Remediation: Will new media eat older media alive?

On: September 4, 2010
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About Suzanne Schram
I am Suzanne Schram. I have a Bachelor degree in Literature and I have done the Master Book and Digital Media Studies, both in Leiden.


In their book Remediation Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin argue that new visual media achieve cultural significance by refashioning earlier media. New media define themselves in relationship to older media. Remediation operates in two directions: older media tries to appropriate and refashion digital media and digital media tries to refashion older media. Their claim is: “remediation is a defining characteristic of the new digital media.” Bolter explains in his article ‘Remediation and the Desire for Immediacy’ that new media are best understood by examining the way in which they remediate older forms. The new media borrow from other media to achieve in the viewer a desire for immediacy.

The chapter ‘Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remedaition’ as the title suggests focuses on three concepts immediacy, hypermediacy and remediation. They define immediacy as: “A style of visual representation whose goal is to make the viewer forget the presence of the medium (canvas, photographic film, cinema, and so on) and believe that he is in the presence of the objects of representation”. Hypermediacy is defined as: “A style of visual representation whose goal is to remind the viewer of the medium.” These are the two strategies of remediation. They define Remediation as: “the formal logic by which new media refashion prior media forms.” Immediacy and hypermediacy is called the double logic of remediation: “it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying it.”

The authors see a history of media which have a desire for immediacy. Since the Renaissance immediacy has been a defining feature of Western visual representation. Examples of strategies used to achieve immediacy of earlier media and digital technology are: linieair perspective, erasure and automaticity. Ingredients of hypermediacy are: images, sound, text, animation and video. An historical example of hypermediacy is in the Dutch “art of describing”. Martin Jay calls the ‘hypermediate’ qualities of the art of describing “Northern art (…) suppresses narrative and textual reference in favor of description and visual surface.” Paintings by Jan Vermeer are a good example of hypermediacy since he represented the world as made up of multiple representations. The authors remark that rock bands nowadays use many different media. The clip “Electronic Behavior Control System” by the Emergency Broadcast Network can be seen as a critique on such stage presentations. The clip has a “seemingly endless repetition within the medium multiplication across media.” The clip is a collection of several scenes from films and television which is made into one piece.  

What is eaten by virtual reality?

Bolter and Grusin claim that “The goal of Virtual Reality is to foster in the viewer a sense of presence.” This can be achieved according to the authors if VR imitates our daily visual experience. Therefore VR tries to make digital technology transparent. VR remediates film and all previous point-of-view technologies. The authors mention in chapter 9 “Virtual Reality” that VR is the clearest example of transparent immediacy. In this chapter they argue that the number of practical application for VR remain small. They mention as applications arcade games and simulation games. However this book is published in 2000 so things have changed since then. One recent example of an application of VR is ABBA World. This is a multimedia experience in which you can interact with ABBA. This experience includes a performance of the visitor and 3D holographic avatars from the ABBA members. Visitors can also remix the songs of ABBA, sing and dance with ABBA or appear in an ABBA video. In the view of VR enthusiasts VR completes and overcomes the history of media. Bolter argues in his article ‘Remediation and the Desire for Immediacy’ that the wire (from the film Strange Days) threatens to make all media obsolete. Is this the future of VR? Will VR replace and improve media and which media? Or will VR make obsolete every medium?  This is a question which can’t be answered since the development isn’t far reached enough. How can this question be answered for e-books? This is a development which is recently been altered by the launch of the iPad. Will the iPad book make traditional books obsolete?

The remediated book?

The authors distinguish three forms of remediation. The first form is when ‘an older medium is highlighted and represented in digital form without apparent irony or critique’. For this form electronic media are not set in opposition to printing. The aim is to provide access to the older medium, it wants to be transparent. Bolter remarks that the new medium wants to erase itself in order that the user stands in the same relationship to the content as the user would be when confronted with the original medium. However Bolter and Grusin remark that the experience is always different since the presence of the computer is felt, for example because the reader must click on a button or slide a bar. This form of remediation is the case for the normal e-book. For the creation of an e-book the original text is digitised or the e-book is ‘digital-born’. There are no other apparent differences between an e-book and a physical book besides the fact that the e-book is digital.

The second form of remediation is when the creator wants to emphasize the difference between the media rather than erase it, however the new medium does not want to efface itself entirely. For this form the electronic version wants to offer an improvement. In this case the new media is still justified in terms of the old and seeks to remain faithful to the older medium’s character. This second form is the case for the enhanced e-book. Penguin defines an enhanced e-book as follows:

“Penguin Group (USA) is to launch an e-book of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with multiple added features as the first title in its Penguin enhanced e-books classics list. The e-book, coming in May, will feature a filmography, reviews from the novel’s original publication, a chronology of Austen’s life and times, recipes, rules of social etiquette and period dancing, and illustrations of fashion, home decor and architecture.”

The enhanced e-book is still a traditional book; the core text remains the same. The core text is extended with extra information which relate to the core text but which is not part of the core text. Other possible properties which can be embedded in an enhanced e-book are: simple search methods, the ability to switch between large print and normal print versions, various navigation tools such as a chapter menu that drops down from the chapter heading on each page, a margin area on each page in which readers could write notes and interactive annotations. These properties are embedded into the “Expanded books” of the Voyager Company.

The third form of remediation is more aggressive than the former two. This form tries to ‘refashion the older medium or media entirely, while still marking the presence of the older media and therefore maintaining a sense of multiplicity or hypermediacy.’ Hypermediacy ‘offers a heterogeneous space, in which representation is conceived not as a window onto the world, but rather as ‘windowed’ itself – with windows that open on to other representations or other media.’ This form represents the older media in a space in which the discontinuities are clearly visible. These discontinuities can be indicated by the window frames and by controls such as buttons and sliders which start and end the various media segments. Bolter and Grusin explain: ‘The graphical user interface acknowledges and controls the discontinuities as the user moves among media.’ The different programs which represent different media appear in different windows which are controlled by clickable tools. In a hypermediated space, one window can offer text, another window sound and a third pictures or film, but the user experiences these different windows strictly one at time.

The fourth form of remediation is when ‘the new medium can remediate by trying to absorb the older medium entirety, so that the discontinuities between the two are minimized’. However the older medium cannot be entirely effaced, the new medium is still dependent in acknowledged or unacknowledged ways upon the older medium. I think that the authors mean with ‘absorbing the older medium in his entirety’ that the features of the old medium are changed in such a fashion that it results in a new medium which is significantly different from the older medium. For literary e-books the dependency upon the older medium could be the textual aspect of literature. Unlike the former form of remediation this form does create an apparently seamless space, it promises the user an unmediated experience. Multimedia e-books could be an example of the third and fourth form of remediation. Multimedia e-books embed different media such as music, video and games. Examples of multimedia e-books are the iBook and the Vook. Penguin has launched several iBooks. Such as a children’s book; besides text there are interactive games and the children can play with the images: change them, color them, move them and sound is embedded. Penguin also launched an adult text book, the reader can zoom in on pictures and videos are inserted. The classifying of the multimedia e-book as the third or fourth form of remediation depends on the manner in which the different media forms are implemented in the text. If the media forms are implemented seamlessly into the text in order that the discontinuities of the different media are minimized, the multimedia e-book can be classified as the fourth form remediation. If the media forms are implemented in a fragmented manner: in separate windows with different operating systems which can be viewed one at a time the multimedia e-book can be classified as the third form of remediation.

The concept remediation leads to other debates about convergence and medium specificity. Convergence is previously separate technologies such as voice, data, image and video which now share resources and interact with other. A good example of convergence is the computer; we listen to music, watch films, read books on one medium for which in the past we needed several devices like a television and a book. Medium specificity is a principle in aesthetics and art criticism. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing claims: “an artwork, in order to be successful, needs to adhere to the specific stylistic properties of its own medium.” For the enhanced e-book and the multimedia e-book has to be decided what qualities of the book, film or the Internet should be ‘borrowed’ and which not. Also has to be decided which content is appropriated for which medium? I think the answer is like the case of 3D movies; not all movie genres are appropriate for 3D. And not for every book value is added by enhancing them.

For new media it can occur that a feature is embedded which is no longer functional in itself but refers back to a feature which was functional for an older medium. Katherine Hayles calls these features skeuomorph. She explains the presence of these skeuomorph as the psychological necessity for innovation to be tempered by replication. The new is found to be more acceptable when it recalls the old. In this way the transition between the old and the new is smoothened. This concept can also be reversed; new possibilities offered by the new media are not immediately noticed. An example is that the first printed books didn’t have page numbers because the manuscripts didn’t have page numbers. For manuscripts there is no need for page numbers since there are only a few copies of one book, however if books are disseminated in large quantities it is useful to be able to make references to pages. Another example is that the first printed books were printed with a typeface which copied the appearance of script instead of a typeface which was easier to read. This is called the horseless carriage syndrome: employing old methods on new technology.

Remedation leads to questioning the status of the medium. As my example of the e-books show this leads to questioning how a new medium must be defined. Can you still call an iPad book a book, is it a new media or maybe a hybrid medium? A new cultural definition for a book is needed. This was also the case for the computer; in the early days of the computer we thought of computers exclusively as word processors, now we think of them as devices for generating images, creating animation and special effects, reworking photographs etc. Remediation also leads to the question whether new media can make older media obsolete. Can VR be the ultimate medium which incorporates all other medium? Is VR the last medium in the goal of medium to reach total immediacy?


Bolter, Jay David. ‘Remediation and the Desire for Immediacy’, Convergence vol. 6, (2000), pp. 62-71.

Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin, Remediation, (London: MIT Press, 2000).

Hayles, Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

Jay, Martin. ‘Scopic Regimes of Modernity’, Vision and Visuality, (New York: Bay Press: 1988), pp. 3-23.

Lessing, G., ‘Laokoon’ (London: Bell, 1914).

Ryan, Marie-Laure. Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).

Schram, Suzanne. The consequences of the literary e-book. From:

[1] Ibid, p. 48.

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