The Role of Standardization in New Media

See page 15 in The Language of New Media

“Yet another feature of the new media field that unites it with big industry is the strict adherence to various hardware and software standards.”

This statement is at variance with Manovich’s assertion on page 30 that “new media follows, or actually runs ahead of, a quite different logic of post-industrial society — that of individual customization, rather than mass standardization.”

The text is unclear as to whether these two statements should be considered contradictory or whether they simply require additional qualification.

The “strict adherence to” standards mentioned in the first quote might refer to the interoperability of diverse manufactured parts, while the “mass standardization” in the second quote might refer to how the end user adapts to the assumptions behind a manufactured product’s design.

But just as the result of this terminology might confuse a reader, so the text seems to suffer from the results of similar confusions throughout.

If one seeks to explain a given observation about a new media object using the framework expounded by Manovich, how is one to decide whether one’s observations are to be understood in terms of standardization or customization? Manovich provides no mechanism to discern when one or the other context is appropriate. The consequences of the vocabularies of standardization and customization are very different, involving different types of sociocultural attitudes, practices, and objectives; while there would seem to be room for each vocabulary in a discussion of the new media, a careful and systematic delineation of context is required to ensure that one’s observations of a new media object correspond with the implications of one’s description, and that one’s explanation of a given phenomenon accords with the behavior of what one has observed.

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