As I read Alan Liu’s essay “Imagining the New Media Encounter” in A Companion to Digital Literary Studies , I could not resist feeling like Homer Simpson attempting to appreciate modern technology. Every one of my failed attempts, at comprehending Liu’s essay, was followed by loud outbursts of “D’oh!” and “¡Ay, Caramba!”. The simple reason for this being that Liu’s article is so dense it is almost innavigable. I found myself wandering off on tangents, exploring areas that I never expected to explore and, at the same time, becoming lost in the process.
Not only is Liu’s essay compact, it is also extremely inter-textually polluted with techno babble. The text becomes one big cloud of “data smog” (Shenk 1) which, as an introduction to the field of digital humanities, can be disconcerting for a pre-Luian reader. With that in mind, one of the biggest handicaps of Liu’s essay is its maintenance of the failures of print media. Liu’s omission of multimedia features such as links to explanatory or exemplary sites, other than the links to his notes, leaves the neophytic reader stranded and relying on resources like Wikipedia to shine some light on the area.
However, having purged Liu’s essay of the above negativity, it becomes clear that he does manage to explain the new media encounter with relative clarity in some areas. Liu traces the new media encounter back to Plato’s Phaedrus to convey the point that, at first, new media is seen as strange and alien before it begins to be accepted and integrated into society. This is exemplified with the example of the transition from oral to written, from written to print and print to digital culture.
Once this encounter is established, “media changes us. We [become] changelings of media” (Liu unpaginated). Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is questionable, but despite being aware of it or not, it is still occurring. Take the new E-book reading-device, for example. In contrast to the gizmorgasmic reaction of the technophile, a vast majority of the old school, semi-technophobic, print-culture lovers would cringe from the thought of reading a new novel from a digital media equivalent of a conventional printed book.
However, E-books are benefical in the green-friendly sense because they save the destruction of trees. The use of paper in recent years has multiplied drastically thus putting a demand on our environment to maintain pace with the needs of a largely paper dependent society. On the other hand, by replacing paper with a LCD screen most of the reading experience is lost. The simplicity of completely substituting ink with pixels seems inconceivable at first but, like all new media, with time this medium will establish itself in society. If the E-book will replace the printed book entirely is yet to be seen, but it’s presence in our society is creating changes already by challenging our notions of how we view texts.