Aarseth: We All Want to Change the World – The Ideology of Innovation in Digital Media

“The struggle against ideology has become a new ideology” – Bertolt Brecht

“Technologists are portrayed as trying to imbue their innovations with ultimately false claims of revolutionary & liberatory effects, and the sheer seductive effect of the new technology…
…the very word “new” works to seduce us with its connoted promise of improvement and innovation? Although there may be good cause to be suspicious, we should not let our distrust of techno-rhetoric blind us to the other aspects of the relationship between technology and ideology.”

Aarseth sets his agenda to demystifying the “phenomena” of such words as interactivity, hypertext, and virtuality, and in doing so speculates if it’s possible to “disentangle their ideological and their technical meanings”. He argues that the “digital” is too wide to be considered a medium. As the text goes on, the argument remains shallow in its articulation of the inner workings of computers, while failing to contextualize his claims with any examples of cultural production. Either direction, taken a couple steps further, would have helped him in his aim of exposing ideological frames. Instead he uses the ambiguity of his selected terms, as an invitation for ungrounded analysis. For instance at one point in the article, he takes the least ambiguous of the terms “hypertext” and declares it should be renamed “cybertext” in hopes of being less fuzzy. A quick visit w3.org would have saved him a few pages of toil. Much of this text’s problems stem from interesting timing. If any one could claim the internet has not been a revolution in communication, it might have been during the essays publishing in 2003. Just two years before youtube would make the internet and video ubiquitous for the common user.
Aarseth makes an interesting point earlier on in his essay, differentiating analogue and digital media, a difference Clay Shirky has articulated very well in explaining how media has shifted from simply being a site of information, to a site of action. Aarseth begins to slip into interesting territory in his section about “virtuality” but ultimately positions his argument on the assumption that simulation and story are inherently at odds with each other. When in fact narrative is a way of coping with time, a way navigating through experience and making sense of it and sharing it. And although I don’t have time to pull up any examples, one does not have to look far to find cultural productions that expose how simulation and narrative often overlap in conspiring to produce effective productions.
The article begins and ends with it’s most promising point of analysis, the concept of the “new”. An analysis that could have acted as the crowbar for breaking into an ideological discussion, and could have transitioned well into the media historian’s/archeologist’s arguments of the “revolutionary” new being a staple of modernity, and the distinctions between analogue and digital media.


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