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<nettime> Software Takes Command (a new book by Lev Manovich)
geert lovink on Sat, 22 Nov 2008 15:05:16 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Software Takes Command (a new book by Lev Manovich)


Lev Manovich
SOFTWARE TAKES COMMAND

DOWNLOAD THE BOOK:
PDF | no footnotes
DOC | includes footnotes

http://lab.softwarestudies.com/2008/11/softbook.html

VERSION:
November 20, 2008.

Please note that this version has not been proofread yet, and it is  
also missing illustrations.

Length: 82,071 Words (including footnotes).





Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- 
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License
Please notify me if you want to reprint any parts of the book.

BOOK AS SOFTWARE:
One of the advantages of online distribution which I can control is  
that I don???t have to permanently fix the book???s contents. Like  
contemporary software and web services, the book can change as often  
as I like, with new ???features??? and ???big fixes??? added  
periodically. I plan to take advantage of these possibilities. From  
time to time, I will be adding new material and making changes and  
corrections to the text.

LATEST VERSION:
Check this page for the latest version of the book.
http://softwarestudies.com/softbook

SUGGESTIONS, CORRECTIONS AND COMMENTS:
send to manovich {AT} ucsd.edu with the word ???softbook??? in the email  
header.

ABOUT THE VERSIONS:
One of the advantages of online distribution which I can control is  
that I don???t have to permanently fix the book???s contents. Like  
contemporary software and web services, the book can change as often  
as I like, with new ???features??? and ???big fixes??? added  
periodically. I plan to take advantage of these possibilities. From  
time to time, I will be adding new material and making changes and  
corrections to the text.

--

Introduction: Software Studies for Beginners

Software, or the Engine of Contemporary Societies

In the beginning of the 1990s, the most famous global brands were the  
companies that were in the business of producing materials goods or  
processing physical matter. Today, however, the lists of best- 
recognized global brands are topped with the names such as Google,  
Yahoo, and Microsoft. (In fact, Google was number one in the world in  
2007 in terms of brand recognition.) And, at least in the U.S., the  
most widely read newspapers and magazines - New York Times, USA Today,  
Business Week, etc. - daily feature news and stories about YouTube,  
MySpace, Facebook, Apple, Google, and other IT companies.

What about other media? If you access CNN web site and navigate to the  
business section, you will see a market data for just ten companies  
and indexes displayed right on the home page.[1] Although the list  
changes daily, it is always likely to include some of the same IT  
brands. Lets take January 21, 2008 as an example. On that day CNN list  
consisted from the following companies and indexes: Google, Apple, S&P  
500 Index, Nasdaq Composite Index, Dow Jones Industrial Average, Cisco  
Systems, General Electric, General Motors, Ford, Intel.[2]

This list is very telling. The companies that deal with physical goods  
and energy appear in the second part of the list: General Electric,  
General Motors, Ford. Next we have two IT companies that provide  
hardware: Intel makes computer chips, while Cisco makes network  
equipment. What about the two companies which are on top: Google and  
Apple? The first appears to be in the business of information, while  
the second is making consumer electronics: laptops, monitors, music  
players, etc. But actually, they are both really making something  
else. And apparently, this something else is so crucial to the  
workings of US economy???and consequently, global world as well???that  
these companies almost daily appear in business news. And the major  
Internet companies that also daily appear in news - Yahoo, Facebook,  
Amazon, eBay ??? are in the same business.

This ???something else??? is software. Search engines, recommendation  
systems, mapping applications, blog tools, auction tools, instant  
messaging clients, and, of course, platforms which allow others to  
write new software ??? Facebook, Windows, Unix, Android ??? are in the  
center of the global economy, culture, social life, and, increasingly,  
politics. And this ???cultural software??? ??? cultural in a sense that  
it is directly used by hundreds of millions of people and that it  
carries ???atoms??? of culture (media and information, as well as human  
interactions around these media and information) ??? is only the  
visible part of a much larger software universe.

Software controls the flight of a smart missile toward its target  
during war, adjusting its course throughout the flight. Software runs  
the warehouses and production lines of Amazon, Gap, Dell, and numerous  
other companies allowing them to assemble and dispatch material  
objects around the world, almost in no time. Software allows shops and  
supermarkets to automatically restock their shelves, as well as  
automatically determine which items should go on sale, for how much,  
and when and where in the store. Software, of course, is what  
organizes the Internet, routing email messages, delivering Web pages  
from a server, switching network traffic, assigning IP addresses, and  
rendering Web pages in a browser. The school and the hospital, the  
military base and the scientific laboratory, the airport and the city??? 
all social, economic, and cultural systems of modern society???run on  
software. Software is the invisible glue that ties it all together.  
While various systems of modern society speak in different languages  
and have different goals, they all share the syntaxes of software:  
control statements ???if/then??? and ???while/do???, operators and data  
types including characters and floating point numbers, data structures  
such as lists, and interface conventions encompassing menus and dialog  
boxes.

If electricity and the combustion engine made industrial society  
possible, software similarly enables gllobal information society. The  
???knowledge workers???, the ???symbol analysts???, the ???creative  
industries???, and the ???service industries??? - all these key  
economic players of information society can???t exist without software.  
Data visualization software used by a scientist, spreadsheet software  
used a financial analyst, Web design software used by a designer  
working for a transnational advertising energy, reservation software  
used by an airline. Software is what also drives the process of  
globalization, allowing companies to distribute management nodes,  
production facilities, and storage and consumption outputs around the  
world. Regardless of which new dimension of contemporary existence a  
particular social theory of the last few decades has focused on??? 
information society, knowledge society, or network society???all these  
new dimensions are enabled by software.

Paradoxically, while social scientists, philosophers, cultural  
critics, and media and new media theorists have by now seem to cover  
all aspects of IT revolution, creating a number of new disciplines  
such as cyber culture, Internet studies, new media theory, and digital  
culture, the underlying engine which drives most of these subjects??? 
software???has received little or not direct attention. Software is  
still invisible to most academics, artists, and cultural professionals  
interested in IT and its cultural and social effects. (One important  
exception is Open Source movement and related issues around copyright  
and IP that has been extensively discussed in many academic  
disciplines). But if we limit critical discussions to the notions of  
???cyber???, ???digital???, ???Internet,??? ???networks,??? ???new  
media???, or ???social media,??? we will never be able to get to what  
is behind new representational and communication media and to  
understand what it really is and what it does. If we don???t address  
software itself, we are in danger of always dealing only with its  
effects rather than the causes: the output that appears on a computer  
screen rather than the programs and social cultures that produce these  
outputs.

???Information society,??? ???knowledge society,??? ???network  
society,??? ???social media??? ??? regardless of which new feature of  
contemporary existence a particular social theory has focused on, all  
these new features are enabled by software. It is time we focus on  
software itself.

What is ???software studies????

This book aims to contribute to the developing intellectual paradigm  
of ???software studies.??? What is software studies? Here are a few  
definitions. The first comes from my own book The Language of New  
Media (completed in 1999; published by MIT Press in 2001), where, as  
far as I know, the terms ???software studies??? and ???software  
theory??? appeared for the first time. I wrote:  ???New media calls for  
a new stage in media theory whose beginnings can be traced back to the  
revolutionary works of Robert Innis and Marshall McLuhan of the 1950s.  
To understand the logic of new media we need to turn to computer  
science. It is there that we may expect to find the new terms,  
categories and operations that characterize media that became  
programmable. From media studies, we move to something which can be  
called software studies; from media theory ??? to software theory.???

Reading this statement today, I feel some adjustments are in order. It  
positions computer science as a kind of absolute truth, a given which  
can explain to us how culture works in software society. But computer  
science is itself part of culture. Therefore, I think that Software  
Studies has to investigate both the role of software in forming  
contemporary culture, and cultural, social, and economic forces that  
are shaping development of software itself.

The book that first comprehensively demonstrated the necessity of the  
second approach was New Media Reader edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and  
Nick Montfort (The MIT Press, 2003). The publication of this  
groundbreaking anthology laid the framework for the historical study  
of software as it relates to the history of culture. Although Reader  
did not explicitly use the term ???software studies,??? it did propose  
a new model for how to think about software. By systematically  
juxtaposing important texts by pioneers of cultural computing and key  
artists active in the same historical periods, the Reader demonstrated  
that both belonged to the same larger epistemes. That is, often the  
same idea was simultaneously articulated in thinking of both artists  
and scientists who were inventing cultural computing. For instance,  
the anthology opens with the story by Jorge Borges (1941) and the  
article by Vannevar Bush (1945) which both contain the idea of a  
massive branching structure as a better way to organize data and to  
represent human experience.

In February 2006 Mathew Fuller who already published a pioneering book  
on software as culture (Behind the Blip, essays on the culture of  
software, 2003) organized the very first Software Studies Workshop at  
Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam. Introducing the workshop, Fuller  
wrote: ???Software is often a blind spot in the theorization and study  
of computational and networked digital media. It is the very grounds  
and ???stuff??? of media design. In a sense, all intellectual work is  
now ???software study???, in that software provides its media and its  
context, but there are very few places where the specific nature, the  
materiality, of software is studied except as a matter of  
engineering.???[3]

I completely agree with Fuller that ???all intellectual work is now  
???software study.??? Yet it will take some time before the  
intellectuals will realize it. At the moment of this writing (Spring  
2008), software studies is a new paradigm for intellectual inquiry  
that is now just beginning to emerge. The MIT Press is publishing the  
very first book that has this term in its title later this year  
(Software Studies: A Lexicon, edited by Matthew Fuller.) At the same  
time, a number of already published works by the leading media  
theorists of our times - Katherine Hayles, Friedrich A. Kittler,  
Lawrence Lessig, Manual Castells, Alex Galloway, and others - can be  
retroactively identified as belonging to "software studies.[4]  
Therefore, I strongly believe that this paradigm has already existed  
for a number of years but it has not been explicitly named so far. (In  
other words, the state of "software studies" is similar to where "new  
media" was in the early 1990s.)

In his introduction to 2006 Rotterdam workshop Fuller writes that  
???software can be seen as an object of study and an area of practice  
for art and design theory and the humanities, for cultural studies and  
science and technology studies and for an emerging reflexive strand of  
computer science.??? Given that a new academic discipline can be  
defined either through a unique object of study, a new research  
method, or a combination of the two, how shall we think of software  
studies? Fuller???s statement implies that ???software??? is a new  
object of study which should be put on the agenda of existing  
disciplines and which can be studied using already existing methods ???  
for instance, object-network theory, social semiotics, or media  
archeology.

I think there are good reasons for supporting this perspective. I  
think of software as a layer that permeates all areas of contemporary  
societies. Therefore, if we want to understand contemporary techniques  
of control, communication, representation, simulation, analysis,  
decision-making, memory, vision, writing, and interaction, our  
analysis can't be complete until we consider this software layer.  
Which means that all disciplines which deal with contemporary society  
and culture ??? architecture, design, art criticism, sociology,  
political science, humanities, science and technology studies, and so  
on ??? need to account for the role of software and its effects in  
whatever subjects they investigate.

At the same time, the existing work in software studies already  
demonstrates that if we are to focus on software itself, we need a new  
methodology. That is, it helps to practice what one writes about. It  
is not accidental that the intellectuals who have most systematically  
written about software???s roles in society and culture so far all  
either have programmed themselves or have been systematically involved  
in cultural projects which centrally involve writing of new software:  
Katherine Hales, Mathew Fuller, Alexander Galloway, Ian Bogust, Geet  
Lovink, Paul D. Miller, Peter Lunenfeld, Katie Salen, Eric Zimmerman,  
Matthew Kirschenbaum, William J. Mitchell, Bruce Sterling, etc. In  
contrast, the scholars without this experience such as Jay Bolter,  
Siegfried Zielinski, Manual Castells, and Bruno Latour as have not  
included considerations of software in their overwise highly  
influential accounts of modern media and technology.

In the present decade, the number of students in media art, design,  
architecture, and humanities who use programming or scripting in their  
work has grown substantially ??? at least in comparison to 1999 when I  
first mentioned ???software studies??? in The Language of New Media.  
Outside of culture and academic industries, many more people today are  
writing software as well. To a significant extent, this is the result  
of new programming and scripting languages such as JavaScript,  
ActionScript, PHP, Processing, and others. Another important factor is  
the publication of their APIs by all major Web 2.0 companies in the  
middle of 2000s. (API, or Application Programming Interface, is a code  
that allows other computer programs to access services offered by an  
application. For instance, people can use Google Maps API to embed  
full Google Maps on their own web sites.) These programming and  
scripting languages and APIs did not necessary made programming itself  
any easier. Rather, they made it much more efficient. For instance,  
when a young designer can create an interesting design with only  
couple of dozens of code written in Processing versus writing a really  
long Java program, s/he is much more likely to take up programming.  
Similarly, if only a few lines in JavaScript allows you to integrate  
all the functionality offered by Google Maps into your site, this is a  
great motivation for beginning to work with JavaScript.

In a 2006 article that reviewed other examples of new technologies  
that allow people with very little or no programming experience to  
create new custom software (such as Ning and Coghead), Martin LaMonica  
wrote about a future possibility of ???a long tail for apps.???[5]  
Clearly, today the consumer technologies for capturing and editing  
media are much easier to use than even most high-level programming and  
scripting languages. But it does not necessary have to stay this way.  
Think, for instance, of what it took to set up a photo studio and take  
photographs in 1850s versus simply pressing a single button on a  
digital camera or a mobile phone in 2000s. Clearly, we are very far  
from such simplicity in programming. But I don???t see any logical  
reasons why programming can???t one day become as easy.

For now, the number of people who can script and program keeps  
increasing. Although we are far from a true ???long tail??? for  
software, software development is gradually getting more democratized.  
It is, therefore, the right moment, to start thinking theoretically  
about how software is shaping our culture, and how it is shaped by  
culture in its turn. The time for ???software studies??? has arrived.


Cultural Software

German media and literary theorist Friedrich Kittler wrote that the  
students today should know at least two software languages; only  
???then they'll be able to say something about what 'culture' is at the  
moment.???[6] Kittler himself programs in an assembler language - which  
probably determined his distrust of Graphical User Interfaces and  
modern software applications, which use these interfaces. In a  
classical modernist move, Kittler argued that we need to focus on the  
???essence??? of computer - which for Kittler meant mathematical and  
logical foundations of modern computer and its early history  
characterized by tools such as assembler languages.

This book is determined by my own history of engagement with computers  
as a programmer, computer animator and designer, media artist, and a  
teacher. This practical engagement begins in the early 1980s, which  
was the decade of procedural programming (Pascal), rather than  
assembly programming. It was also the decade that saw introduction of  
PCs and first major cultural impact of computing as desktop publishing  
become popular and hypertext started to be discussed by some literary  
scholars. In fact, I came to NYC from Moscow in 1981, which was the  
year IBM introduced their first PC. My first experience with computer  
graphics was in 1983-1984 on Apple IIE. In 1984 I saw Graphical User  
Interface in its first successful commercial implementation on Apple  
Macintosh. The same year I got the job at one of the first computer  
animation companies (Digital Effects) where I learned how to program  
3D computer models and animations. In 1986 I was writing computer  
programs, which would automatically process photographs to make them  
look like paintings. In January 1987 Adobe Systems shipped  
illustrator, followed by Photoshop in 1989. The same year saw the  
release by The Abyss directed by James Cameron. This movie used  
pioneering CGI to create the first complex virtual character. And, by  
Christmas of 1990s, Tim Berners-Lee already created all the components  
of World Wide Web as it exists today: a web server, web pages, and a  
web browser.

In short, during one decade a computer moved from being a culturally  
invisible technology to being the new engine of culture. While the  
progress in hardware and Moore???s Law of course played crucial roles  
in this, even more crucial was the release of software aimed at non- 
technical users: new graphical user interface, word processing,  
drawing, painting, 3D modeling, animation, music composing and  
editing, information management, hypermedia and multimedia authoring  
(HyperCard, Director), and network information environments (World  
Wide Web.) With easy-to-use software in place, the stage was set for  
the next decade of the 1990s when most culture industries gradually  
shifted to software environments: graphic design, architecture,  
product design, space design, filmmaking, animation, media design,  
music, higher education, and culture management.

Although I first learned to program in 1975 when I was in high school  
in Moscow, my take on software studies has been shaped by watching how  
beginning in the middle of the 1980s, GUI-based software quickly put  
computer in the center of culture. Theoretically, I think we should  
think of the subject of software in the most expanded way possible.  
That is, we need to consider not only ???visible??? software used by  
consumers but also ???grey??? software, which runs all systems and  
processes in contemporary society. Yet, since I don???t have personal  
experience writing logistics software or industrial automation  
software, I will be not be writing about such topics. My concern is  
with a particular subset of software which I used and taught in my  
professional life and which I would call cultural software. While this  
term has previously used metaphorically (see J.M. Balkin, Cultural  
Software: A Theory of Ideology, 2003), in this book I am using this  
term literally to refer to software programs which are used to create  
and access media objects and environments. The examples are programs  
such as Word, PowerPoint, Photoshop, Illustrator, Final Cut, After  
Effects, Flash, Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc. Cultural software, in  
other words, is a subset of application software which enables  
creation, publishing, accessing, sharing, and remixing images, moving  
image sequences, 3D designs, texts, maps, interactive elements, as  
well as various combinations of these elements such as web sites, 2D  
designs, motion graphics, video games, commercial and artistic  
interactive installations, etc. (While originally such application  
software was designed to run on the desktop, today some of the media  
creation and editing tools are also available as webware, i.e.,  
applications which are accessed via Web such as Google Docs.)

Given that today the multi-billion global culture industry is enabled  
by these software programs, it is interesting that there is no a  
single accepted way to classify them. Wikipedia article on  
???application software??? includes the categories of ???media  
development software??? and ???content access software.??? This is  
generally useful but not completely accurate ??? since today most  
???content access software??? also includes at least some media editing  
functions. QuickTime Player can be used to cut and paste parts of  
video; iPhoto allows a number of photo editing operations, and so on.  
Conversely, in most cases ???media development??? (or ???content  
creation???) software such as Word or PowerPoint is the same software  
commonly used to both develop and access content. (This co-existence  
of authoring and access functions is itself an important  
distinguishing feature of software culture). If we are visit web sites  
of popular makes of these software applications such as Adobe and  
Autodesk, we will find that these companies may break their products  
by market (web, broadcast, architecture, and so on) or use sub- 
categories such as ???consumer??? and ???pro.??? This is as good as it  
commonly gets ??? another reason why we should focus our theoretical  
tools on interrogating cultural software.

In this book my focus will be on these applications for media  
development (or ???content creation???) ??? but cultural software also  
includes other types of programs and IT elements. One important  
category is the tools for social communication and sharing of media,  
information, and knowledge such as web browsers, email clients,  
instant messaging clients, wikis, social bookmarking, social citation  
tools, virtual worlds, and so on- in short, social software[7] (Note  
that such use of the term ???social software??? partly overlaps with  
but is not equivalent with the way this term started to be used during  
200s to refer to Web 2.0 platforms such as Wikipedia, Flickr, YouTube,  
and so on.)  Another category is the tools for personal information  
management such as address books, project management applications, and  
desktop search engines. (These categories shift over time: for  
instance, during 2000s the boundary between ???personal information???  
and ???public information??? has started to dissolve disappeared as  
people started to routinely place their media on social networking  
sites and their calendars online. Similarly, Google???s search engine  
shows you the results both on your local machine and the web ??? thus  
conceptually and practically erasing the boundary between ???self???  
and the ???world.???) Since creation of interactive media often  
involves at least some original programming and scripting besides what  
is possible within media development applications such as Dreamweaver  
or Flash, the programming environments also can be considered under  
cultural software. Moreover, the media interfaces themselves ??? icons,  
folders, sounds, animations, and user interactions - are also cultural  
software, since these interface mediate people???s interactions with  
media and other people. (While the older term Graphical User  
Interface, or GUI, continues to be widely used, the newer term ???media  
interface??? is usually more appropriate since many interfaces today  
??? including interfaces of Windows, MAC OS, game consoles, mobile  
phones and interactive store or museums displays such as Nanika  
projects for Nokia and Diesel or installations at Nobel Peace Center  
in Oslo ??? use all types of media besides graphics to communicate with  
the users.[8]) I will stop here but this list can easily be extended  
to include additional categories of software as well.

Any definition is likely to delight some people and to annoy others.  
Therefore, before going forward I would like to meet one likely  
objection to the way I defined ???cultural software.??? Of course, the  
term ???culture??? is not reducible to separate media and design  
???objects??? which may exist as files on a computer and/or as  
executable software programs or scripts. It includes symbols,  
meanings, values, language, habits, beliefs, ideologies, rituals,  
religion, dress and behavior codes, and many other material and  
immaterial elements and dimensions. Consequently, cultural  
anthropologists, linguists, sociologists, and many humanists may be  
annoyed at what may appear as an uncritical reduction of all these  
dimensions to a set of media-creating tools. Am I saying that today  
???culture??? is equated with particular subset of application software  
and the cultural objects can be created with their help? Of course  
not. However, what I am saying - and what I hope this book explicates  
in more detail ??? is that in the end of the 20th century humans have  
added a fundamentally new dimension to their culture. This dimension  
is software in general, and application software for creating and  
accessing content in particular.

I feel that the metaphor of a new dimension added to a space is quite  
appropriate here. That is, ???cultural software??? is not simply a new  
object ??? no matter how large and important ??? which has been dropped  
into the space which we call ???culture.??? In other words, it would be  
imprecise to think of software as simply another term which we can add  
to the set which includes music, visual design, built spaces, dress  
codes, languages, food, club cultures, corporate norms, and so on. So  
while we can certainly study ???the culture of software??? ??? look at  
things such as programming practices, values and ideologies of  
programmers and software companies, the cultures of Silicon Valley and  
Bangalore, etc.- if we only do this, we will miss the real importance  
of software. Like alphabet, mathematics, printing press, combustion  
engine, electricity, and integrated circuits, software re-adjusts and  
re-shapes everything it is applied to ??? or at least, it has a  
potential to do this. In other word, just as adding a new dimension of  
space adds a new coordinate to every element in this space,  
???adding??? software to culture changes the identity of everything  
which a culture is made from.

In other words, our contemporary society can be characterized as a  
software society and our culture can be justifiably called a software  
culture ??? because today software plays a central role in shaping both  
the material elements and many of the immaterial structures which  
together make up ???culture.???

As just one example of how the use of software reshapes even most  
basic social and cultural practices and makes us rethink the concepts  
and theories we developed to describe them, consider the ???atom??? of  
cultural creation, transmission, and memory: a ???document??? (or a  
???work???), i.e. some content stored in some media. In a software  
culture, we no longer deal with ???documents,??? ???works,???  
???messages??? or ???media??? in a 20th century terms. Instead of fixed  
documents whose contents and meaning could be full determined by  
examining their structure (which is what the majority of twentieth  
century theories of culture were doing) we now interact with dynamic  
???software performances.??? I use the word ???performance??? because  
what we are experiencing is constructed by software in real time. So  
whether we are browsing a web site, use Gmail, play a video game, or  
use a GPS-enabled mobile phone to locate particular places or friends  
nearby, we are engaging not with pre-defined static documents but with  
the dynamic outputs of a real-time computation. Computer programs can  
use a variety of components to create these ???outputs???: design  
templates, files stored on a local machine, media pulled out from the  
databases on the network server, the input from a mouse, touch screen,  
or another interface component, and other sources. Thus, although some  
static documents may be involved, the final media experience  
constructed by software can???t be reduced to any single document  
stored in some media. In other words, in contrast to paintings, works  
of literature, music scores, films, or buildings, a critic can???t  
simply consult a single ???file??? containing all of work???s content.

???Reading the code??? ??? i.e., examining the listing of a computer  
program ??? also would not help us. First, in the case of any real-life  
interactive media project, the program code will simply be too long  
and complex to allow a meaningful reading - plus you will have to  
examine all the code libraries it may use. And if we are dealing with  
a web application (referred to as ???webware???) or a dynamic web site,  
they often use multitier software architecture where a number of  
separate software modules interact together (for example, a web  
client, application server, and a database.[9]) (In the case of large- 
scale commercial dynamic web site such as amazon.com, what the user  
experiences as a single web page may involve interactions between more  
than sixty separate software processes.)

Second, even if a program is relatively short and a critic understands  
exactly what the program is supposed to do by examining the code, this  
understanding of the logical structure of the program can???t be  
translated into envisioning the actual user experience. (If it could,  
the process of extensive testing with the actual users which all  
software or media company goes through before they release new  
products ??? anything from a new software application to a new game ???  
would not be required.) In short, I am suggesting ???software  
studies??? should not be confused with ???code studies.??? And while  
another approach - comparing computer code to a music score which gets  
interpreted during the performance (which suggests that music theory  
can be used to understand software culture) ??? appears more promising,  
is also very limited since it can???t address the most fundamental  
dimension of software-driven media experience ??? interactivity.

Even in such seemingly simple cases such as viewing a single PDF  
document or opening an photo in a media player, we are still dealing  
with ???software performances??? - since it is software which defines  
the options for navigating, editing and sharing the document, rather  
than the document itself. Therefore examining the PDF file or a JPEG  
file the way twentieth century critics would examine a novel, a movie,  
or a TV show will only tell us some things about the experience that  
we would get when we interact with this document via software. While  
the content???s of the file obviously forms a part of this experience,  
it is also shaped b the interface and the tools provided by software.  
This is why the examination of the assumptions, concepts, and the  
history of culture software ??? including the theories of its designers  
- is essential if we are to make sense of ???contemporary culture.???

The shift in the nature of what constitutes a cultural ???object???  
also calls into questions even most well established cultural  
theories. Consider what has probably been one of the most popular  
paradigms since the 1950s ??? ???transmission??? view of culture  
developed in Communication Studies. This paradigm describes mass  
communication (and sometimes culture in general) as a communication  
process between the authors who create ???messages??? and audiences  
that ???receive??? them. These messages are not always fully decoded by  
the audiences for technical reasons (noise in transmission) or  
semantic reasons (they misunderstood the intended meanings.) Classical  
communication theory and media industries consider such partial  
reception a problem; in contrast, from the 1970s Stuart Hall, Dick  
Hebdige and other critics which later came to be associated with  
Cultural Studies argued that the same phenomenon is positive ??? the  
audiences construct their own meanings from the information they  
receive. But in both cases theorists implicitly assumed that the  
message was something complete and definite ??? regardless of whether  
it was stored in some media or constructed in ???real time??? (like in  
live TV programs). Thus, the audience member would read all of  
advertising copy, see a whole movie, or listen to the whole song and  
only after that s/he would interpret it, misinterpret it, assign her  
own meanings, remix it, and so on.

While this assumption has already been challenged by the introduction  
of timeshifting technologies and DVR (digital video recorders), it is  
just does not apply to ???born digital??? interactive software media.  
When a user interacts with a software application that presents  
cultural content, this content often does not have definite finite  
boundaries. For instance, a user of Google Earth is likely to find  
somewhat different information every time she is accessing the  
application. Google could have updated some of the satellite  
photographs or added new Street Views; new 3D building models were  
developed; new layers and new information on already existing layers  
could have become available. Moreover, at any time a user can load  
more geospatial data created by others users and companies by either  
clicking on Add Content in the Places panel, or directly opening a KLM  
file. Google Earth is an example of a new interactive ???document???  
which does not have its content all predefined. Its content changes  
and grows over time.

But even in the case of a document that does correspond to a single  
computer file, which is fully predefined and which does not allow  
changes (for instance, a read-only PDF file), the user???s experience  
is still only partly defined by the file???s content. The user is free  
to navigate the document, choosing both what information to see and  
the sequence in which she is seeing it. In other words, the  
???message??? which the user ???receives??? is not just actively  
???constructed??? by her (through a cognitive interpretation) but also  
actively ???managed??? (defining what information she is receiving and  
how.)


Why the History of Cultural Software Does not Exist

??????????????? ???????????????? ???????? ???????????? ??????????????  
???? ?????? ????????????????.???
(Translation from Russian: ???Every description of the world seriously  
lags behind its actual development.???)
?????? ????????????, VJ on MTV.ru.[10]



We live in a software culture - that is, a culture where the  
production, distribution, and reception of most content - and  
increasingly, experiences - is mediated by software. And yet, most  
creative professionals do not know anything about the intellectual  
history of software they use daily - be it Photoshop, GIMP, Final Cut,  
After Effects, Blender, Flash, Maya, or MAX.

Where does contemporary cultural software came from? How did its  
metaphors and techniques were arrived yet? And why was it developed in  
the first place? We don???t really know. Despite the common statements  
that digital revolution is at least as important as the invention of a  
printing press, we are largely ignorant of how the key part of this  
revolution - i.e., cultural software - was invented. Then you think  
about this, it is unbelievable. Everybody in the business of culture  
knows about Guttenberg (printing press), Brunelleschi (perspective),  
The Lumiere Brothers, Griffith and Eisenstein (cinema), Le Corbusier  
(modern architecture), Isadora Duncan (modern dance), and Saul Bass  
(motion graphics). (Well, if you happen not to know one of these  
names, I am sure that you have other cultural friends who do). And  
yet, a few people heard about J.C. Liicklider, Ivan Sutherland, Ted  
Nelson, Douglas Engelbart, Alan Kay, Nicholas Negroponte and their  
colloborators who, between approximately 1960 and 1978, have gradually  
turned computer into a cultural machine it is today.

Remarkably, history of cultural software does not yet exist. What we  
have are a few largely biographical books about some of the key  
individual figures and research labs such as Xerox PARC or Media Lab -  
but no comprehensive synthesis that would trace the genealogical tree  
of cultural software.[11] And we also don???t have any detailed studies  
that would relate the history of cultural software to history of  
media, media theory, or history of visual culture.

Modern art institutions - museums such as MOMA and Tate, art book  
publishers such as Phaidon and Rizzoli, etc. ??? promote the history of  
modern art.  Hollywood is similarly proud of its own history ??? the  
stars, the directors, the cinematographers, and the classical films.  
So how can we understand the neglect of the history of cultural  
computing by our cultural institutions and computer industry itself?  
Why, for instance, Silicon Valley does not a museum for cultural  
software? (The Computer History museum in Mountain View, California  
has an extensive permanent exhibition, which is focused on hardware,  
operating systems and programming languages ??? but not on the history  
of cultural software[12]).

I believe that the major reason has to do with economics. Originally  
misunderstood and ridiculed, modern art has eventually became a  
legitimate investment category ??? in fact, by middle of 2000s, the  
paintings of a number of twentieth century artists were selling for  
more than the most famous classical artists. Similarly, Hollywood  
continues to rip profits from old movies as these continue to be  
reissued in new formats. What about IT industry? It does not derive  
any profits from the old software ??? and therefore, it does nothing to  
promote its history. Of course, contemporary versions of Microsoft  
Word, Adobe Photoshop, AutoDesk???s AutoCAD, and many other popular  
cultural applications build up on the first versions which often date  
from the 1980s, and the companies continue to benefit from the patents  
they filed for new technologies used in these original versions  ???  
but, in contrast to the video games from the 1980s, these early  
software versions are not treated as a separate products which can be  
re-issued today. (In principle, I can imagine software industry  
creating a whole new market for old software versions or applications  
which at some point were quite important but no longer exist today ???  
for instance, Aldus PageMaker. In fact, given that consumer culture  
systematically exploits nostalgia of adults for the cultural  
experiences of their teenage years and youth by making these  
experiences into new products, it is actually surprising that early  
software versions were not turned into a market yet. If I used daily  
MacWrite and MacPaint in the middle of the 1980s, or Photoshop 1.0 and  
2.0 in 1990-1993, I think these experiences were as much part of my  
???cultural genealogy??? as the movies and art I saw at the same time.  
Although I am not necessary advocating creating yet another category  
of commercial products, if early software was widely available in  
simulation, it would catalyze cultural interest in software similar to  
the way in which wide availability of early computer games fuels the  
field of video game studies. )

Since most theorists so far have not considered cultural software as a  
subject of its own, distinct from ???new media,??? media art,???  
???internet,??? ???cyberspace,??? ???cyberculture??? and ???code,??? we  
lack not only a conceptual history of media editing software but also  
systematic investigations of its roles in cultural production. For  
instance, how did the use of the popular animation and compositing  
application After Effects has reshaped the language of moving images?  
How did the adoption of Alias, Maya and other 3D packages by  
architectural students and young architects in the 1990s has similarly  
influenced the language of architecture? What about the co-evolution  
of Web design tools and the aesthetics of web sites ??? from the bare- 
bones HTML in 1994 to visually rich Flash-driven sites five years  
later? You will find frequent mentions and short discussions of these  
and similar questions in articles and conference discussions, but as  
far as I know, there have been no book-length study about any of these  
subjects. Often, books on architecture, motion graphics, graphic  
design and other design fields will briefly discuss the importance of  
software tools in facilitating new possibilities and opportunities,  
but these discussions usually are not further developed.

Summary of the book???s argument and chapters

Between early 1990s and middle of the 2000s, cultural software has  
replaced most other media technologies that emerged in the 19th and  
20th century. Most of today's culture is created and accessed via  
cultural software - and yet, surprisingly, few people know about its  
history.  What was the thinking and motivations of people who between  
1960 and late 1970s created concepts and practical techniques which  
underlie today's cultural software? How does the shift to software- 
based production methods in the 1990s change our concepts of "media"?  
How do interfaces and the tools of content development software have  
reshaped and continue to shape the aesthetics and visual languages we  
see employed in contemporary design and media? Finally, how does a new  
category cultural software that emerged in the 2000s ??? ???social  
software??? (or ???social media???) ??? redefined the functioning of  
media and its identity once again? These are the questions that I take  
up in this book.

My aim is not provide a comprehensive history of cultural software in  
general, or media authoring software in particular. Nor do I aim to  
discuss all new creative techniques it enables across different  
cultural fields. Instead, I will trace a particular path through this  
history that will take us from 1960 to today and which will pass  
through some of its most crucial points.

While new media theorists have spend considerable efforts in trying to  
understand the relationships between digital media and older physical  
and electronic media, the important sources ??? the writing and  
projects by Ivan Sutherland, Douglas Englebardt, Ted Nelson, Alan Kay,  
and other pioneers of cultural software working in the 1960s and 1970s  
??? still remain largely unexamined. What were their reasons for  
inventing the concepts and techniques that today make it possible for  
computers to represent, or  ???remediate??? other media? Why did these  
people and their colleagues have worked to systematically turn a  
computer into a machine for media creation and manipulation? These are  
the questions that I take in part 1, which explores them by focusing  
on the ideas and work of the key protagonist of ???cultural software  
movement??? ??? Alan Kay.

I suggest that Kay and others aimed to create a particular kind of new  
media ??? rather than merely simulating the appearances of old ones.  
These new media use already existing representational formats as their  
building blocks, while adding many new previously nonexistent  
properties. At the same time, as envisioned by Kay, these media are  
expandable  ??? that is, users themselves should be able to easily add  
new properties, as well as to invent new media. Accordingly, Kay calls  
computers the first ???metamedium??? whose content is ???a wide range  
of already-existing and not-yet-invented media.???

The foundations necessary for the existence of such metamedium were  
established between 1960s and late 1980s. During this period, most  
previously available physical and electronic media were systematically  
simulated in software, and a number of new media were also invented.  
This development takes us from the very interactive design program ???  
Ivan Sutherland???s Sketchpad (1962) - to the commercial desktop  
applications that made software-based media authoring and design  
widely available to members of different creative professions and,  
eventually, media consumers as well ??? Word (1984), PageMaker (1985),  
Illustrator (1987), Photoshop (1989), After Effects (1993), and others.

So what happens next? Do Kay???s theoretical formulations as  
articulated in 1977 accurately predict the developments of the next  
thirty years, or have there been new developments which his concept of  
???metamedium??? did not account for? Today we indeed use variety of  
previously existing media simulated in software as well as new  
previously non-existent media. Both are been continuously extended  
with new properties. Do these processes of invention and amplification  
take place at random, or do they follow particular paths? In other  
words, what are the key mechanisms responsible for the extension of  
the computer metamedium?

In part 2  I look at the next stage in the development of media  
authoring software which historically can be centered on the 1990s.  
While I don???t discuss all the different mechanisms responsible for  
the continuous development and expansion of computer metamedium, I do  
analyze in detail a number of them. What are they? At the first  
approximation, we can think of these mechanisms as forms of remix.  
This should not be surprising. In the 1990s, remix has gradually  
emerged as the dominant aesthetics of the era of globalization,  
affecting and re-shaping everything from music and cinema to food and  
fashion. (If Fredric Jameson once referred to post-modernism as ???the  
cultural logic of late capitalism,??? we can perhaps call remix the  
cultural logic of global capitalism.) Given remix???s cultural  
dominance, we may also expect to find remix logics in cultural  
software. But if we state this, we are not yet finished. There is  
still plenty of work that remains to be done. Since we don???t have any  
detailed theories of remix culture (with the possible exception of the  
history and uses of remix in music), calling something a "remix"  
simultaneously requires development of this theory. In other words, if  
we simply labell some cultural phenomenon a remix, this is not by  
itself an explanation. So what are remix operations that are at work  
in cultural software? Are they different from remix operations in  
other cultural areas?

My arguments which are developed in part 2 in the book can be  
summarized as follows. In the process of the translation from physical  
and electronic media technologies to software, all individual  
techniques and tools that were previously unique to different media  
???met??? within the same software environment. This meeting had most  
fundamental consequences for human cultural development and for the  
media evolution. It disrupted and transformed the whole landscape of  
media technologies, the creative professions that use them, and the  
very concept of ???media??? itself.

To describe how previously separate media work together in a common  
software-based environment, I coin a new term ???deep remixability.???  
Although ???deep remixability??? has a connection with ???remix??? as  
it is usually understood, it has its own distinct mechanisms. Software  
production environment allows designers to remix not only the content  
of different media, but also their fundamental techniques, working  
methods, and ways of representation and expression.

Once they were simulated in a computer, previously non-compatible  
techniques of different media begin to be combined in endless new  
ways, leading to new media hybrids, or, to use a biological metaphor,  
new ???media species.??? As just one example among countless others  
think, for instance, of popular Google Earth application that combines  
techniques of traditional mapping, the field of Geographical  
Information Systems (GIS), 3D computer graphics and animation, social  
software, search, and other elements and functions. In my view, this  
ability to combine previously separate media techniques represents a  
fundamentally new stage in the history of human media, human semiosis,  
and human communication, enabled by its ???softwarization.???

While today ???deep remixability??? can be found at work in all areas  
of culture where software is used, I focus on particular areas to  
demonstrate how it functions in detail. The first area is motion  
graphics ??? a dynamic part of cotemporary culture, which, as far as I  
know, has not yet been theoretically analyzed in detail anywhere.  
Although selected precedents for contemporary motion graphics can  
already be found in the 1950s and 1960s in the works by Saul Bass and  
Pablo Ferro, its exponential growth from the middle of 1990s is  
directly related to adoption of software for moving image design ???  
specifically, After Effects software released by Adobe in 1993. Deep  
remixability is central to the aesthetics of motion graphics. That is,  
the larger proportion of motion graphics projects done today around  
the world derive their aesthetic effects from combining different  
techniques and media traditions ??? animation, drawing, typography  
photography, 3D graphics, video, etc ??? in new ways. As a part of my  
analysis, I look at how the typical software-based production workflow  
in a contemporary design studio ??? the ways in which a project moves  
from one software application to another ??? shapes the aesthetics of  
motion graphics, and visual design in general.

Why did I select motion graphics as my central case study, as opposed  
to any other area of contemporary culture which has either been  
similarly affected by the switch to a software-based production  
processes, or is native to computers? The examples of the former area  
sometimes called ???going digital??? are architecture, graphic design,  
product design, information design, and music; the examples of the  
later area (refered to as ???born digital???) are game design,  
interaction design, user experience design, user interface design, web  
design, and interactive information visualization. Certainly, most of  
the new design areas which have a word ???interaction??? or  
???information??? as part of their titles and which emerged since  
middle of the 1990s have been as ignored by cultural critics as motion  
graphics, and therefore they demand as much attention.

My reason has to do with the richness of new forms ??? visual, spatial,  
and temporal - that developed in motion graphics field since it  
started to rapidly grow after the introduction of After Effects  
(1993-). If we approach motion graphics in terms of these forms and  
techniques (rather than only their content), we will realize that they  
represent a significant turning point in the history of human  
communication techniques. Maps, pictograms, hieroglyphs, ideographs,  
various scripts, alphabet, graphs, projection systems, information  
graphics, photography, modern language of abstract forms (developed  
first in European painting and since 1920 adopted in graphic design,  
product design and architecture), the techniques of 20th century  
cinematography, 3D computer graphics, and of course, variety of ???born  
digital??? visual effects ??? practically all communication techniques  
developed by humans until now are routinely get combined in motion  
graphics projects. Although we may still need to figure out how to  
fully use this new semiotic metalanguage, the importance of its  
emergence is hard to overestimate.

I continue discussion of ???deep remixability??? by looking at another  
area of media design - visual effects in feature films. Films such as  
Larry and Andy Wachowski???s Matrix series (1999???2003), Robert  
Rodriguez???s Sin City (2005), and Zack Snyder???s 300 (2007) are a  
part of a growing trend to shoot a large portion or the whole film  
using a ???digital backlot??? (green screen).[13] These films combine  
multiple media techniques to create various stylized aesthetics that  
cannot be reduced to the look of twentieth century live-action  
cinematography or 3D computer animation. As a case study, I analyze in  
detail the production methods called Total Capture and Virtual  
Cinematography. They were originally developed for Matrix films and  
since then has used in other feature films and video games such as EA  
SPORT Tiger Woods 2007. These methods combine multiple media  
techniques in a particularly intricate way, thus providing us one of  
the most extreme examples of ???deep remixability.???

If the development of media authoring software in the 1990s has  
transformed most professional media and design fields, the  
developments of 2000s ??? the move from desktop applications to webware  
(applications running on the web), social media sites, easy-to-use  
blogging and media editing tools such as Blogger, iPhoto and iMovie,  
combined with the continuously increasing speed of processors, the  
decreasing cost of noteboos, netbooks, and storage, and the addition  
of full media capabilities to mobile phones ??? have transformed how  
ordinary people use media. The exponential explosion of the number of  
people who are creating and sharing media content, the mind-boggling  
numbers of photos and videos they upload, the ease with which these  
photos and videos move between people, devices, web sites, and blogs,  
the wider availability of faster networks ??? all these factors  
contribute to a whole new ???media ecology.??? And while its technical,  
economic, and social dimensions have already been analyzed in  
substantial details ??? I am thinking, for instance, of detailed  
studies of the economics of ???long tail??? phenomena, discussions of  
fan cultures[14], work on web-based social production and  
collaboration[15], or the research within a new paradigm of ???web  
science??? ??? its media theoretical and media aesthetics dimensions  
have not been yet discussed much at the time I am writing this.

Accordingly, Part 3 focuses on the new stage in the history of  
cultural software - shifting the focus from professional media  
authoring to the social web and consumer media. The new software  
categories include
social networking websites (MySpace, Facebook, etc.), media sharing  
web sites (Flickr, Photobucket, YouTube, Vimeo, etc.); consumer-level  
software for media organization and light editing (for example,  
iPhoto); blog editors (Blogger, Wordpress); RSS Readers and  
personalized home pages (Google Reader, iGoogle, netvibes, etc). (Keep  
in mind that software ??? especially webware designed for consumers ???  
continuously evolves, so some of the categories above, their  
popularity, and the identity of particular applications and web sites  
may change may change by the time your are reading this. One graphic  
example is the shift in the identity of Facebook. Suring 2007, it  
moved from being yet another social media application competing with  
MySpace to becoming ???social OS??? aimed to combine the functionality  
of previously different applications in one place ??? replacing, for  
instance, stand-alone email software for many users.)

This part of the book also offers additional perspective on how to  
study cultural software in society. None of the software programs and  
web sites mentioned in the previous paragraph function in isolation.  
Instead, they participate in larger ecology which includes search  
engines, RSS feeds, and other web technologies; inexpensive consumer  
electronic devices for capturing and accessing media (digital cameras,  
mobile phones, music players, video players, digital photo frames);  
and the technologies which enable transfer of media between devices,  
people, and the web (storage devices, wireless technologies such as Wi- 
Fi and WiMax, communication standards such as Firewire, USB and 3G).  
Without this ecology social software would not be possible. Therefore,  
this whole ecology needs to be taken into account in any discussion of  
social software, as well as consumer-level content access / media  
development software designed to work with web-based media sharing  
sites. And while the particular elements and their relationship in  
this ecology are likely to change over time ??? for instance, most  
media content may eventually be available on the network;  
communication between devices may similarly become fully transparent;  
and the very rigid physical separation between people, devices they  
control, and ???non-smart??? passive space may become blurred ??? the  
very idea of a technological ecology consisting of many interacting  
parts which include software is not unlikely to go away anytime soon.  
One example of how the 3rd part of this book begins to use this new  
perspective is the discussion of ???media mobility??? ??? an example of  
a new concept which can allow to us to talk about the new techno- 
social ecology as a whole, as opposed to its elements in separation.

[1] http://money.cnn.com, accessed January 21, 2008.
[2] Ibid.
[3] http://pzwart.wdka.hro.nl/mdr/Seminars2/softstudworkshop, accessed  
January 21, 2008.
[4] See Truscello, Michael.
A review of Behind the Blip: Essays on the Culture of Software, in  
Cultural Critique 63, Spring 2006, pp. 182-187.
[5] Martin LaMonica, ???The do-it-yourself Web emerges,??? CNET News,  
July 31, 2006 < 
http://www.news.com/The-do-it-yourself-Web-emerges/2100-1032_3-6099965.html 
>, accessed March 23, 2008.
[6] Friedrich Kittler, 'Technologies of Writing/Rewriting Technology' 
<http://www.emory.edu/ALTJNL/Articles/kittler/kit1.htm >, p. 12; quoted in 
Michael Truscello, ???The Birth of Software  Studies: Lev Manovich and 
Digital Materialism,??? Film-Philosophy, Vol.  7 No. 55, December 2003 
http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol7-2003/n55truscello.html , accessed 
January 21, 2008.
[7] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_software, accessed January  
21, 2008.
[8] http://www.nanikawa.com/; http://www.nobelpeacecenter.org/?aid=9074340 
, accessed July 13, 2008.
[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-tier_(computing), accessed  
September 3, 2008.
[10]  http://www.mtv.ru/air/vjs/taya/main.wbp, accessed February 21,  
2008.
[11] The two best books on the pioneers of cultural computing, in my  
view, are Howard Rheingold, Tools for Thought: The History and Future  
of Mind-Expanding Technology (The MIT Press; 2 Rev Sub edition, 2000),  
and M. Mitchell Waldrop, The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the  
Revolution That Made Computing Personal (Viking Adult, 2001).
[12] For the museum presentation on the web, see 
http://www.computerhistory.org/about/ , accessed March 24, 2008.
[13] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_backlot, accessed April 6,  
2008.
[14] Henri Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media  
Collide (NYU Press, 2006); Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur: How  
Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture (Doubleday Business, 2007).
[15] Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production  
Transforms Markets and Freedom (Yale University Press, 2007); Don  
Tapscott and Anthony Williams, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration  
Changes Everything (Portfolio Hardcover, 2008 expanded edition); Clay  
Shirky, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without  
Organizations (The Penguin Press HC, 2008.)


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