Chell's blog

Thoughts, ideas, and other things 'a bit unkempt'…

Database as Symbolic Form, Lev Manovich


Manovich introduces the idea of ‘new media’. Suggesting that we have moved in to a computer age, after having the novel and cinema as society’s main form of cultural expression, Manovich explains the concept of a database.

In line with what we have recently learnt about the internet being a hypertextual space, Manovich says that new media object such as websites, do not follow a narrative structure, they do not have a beginning, middle or end, and “they don’t have any development, thematically, formally or otherwise, that would organise their elements into a sequence”. Manavich highlights that instead, each item is valued as an individual piece.

A few key ideas to understanding databases:

– Databases use different models to store and organise data.

– Databases appear as a collection of items which the user can perform various operations such as view, navigate and search.

Therefore, the user experience of databases is quite different to that of a narrative. To put this into perspective, Manovich uses the example of computer-games, which there is some argument about as to whether they count as hypertext or not. According to Manovich, computer-games are not hypertext, because they do follow some sort of narrative. There is always the underlying objective for the user to ‘win’ the game, by completing challenges, solving puzzles etc. But a true database on the other hand, such as the most common cd-rom encyclopaedias, are collections of masses of information where the user can choose to go in any order to learn, view, interact etc with the data stored on the disk.

Furthermore, Manovich goes to the extent of saying that the world is a database. “The world appears to us as an endlessand unstructured collection of images, texts and other data records”. This may seem like a very large-scaled example to describe a database, but it helped me get the idea; a database can continue to grow, be added to, change directions, and all unexpected events can happen to it.


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