of the world. The site does not attempt to show the world as seen through the reporter's eyes, however the reader can choose what to see next, simply by point-and-click.

The book is divided into three sections; much like this review, the text contain "hyperlinks" to cross-reference their theory with practical examples.

Section One (Theory) lays the groundwork for the rest of the text. These chapters introduce the theory of remediation: media attempts to constantly improve upon itself, whether it be the new media borrowing techniques from the old media, or old media borrowing from the new. Many websites borrow their visual style from a traditional magazine format, using color and pictures to stimulate the reader; this shows how new technology can borrow from the traditional media. However, this process can work in reverse. The television network Headline News borrows it's news and stock "tickers" from the World Wide Web, displaying news, weather and sports highlights from around the world, while their anchor discusses the current news story.

Section Two (Applications) demonstrates their theory in a multitude of different genres, devoting chapters to television, motion pictures, virtual reality, the World Wide Web, and digital photography, among others. The book does an excellent job of integrating hundreds of relevant examples into their theory. These chapters cover topics such as: the ethics of digital photography; computer games as social spaces and interactive film; television and how it has refashioned itself against the new media; the role of the Disney empire in various genres; as well as the social and economic implications of these new technologies. Bolter and Grusin further demonstrate how the rapid development of technology has fulfilled the consumer's desire for immediacy, at the same time increasing access to hypermediated information that can be customized to the viewer's personal preferences.

Section Three (Self) examines the consequences of their theory from a social perspective. The authors demonstrate how these technologies can give way to virtual empathy, giving users the opportunity to see and experience events that would be otherwise impossible. For example, through virtual reality, medical school students can see what it's like to be a molecule traveling through the human body. They also discuss how users are able to redefine themselves through various virtual experiences and chat rooms.

As these new advances in technology take hold, student affairs struggles to keep up with these rapid changes which impact our students and our work lives. Ever wonder why many male students are able to play Madden Live, Doom, or Quake for hours on end?  Why are roommates communicating to each other using AOL Instant Messenger, rather than speaking face-to-face?  Although this book may not tackle these subjects directly, the text helps bring some perspective to some of the trends we see on a daily basis. This book is in-depth enough to serve as a supplemental textbook, yet easy enough for the casual reader to learn more about how technology is shaping the way we view the world.

Bolter, J. D., & Grusin, R. (2000). Remediation: understanding new media. Cambridge: MIT Press.



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