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The Myth of Media Purity:
Books in the age of new media


Hilary Greenbaum, Jiwon Lee





introduction by Hilary Greenbaum

The Myth of Media Purity
Time has shown that whenever a new technology is introduced in society, be it through ornamentation, materials, or terminology, it masks itself in a piece of history for the sake of familiarity. When the internet and other forms of new media were introduced to the public in the early to mid 1990's, analogies were quickly made to the most familiar technology in which people received information: books. Screens were referred to as web pages, customized links were referred to as booksmarks and referencing digital media was referred to as browsing. Soon enough many began to question when the book itself would be replaced entirely by digital media. A rivalry between the old and the new was created, yet new media is so new that it has only begun to define itself and its role within our society.
In the book Rethinking Media Change, the introduction states that in order 'to comprehend the aesthetics of transition, we must resist notions of media purity, recognizing that each medium is touched by and in turn touches its neighbors and rivals.' There are many predictions about what might happen to print in the digital age, and in effort to inform some of those predictions, this project addresses some of the effects new media has had on the book so far. We have limited our sample set of books to seminal works within the realm of the arts and design simply because the aesthetic sensibility of this field allows the most recent trends to bubble to the surface faster than others.
Our research has indicated that two main shifts have occurred. On the outside, books seem to have embraced their physicality, an element that digital media does not share. Books such as S, M, L, XL by Bruce Mau and Sumo by Helmut Newton are monumental volumes that serve as testaments to their staying power. On the inside, however, book content has embraced the informational structure and navigational systems of new media. Books seem to be adapting to how our society desires to watch instead of read. In looking at the research, it seems clear that the book will not disappear anytime in the near future, but like any type of media, it will continue to evolve to suit the needs of our culture.