buy a computer
search Google maps
take a bad photo and make it good
disseminate a message
make a music video
create a webpage
All while being completely unaware of the software that commands it.
I was going to post a really cool photo to show how Lev Manovich is right on the money in Software Takes Command (Bloomsbury 2013) when he discusses how software does not keep track of itself–its history is gone with the update. Who would want a 2009 version of the street view of Edith Boulevard in Albuquerque in Google maps? You see, I am a Google maps junkie. I could spend hours looking at different layers of the maps in Google Earth. I wanted to share with you a picture of me canvassing for votes just before the 2008 election taken by one of Google’s cars. Instead, I will entertain you with two photos of the beautiful house in Martineztown that we used to own. One is from 2011, the other from 2007. I am sure you can tell which is which, just by forensically examining the shrubbery.
The problem is that Google writes its user interfaces the same way that Adobe does: it appeals to our desire to have the newest, the best, the most updated, and the old, outdated images are scrubbed. Who wants to have the oldest version of Adobe Photoshop or Premier? The old software that compiles layers of data and algorithms scrubs the history of the place clean.
I am replaced by the Madrid brothers who prowl our neighborhood for a hit of heroin.
What is lost? Well, not only an image of Google Street View that I was in, which was, I have to say, pretty cool, but also an image of a moment in time, canvassing before an election, getting to know my neighbors, and being part of a physical history of a place. The software has assumed that I need the newest information, without anticipating the other information that it has scrubbed away. Manovich laments not only the loss of historical software, but the loss of the products created by this software.
What was I hoping for, besides a droll image of me? I was actually hoping for a remediated experience: “digital computers imitate older media” (58). Remediation is “the representation of one medium in another” (59). Not only can I use a computer to recreate a real experience (a drive through Martineztown), but I can also use a computer running software to simulate a filmed or recorded experience of driving through a neighborhood. And I don’t even have to understand how the software works. I probably wouldn’t understand anyway. This is the simulation machine, but in this case, it failed me slightly.
The medium, software, is the message. We have entered a new world of seamless GUI displays, where we hardly agonize over the software running in the background. Tablet computers, Manovich reminds us, are the ultimate in seamless interface: we are seamlessly linked with our media, but also with our tablets’ purposes. The purpose is to create new opportunities not to create, we are warned, but to consume. In order to create much of anything original with a tablet computer, advanced skills are needed to jailbreak the device and then to reprogram it. The purpose of this, alas, would just be to download more apps that are not on the official stores, not to create anything or write anymore interesting programs. The medium, then of the tablet, has a message: download and consume, but do not create. And make sure to download and consume only remediations of what media already does: show movies, make a bad selfie good, read a book, edit a video.
Leave that hard stuff to someone else.