In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • On Designerization of Media Culture in the Age of Software
  • Jussi Parikka (bio)
Software Takes Command, by Lev Manovich, New York: Bloomsbury, 2013, 376 pages, £17.99 (softcover), ISBN 978-1-6235-6745-3

Lev Manovich’s Software Takes Command is an analytical map intended to help both scholars and designers understand the current technological application culture. An earlier version was available much earlier online and is now published in printed form in Bloomsbury’s International Texts in Critical Media Aesthetics series. As a nod toward material and media history, the book borrows its name from the famous Siegfried Giedion title Mechanization Takes Command ([1948] 1969). Hence, Manovich has big boots to fill, although he admits that his is a more modest take. Giedion’s massive research on the “anonymous history” of mechanization covered food, industry, art, and much more. Despite his announced modesty, Manovich also aims to offer a broad perspective into the role software plays across cultural domains, but he mostly focuses on “media” software. After the fame of Manovich’s The Language of New Media, readers have high expectations for this book and, in many ways, the author does not fail to deliver. It’s not a book of software theory but offers a key reading on software’s impact on how we understand—and design—audiovisual media content. Manovich has mapped, in a consistent way, the new design practices that software environments have enabled. He places special emphasis on mainstream applications from Photoshop to Maya, as well as other software, including Adobe Acrobat, Final Cut, Internet browsers, and the like. He discusses HTML Markup as well as JavaScript and also engages briefly with programming [End Page 415] languages (for instance, Perl and Python) in ways that support his main statement that software is “a layer that permeates all areas of contemporary societies” (15). Over the past ten years, software studies has ensured that this statement is taken seriously.

Manovich’s book is a significant take on the design aspects of software creative practice, including not only a focus on software as technology but also a focus on software as technique. Indeed, in this book, software is understood as both something a little bit less and a little bit more than a “medium”: it enables the existence of media as experience and content (the words, the visuals, and the aesthetic choices that often remediate earlier media forms) and the incorporation of elements, such as location, into applications. These elements sometimes become ways to destabilize the media ecological system and can have cascading effects across an aesthetic and social landscape of designing cultural reality: for instance, location-based systems/applications or use of 3-D space in differing ways.

Software history is central to Manovich’s argument, and we need more detailed accounts of the history of this particular situation. He is absolutely correct that we still lack knowledge of significant parts of software history, and such an understanding is crucial to shedding light on the current situation. He is not ready to acknowledge that “remediation” (Bolter and Grusin 1999) is the only, or always the best, way to analyze how software environments are hybrid. Manovich does not discuss or mention media archaeology but is partly operating in the same environment, to the degree that he is writing media history anew from the perspective of emerging techniques and technologies, such as software. In Software Takes Command, his main historical interest is in the 1970s and 1980s and in the emergence of the concept of “metamedium” from the work of, especially, Alan Kay. Manovich does not refer to Casey Alt’s (2011) work on object-oriented programming and on the shift that occurred as computers became media machines, but he offers a similar argument, discussing the implementation of media as part of computers, as well as the shift from Turing-land to Kay-land and from number crunching to design. Kay’s inventive take on computers as creative media and his ideas such as the Dynabook provide a historical context for Manovich, as does the work of Ted Nelson and Doug Engelbart. Kay and the institutional context of Palo Alto labs (PARC) becomes a significant milestone and a hub...


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pp. 415-419
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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