Database as a Genre of New Media

The Database Logic

Manovich structurally compares media and traditional databases. The organization of traditional databases falls under the basic categories of hierarchical, network, relational, and object-oriented. Each of these is created in a way that best reflects the type of data that is being organized.

The user interacts with a database in three basic actions: view, navigate and search. New media is often credited with allowing users to interact with the subject matter in a way that traditional means wouldn’t allow. For example, a digital textbook includes tests and exercises for readers to take that engage and help to solidify the information. They are created around the way that the information is consumed.

The author brings up several examples of how the media has changed the database by negating the narrative. He discusses how CD-ROMs were able to bring museum collections and artifacts of important historical figures to people in the way that excluded the narrative created by an exhibit. By being able to explore a museum’s collection chronologically, by artist or by country, the user does not have to walk through a deliberately planned exhibit. It is much simpler to look for that one painting in a search bar than on a museum map, but what is the historical community losing in the process? Curators and designers alike have spent time researching and placing these pieces in context, are we undermining their work by providing back room tours to anyone who orders the CD-ROM?

He comments on the nature of the Web as it lends itself to database development, and I can’t help but think of the September 11th database that we looked at a couple weeks ago. Manovich claims that web sites will always grow, but when they stop, does that make them less reliable?

I would also like to comment on Manovich’s flare for the dramatic. He claims that the defining contributions of Nietzsche (whose name was misspelled), Lyotard and Berners-Lee that “The world appears to us as an endless and unstructured collection of images, texts, and other data records.” This may be true, but I must ask why is the stream of data we collect today different because it is digital? Have we, as humans, moved beyond our capacity to organize the data we are subjected to that we must use a database to structure our thought process?

Data and Algorithm

Manovich’s discussion on the technicalities of databases revolves around the constantly changing nature of media, and the organizational nature that exists in computer logic.

Here is what these two things boil down to:

Algorithm—A process or task that a computer can execute based on a sequence

Data structures—An organization for objects (ie lists, graphs, arrays, etc.)

This is also where the dilemma of the digitizing movement comes in. A computer can only organize the information it can read.

Database and Narrative

I agree with the author in his parallel of algorithms in computer games and in narratives; users must identify the logic behind the sequence in order to understand the creation as whole. What I am not sure about is his qualification of what makes a narrative. He defers to the scholarly opinion that a narrative must have three “distinct levels consisting of the text, the story, and the fibula.” I am surprised that with all of his theories on how the new media has redefined databases that he did not explore how it may have changed narratives as well.

If you look at the new timeline layout of facebook, do you see a narrative or a database? On one hand, it is a collection of thoughts, photographs and communications of one person. It can be seen as a collection of primary historical sources that the user documented about his or her life. On the other hand, we see a profile where the person has a chance to narrate his or her experiences, as they want the world to see them. Is it possible that the database and the narrative are closer in the world of media than Mr. Manovich thinks?

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