The New Media Reader

Arie Altena

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Nick Montfort, The New Media Reader, MIT Press, Cambridge 2003, ISBN:0262232278, 823 pp, English text

Let's say it's 1994 and you're a student, you have a Mac and recently an internet connection as well. Voyager are publishing their first multimedia books, Wired is hot and you are surfing Gopherspace. It seems to you there's something going on, something to do with hypertext, hypermedia, networks, the use of computers for art and information management. And it seems to you that it has a bigger and longer history than you know . You come across names like Ted Nelson and Vannevar Bush. A book by George Landow about hypertext shows the interconnection of poststructuralist thought and computer development. That was 1994. Just before Mosaic and Netscape.

So now it's here. The book that ends the history of hypermedia in 1994, that is, the history of hypermedia as imagined in 1994. More than 800 pages, starting with Borges and ending with an article of Tim Berners-Lee, Robert Caillau and others about the World Wide Web. Now we know what that meant. This book signifies the end of one history of hypermedia. Things really started happening after 1994.

Whose names are in this big book of text and pictures? The pictures are mostly diagrams of course, and the diagrams from the art scene are just like those from science. This is a textbook, filled with classical texts. It's not the kind of book you read from cover to cover, not even for a review. It's a book you browse and use. The quality of the book depends on the selection of material and secondary, the quality of the introductions , which, by the way, is quite good. So who has made it in here?

Of course: Borges, Bush, Turing, Wiener, Licklider, Nelson, Engelbart, McLuhan, Deleuze & Guattari, Baudrillard, Shneiderman, Turkle, Haraway, Stallman, Winograd, Kay, Aarseth, Bolter and Tim Berners-Lee. But also, and that's very nice: Alan Kaprow about happenings, a big section of OULIPO-stuff, Enzensberger, Raymond Williams, Robert Coover and even the Dutchmen Bordewijk & Van Kaam with their communication theory that is part of the curriculum in a lot of schools for communication and journalism as far as I know.

What then, is missing? A few things. But that's no surprise. You cannot stuff everything into 800 pages. In general I got the impression that theory about games and popular culture was a bit underrepresented. And I thought cyberpunk preceded 1994? Or is the section on Haraway meant to represent that? You can't have it all and the gaps here also indicate the editorial direction of this reader.

Let's end on a positive note: the book comes with a CD-rom on which, among other things, you can see Douglas Engelbart present the mouse and hear Alan Kay talk about the Sketchpad and the Dynabook. There's Spacewar here as well and games for Atari and Apple II. (Surely someone must have written about that in the early nineties?) You'll also find four of the poems James Dickey wrote in Hypercard, one of the things I read about, but never saw.

This book makes you feel nostalgic, even if the interfaces from the eighties and early nineties were ugly (yes, some progression has been made since then). The book even feels and looks like your old book about Hypercard, it has the same paper, same type, same smell, and the same hard cover or is my memory playing tricks on me?

Although of course almost everything here is to be found on the Internet as well (if you search for it hard enough) and I would probably make a different selection, this books seems to be one of the more useful textbooks around. Anyhow, it's pretty handy if you're teaching this stuff.

Quick review, published on http://www.mediamatic.net
some rights reserved
Arie Altena
index