Digital …

mickyatesBooks, ContextualResearch, Critical Research Journal, Critical Theory, Digital, Ideas, Media Theory, Photography, Post-Modern, SPWeek4, Sustainable Prospects 5 Comments

Just to get something off my chest.

I have been reading a few books on the ‘digital revolution’, and almost all manage to use the word ‘digital’ in overlapping and sometimes non-defined ways.

The intent, I assume, is to somehow make everything digital totally different to anything analogue. But the effect is to confuse and in some cases exaggerate. Ritchin’s work triggered this.

It’s hard to deny the brilliance of McLuhan’s ‘The Medium is the Message‘ which predates the digital revolution.

He offers a meta-theory of media, whereas many books today seem to deal with the executional details. Of course, Post-Modernism’s suggestion of the blurring between the ‘real’ and the media representation of the real seems augmented by the digital revolution.

That said, if post-modern media theory drops down to everything being a matter of personal taste, it’s time to read David Hume again!

I am planning to do some more research, but it seems to me that ‘digital’ covers at least:

  1. Search
  2. Identification (Deciding)
  3. Capture (Hardware/Software)
  4. Processing (Resolving)
  5. Manipulating (Changing)
  6. Storage (Repetition)
  7. Transmission
  8. Displaying (Immediacy)
  9. Contextualising (Explaining)
  10. Connecting (Hypermediacy)
  11. Dialoguing (Conversation)
  12. Redefining (Remediation)
  13. Viewing (Passive)
  14. Consuming (Active)
  15. Cataloguing (Meta-storing)
  16. Curating (Choosing)
  17. Verifying (Confirming)
  18. Re-directing (Sharing)
  19. Monetising (Value Adding)
  20. Appropriating (Stealing)
  21. Faking (Deepfake)
  22. Artificial Intelligence (Ethics)

There are probably more steps, and the sequence is surely not linear. But the list illustrates my point.

The digital world changes speed, capabilities, democratisation and socialisation of imagery, amongst other things. And it has has already opened up hypertextuality in all of its forms, and the consolidation (and use, personally and corporately) of massive and disparate data sets. Digital data and systems have thus become a major new source of value. In particular, although information has always been power, digital allows a faster and more effective move along the data-information-knowledge-action continuum.

A current, digitally-driven issue is that of ‘deepfakes‘ (21), when visual technologies are used to literally put words into people’s mouths, put faces onto (porn) bodies and so forth.

Step 22, looking forward, is the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and it is yet to be fully defined. This raises complex issues of ‘AI / robotic ethics’, beyond the scope of this post.

Related, though, I have been invited to be a Stakeholder Board Member on the EU Funded SHERPA initiative  – how smart information systems impact ethics and human rights. I am currently reviewing a paper on the use of holograms programmed with (e.g.) the mannerisms and thought-patterns of ex-partners to accompany people in their old age, rather than having the expense of human carers. There’s some convergence with the Richard Price debate, on appropriation and use of images, so more on that anon. It’s an interesting continuum between inspiration – reuse – (mis)appropriation – (deep)faking.

So digital has unique implications.

Yet, many of the media steps apply to both the analogue and the digital. It’s a matter of degree not kind in most cases.

We searched in libraries, after books were invented – or we asked Monks. We drew an image, or captured a scene chemically. It was printed, or sent somewhere by carriage. Patrons both commissioned and consumed artworks. Artists stole ideas. And so on.

My point really is that there is a lot of sloppy writing around the word ‘digital’ – it’s a catch-all, omnipresent and emotive word. We need to collectively do a better job of explaining just which aspect of ‘digital’ we mean.

Perhaps there is a book here, or maybe a PhD at least 🙂


Bolter, Jay David & Grusin, Richard. 1998. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Kairos. Undated. A Review of Remediation. Available at (Accessed 14/10/2018).

McLuhan, Marshall. 1967 (2008 Reprint). The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. London: Penguin Classics.

McLuhan, Marshall. 1964 (2001 Reprint). Understanding Media. London: Routledge Classics.

Ritchin, Fred. 2009. After Photography.New York: Norton.

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