Summary

  • “This book examines the ways that media—and particularly new media—are experienced and studied as historical subjects. It uses the examples of recorded sound (“new” between 1878 and 1910) and the World Wide Web, since the Web is a core instance or application of what are today familiarly and collectively referred to as “new media. In pairing these examples, I begin with the truism that all media were once new as well as the assumption, widely shared by others, that looking into the novelty years, transitional states, and identity crises of different media stands to tell us much, both about the course of media history and about the broad conditions by which media and communication are and have been shaped” (1). Thank you so much Lisa for getting right to the point. Temporal focus on “transitional states and identity crises” as a media archaeological framework for bounding analysis.

Keywords

  • materiality
  • textuality
  • bibliography
  • “new”

Notes

0. Introduction

  • This is a methodological book: how scholars do media history and what methodological choices imply for what that history can say (1).
  • 1st offers a definition of media meant to challenge our current media landscape as the “end of media history” (qua Fukuyama): we are in fact as much in media change now as we were a hundred years back (and vice versa): media “muddy the map” of what kind of historical subjects they are, more like art (continued use) or more like science (no longer useful). Media linger (dead media, but remember Ernst’s point that what make media media is that they can be activated, brought back to life, reverse engineered) (4); “Yet like old science, old media also seem unacceptably unreal” (4).
  • “It is not just that each new medium represents its predecessors, as Marshall McLuhan noted long ago, but rather, as Rick Altman (1984, 121) elaborates, that media represent and delimit representing, so that new media provide new sites for the ongoing and vernacular experience of representation as such” (4).
  • A wonderful framing idea for future work on instrumentation and media: “one helpful way to think of media may be as the scientific instruments of a society at large” (5), particularly given how they are naturalized into our modes of perception and activity.
  • Gitelman is interested in inscriptive media: media that leaves a trace, unlike broadcasts. One of the arguments perhaps that I’m making is that all media are inscriptive on the level of the earth system.
  • Gitelman’s definition of media (and we should begin to compile a list of different folks’ definitions, e.g. Ernst’s): “I define media as socially realized structures of communication, where structures include both technological forms and their associated protocols, and where communication is a cultural practice, a ritualized collocation of different people on the same mental map, sharing or engaged with popular ontologies of representation” (7). Media then include “protocols,” a concept we can also think infrastructurally, “a vast clutter of normative rules and default conditions, which gather and adhere like a nebulous array around a technological nuclear” (7).
  • Media categories are heuristic: they define totalities that do not really exist, e.g. “the Internet.” Specificity in doing media history (and I would extend this to theory) is “key,” b/c otherwise one bleeds off into the ether. “For this reason, the primary mode of this book is the case study,” which is a really vital methodological distinction.
  • “In the pages that follow, I have resisted thinking of media themselves as social and economic forces and have resisted the idea of an intrinsic technological logic. Media are more properly the results of social and economic forces, so that any technological logic they possess is only apparently intrinsic. That said, I have also resisted taking a reductively antideterministic position. At certain levels, media are very influential, and their material properties do (literally and figuratively) matter, determining some of the local conditions of communication amid the broader circulations that at once express and constitute social relations. This “materiality” of media is one of the things that interests me most” (10). This is an anti-Kittler and anti-Ernst position: one that sees technologies less as agents and more as influential social forces. Materiality (another word I have to define for my own work): the material properties that influence how media get used.
  • The case study as form explicitly recalls media archaeologies: “the media archaeologist seeks a built-in refusal of teleology, of narrative explanations that smack structurally of the impositions of metahistory” (11); Gitelman, however, distinguishes her work from MA on grounds that are not quite clear—it seems that she see MA as resisting narrativization whereas she deploys it, but she otherwise doesn’t really go into why what she’s doing is different. It’s possible there are some fine-grained distinctions re: temporality, but note that this book predates more nuanced articulations of MA later down the road.
  • Re: the success of entertainment over business in early recorded sound: “Consumer demand was decisive, I agree, but part of my argument is that the very categories of consumer and producer are inadequate to explain fully the deep definition of new media. When media are new, when their protocols are still emerging and the social, economic, and material relationships they will eventually express are still in formation, consumption and production can be notably indistinct” (15).
  • “This is a book less about sound than about text, less about the political economy of music than about the social experience of meaning as a material fact” (18): again, inscription is the key: how phonographs and digital media inscribe differently (19).
  • “The others? Who knows? I execute commands to save my data files—texts, graphics, sounds—but in saving them, I have no absolute sense of digital savability as a quality that is familiarly material. I have tended to chalk this up to the difference between the virtual and the real, without stopping to ponder what virtual inscriptions (N. Katherine Hayles [1999, 30–31] calls them “flickering signifiers”) could possibly be” (19): I gotta be honest, I don’t think these rhetorical poses fly anymore, our scholarship needs more precision and a generation of humanist/engineers has upped the stakes for what we can leave as mysterious or not (even as some, like Chun remind us of media’s “creepiness,” we have to look for the creepy in material formations).
  • Inscriptions are material, which means they bear some kind of relationship (index) to the past; as such, inscriptions are the stuff of the archive and of history (20).
  • Another line of earth-level comparison: “This means that media are reflexive historical subjects. Inscriptive media in particular are so bound up in the operations of history that historicizing them is devilishly difficult. There’s no getting all of the way ‘outside’ them to perform the work of historical description or analysis” (20–21).

1. Phonograph: New Media Publics

  • “And of course, the fugitive sounds captured by the phonograph meant what they did because of the ways they might resemble and—particularly—because of the ways they had to be distinguished from the only other snare available: inscriptions made on paper” (25); compare to Ernst’s media archaeography.
  • “This chapter is about these early incarnations of the new medium. It is about the public life of phonographs at a time when publics and public life were the incumbent structures of print media. . . . One of my points is that all new media emerge into and help to reconstruct publics and public life, and that this in turn has broad implications for the operation of public memory, its mode and substance. The history of emergent media, in other words, is partly the history of history, of what (and who) gets preserved—written down, printed up, recorded, filmed, taped, or scanned—and why” (26).
  • “But one response in particular seems to have been commonplace: audience members took souvenir scraps of indented foil home with them when the exhibitions were over. These partial and primitive records were in some way meaningful to the women and men who sought them, and who were probably asked at the breakfast table the next morning, “What does it say?” Without the phonograph for playback, the tinfoil records of course said nothing. Yet at the same time, as a few lines in the morning newspaper might help to report, the very same records said something. These “materialized effects of voice” were “indeed a curiosity”: they were talismans of print culture, pure “supplement,” in the language of literary study today, illegible and yet somehow textual, public, and inscribed” (36).

2. Phonograph: New Media Users

  • “Of course, the users of early recorded sound were not active in exactly the same manner that users of Abbate’s early Internet were, but they helped to shape the medium in important ways. In particular, gender difference became integral to the definition of recorded sound. Middle-class women were central to the meanings of phonographs and records as such because women helped deeply to determine the function and functional contexts of recording and playback. Put simply, I do not propose that home phonographs eventually became gendered instruments of mass culture. They did, but there’s much more to it than that: I propose instead that gender and cultural difference were built in to home phonographs from the start” (60).
  • Troubling the production/consumption dichotomy that plagues discussions of gendered publics and users of new technologies (61).
  • “Though frequently ignored by cultural theorists and cultural historians who tend to emphasize the extensive qualities of mass culture, phonographs and phonograph records, like music itself, suggestively exhibited intensive qualities to accompany those extensive ones. This extensive/intensive dichotomy is a helpful heuristic that has emerged from the histories of reading practices to distinguish modern and premodern literacies. Simply put, either readers consume a lot of material, moving quickly from one text to another, or they consume a little material repeatedly and with greater intensity” (63).

3. Web: New Media Bodies

  • Tinfoil, cardstock, telling stories from raw materials, it’s like Innis.
  • Compare to Turner: “Another system meant to pair bibliographic bodies and eighteen-year-old human ones, but that semester the Free Speech Movement effectively turned the university’s punch cards into tokens of authority, to be rebelled against, altered, and subverted: one card puncher was used to make holes that spelled out ‘FSM’ and ‘STRIKE’” (92).
  • “I want to address digital networks as new media, both because they continue to dominate present thinking about media in general and newness in particular, and because they proffer an important instance of—very broadly—bibliographic questions and entanglements” (94–95).
  • Infrastructural studies isn’t satisfied with these rhetorical questions: “No Web page would exist without a vast clutter of tangible stuff—the monitor on which it appears, but also the server computer, the client computer, the Internet “backbone,” cables, routers, and switch hotels—but it is nonetheless strikingly intangible. What is it? Where is it?” (95).
  • The ontology of the digital text is in a perpetual becoming tied up with the capitalist production of its tools (96).
  • The internet emerging out of a bibliometric crisis, mapped by Bush.
  • Media seem to participate in the proliferation of meaning w/i individual words: think of the multiplicities of “record” and “document” or even “archive” (for Derrida) (106). All relate to facticity.
  • “The RFCs work as a form of documentation for the network and thus as a performative self-iteration of themselves as networked information. (The series continues today.) Some RFCs stand as protocols, rules for building and using the network—they articulate Telnet, FTP, and so on; others simply document the refinement, existence, and accumulation of standards and protocols” (110); “What remains critical to note is the way that ARPANET standards and protocols emerged in interlocking layers. The layer at which the RFC became defined as an ASCII file of a certain kind was in part a function of the material, technical conditions of the network—the wide range of output devices for printing and display that were getting hooked up. It was as if the number and metrical length of lines in the sonnet had been suggested by the diverse practices of Renaissance papermaking” (110–11).
  • “Electronic documents in 1972, like those in Licklider’s 1965 prognostications, appeared amid and are therefore distinct from commands, prompts, headers, menus, and messages. They were composed of typed lines and characters, they could be transmitted as packets, and they were contained in files. More important, what distinguished them most as documents was neither an essential, ontological property nor a material, bibliographic difference, but rather their social or cultural standing” (116).

4. Web: New Media </Body>

  • Opening w/ the machine misreading of “interest” as “Internet” in the NYTimes archive is a wonderfully generative question about machine independence and the generation of textual authority (124).
  • Gitelman’s operative question: what constitutes historicity on the Internet (125–26)?
  • “This chapter seeks to describe and contextualize the weirdness of documents on the World Wide Web. In particular, it asks how electronic documents work as evidence, and how the World Wide Web both is and is not a temporal medium” (126). Again, what are we talking about when we say “weird?”
  • Methodologies have depended (before 2005 but I think the argument still stands) on anomalies that are interesting but don’t necessarily give good evidence: “One hedge against the ‘cult of the anomaly’ (Price 2000, 6) or runaway ‘anomaly fatigue’ (Weinberger 2002, 15) is to take a longer view, to focus on tools, methods, and protocols rather than the dubious exemplarity of Web pages themselves. Another strategy is to turn anomaly against itself, to concentrate on error or errant results, like the Internet of 1854, which can reveal the assumptions that lie behind different uses of the Web” (130). This is an interesting counterargument to media archaeology, which in a Heideggerian sense is so interested in moments of breakage as revealing “real” stories.
  • “The temporality of labor broadens Alan Liu’s (2004a, 393) ‘class concept’ of knowledge work to include the offshore data-entry technicians who so recently invented the Internet of 1854, the microphotography technicians who invented it before that, and the printers of 1854 who, just as unknowing, also helped to invent the same marvelous chimera. I will argue that far from making history impossible, the interpretive space of the World Wide Web can prompt history in exciting new ways.” (131); nonchronological temporalities.
  • The ever-presentness of the Internet as the present tense of the rhetorical tradition as well as capitalism (145). In this vein, the Web poses the question of history itself (147).

Archive and Impact

  • Gitelman writes with such precision and clarity; I really respect her for this.
  • Gitelman does media history, which we need to bracket off from media theory, which is more like Galloway’s project. We need to distinguish between the two for the purposes of my own work.
  • Her method is the case study; her archive specific technologies (phonograph, web); Gitelman is a media historian in the same way that Kirschenbaum is, in that both are deeply invested in bibliography and textual criticism as well as new technologies; I think Matt is more interested in the digital than is Gitelman, who is more invested in historical media more generally.
  • Gitelman’s main interest is how media and their publics co-developed alongside each other, and how “newness” motivates this co-development.