Saturday, March 17, 2007

Computerized Culture Before and Now

Manovich’s The Database Logic was definitely not as dense as the Virilio works, but linking together the various parts of the author’s logic and definition of culture was a bit difficult. At the very end, he links all of his thoughts to filmmaking and then it becomes clear how the reading is relevant to our class theme.

The author first introduces the idea of a database as a comparison to the traditional form of cultural expression, the narrative. A database is defined as a structured collection of data. Both essentially present their own models of the world and culture. However, the database has probably expanded beyond the limits of the narrative because huge amounts of data can be stored, organized, and accessed through new means of technology, such as CD-ROMs and the internet. What is even more special about these forms of database is that they are continually growing with unlimited additional information possible.

Adding onto the database logic, Manovich brings in the idea of algorithms using video games as a means of understanding. Algorithms are more similar to narratives in a way since they are basically patterns or paths followed by the players of video games depending on what data from the database is chosen at each step. Gamers become good at games if they can imagine a model of the game in their minds that is similar to the computer model. A good summary of the relationship between data structure and algorithm is “Any process or task is reduced to an algorithm…And any object in the world…is modeled as a data structure” (223). Together they create a cultural sphere that puts together an image of the world and society.

Two new terms are introduced later on that are synonymous to database and algorithm. These are paradigm and syntagm. These two terms discuss the difference between reality (syntagm) and non-reality (paradigm). However, in this world of developing technology, their roles seem to have been reversed and the database (paradigm) is given material existence while the narrative (syntagm) is dematerialized. This is because “the narrative is constructed by linking elements of this database in a particular order, that is by designing a trajectory leading from one element to another. On the material level, a narrative is just a set of links; the elements themselves remain stored in the database” (231).

Later on, the author discusses the historical reach of these two concepts and how they are not just related to modern media and technology. I find the author’s reasoning very compelling and logical. The world and the events that occur in society can be broken down into processes and the elements that are the fundamental building blocks of these processes. It is sound reasoning to me because the actions that we take are decided upon by looking at all the options we have and by choosing a pattern of these options to create a sort of trajectory. These decisions probably last only nanoseconds in our brains, but they do occur. I don’t believe in putting absolutely no thought into your actions. Using video games and modern media as examples really helps put the author’s reasoning into perspective. Even the historical context of the paradigm and the syntagm in encyclopedias and novels truly puts into perspective how applicable these concepts are to human life and human lifestyle.

In the end, all of the author’s ideas accumulate to applying the concepts to filmmaking. Although this is the part that is relevant to our class, I feel like after giving the whole perspective of how these concepts apply to basically every action and every second of our lives, the manifestation in filmmaking and Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera serves only as an example and isn’t any more significant than the historical or internet examples. The author’s connection between new technological terms (database/algorithm and paradigm/syntagm) and the past, present, and future of our daily actions has sound reasoning behind it and it’s amazing to think that life can be broken down into such simple fundamental aspects.



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