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  • Remediation
  • Jay David Bolter (bio) and Richard Grusin (bio)

“Immediacy is, however, a one-sided determination; thought does not contain it alone, but also the determination to mediate itself with itself, and thereby the mediation being at the same time the abrogation of mediation—it is immediacy.”


“And, as always, coherence in contradiction expresses the force of a desire.”


The Double Logic of Strange Days

“This is not like TV only better,” says Lenny Nero in the futuristic film Strange Days. “This is life. It’s a piece of somebody’s life. Pure and uncut, straight from the cerebral cortex. You’re there. You’re doing it, seeing it, hearing it . . . feeling it.” Lenny is touting a black-market device called “the wire” to a potential customer. The wire is a technological wonder that deserves Lenny’s praise. It fits over the wearer’s head like a skull cap, and sensors in the cap somehow make contact with the perceptual centers in the brain. In its recording mode, the wire captures the sense perceptions of the wearer; in its playback mode, the device delivers these recorded perceptions to the wearer. If we accept the popular view that the role of media is to record and transfer sense experiences from one person to another, the wire threatens to make obsolete all technologies of representation. Lenny mentions television, but we can extend his critique to books, paintings, photographs, film, and so on. The wire’s appeal is [End Page 311] that it bypasses all forms of mediation and transmits directly from one consciousness to another.

Strange Days itself is less enthusiastic about the wire than Lenny and his customers. Although the wire embodies the desire to get beyond mediation, Strange Days offers us a world fascinated by the power and ubiquity of media technologies. Los Angeles in the last two days of 1999, on the eve of “2K,” is saturated with cellular phones, voice- and text-based telephone answering systems, radios, and billboard-sized television screens that constitute public media spaces. And in this media-saturated world, the wire itself is the ultimate mediating technology, despite or indeed because the wire is designed to efface itself, to disappear from the user’s consciousness. Two scenes, in which Lenny coaches the “actors” who will appear in a pornographic recording, make it clear that the experience the wire [End Page 312] offers can be as mediated as a traditional film. And if the wire itself is cinematic, the whole of Strange Days is also conscious of its own cinematic tradition, with its obvious debts to films from Vertigo to Blade Runner. Although Lenny insists that the wire is “not TV only better,” the film ends up representing the wire as “film only better.”

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Figure 1a.

A virtual reality head-mounted display.

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Figure 1b.

A virtual scene that the user might see wearing the head-mounted display. Courtesy of Graphics, Visualization, and Usability Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Strange Days is a compelling film for us because it captures the ambivalent and contradictory ways in which new digital media function for our culture today. The film projects our own cultural moment a few years into the future in order to examine that moment with greater clarity. The wire is just a fanciful extrapolation of contemporary virtual reality (see fig. 1), with its goal of unmediated visual and aural experience; and the proliferation of media in 2K L.A. is only a slight exaggeration of our current media-rich environment, in which digital technologies are proliferating faster than our cultural, legal, or educational institutions can keep up with them. In addressing our culture’s contradictory imperatives for immediacy and hypermediacy, the film enacts what we understand as a double logic of “re-mediation.” Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying technologies of mediation.

In this last decade of the twentieth century, we are in an unusual position to appreciate the double logic of remediation—not only because [End...