Janet Murray's introduction "Inventing the Medium"

posted Jan 29, 2012, 9:20 PM by Nick Bader
First, to my NMS co-conspirators: I intend to not read anyone else's posts before commenting.  This will allow me actually write something, blissfully ignorant that other posts are much more erudite and insightful than my own.  However, this also means that I may inadvertently repeat the observations of others.

Second, I am enjoying learning new things already.  Things from this article that I had never heard of and had to look up: "CAVE" and the word "pullulating" (which appears at least three times).

"Inventing the Medium" sets up a conflict between two ways of seeing the new media: the "humanist" viewpoint (represented by Jorge Luis Borges) and the "engineer" viewpoint (represented by Vannevar Bush).  I first became aware of the gulf between these viewpoints when I was a graduate student in the interdisciplinary Department of Environmental Studies at the University of California Santa Cruz.  I recall the faculty arguing about what the purview of the department should be.  A faculty member suggested what seemed then (and still seems) an eminently sensible answer: that our common thread was a search for solutions to current environmental problems.  I was startled to look around the room and see agreement from the natural scientists, but dissatisfaction on the faces of the social scientists.  Similarly, as I read Inventing the Medium, I nodded sagely at the "engineer" parts and furrowed my brow in confusion at the "humanist" parts.

I am strongly drawn to the engineer's problem-and-solution model for two reasons.  First, the search for solutions assumes that there ARE solutions, so it is inherently optimistic.  Second, its application is broader than we sometimes imagine.  To answer Murray's criticism that certain important things are left "outside the domain of the problem" for the engineer: could we not view this and other criticisms as problems demanding a solution?

Finally, an observation: this is commentary about commentary about commentary.  When the separate institutional blogs are combined, we will be adding another layer of meta-commentary...

I look forward to an interesting seminar with all of you!