A Smart Look at the Future of Television // In Collaboration With Quinnipiac University's School of Communications
I first met Janet Murray when I arrived at MIT almost 25 years ago. At the time, she was working on her book, Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, while I was working on Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Murray, along with the members of the Narrative Intelligence Reading Group, was an early guide for me to the emerging realm of digital culture and helped to shape my thinking in ways that I will never be able to fully acknowledge.
A few years later, Murray and I worked together, along with Ben Singer and Ellen Draper, to create The Virtual Screening Room, the prototype for a fully interactive digital textbook for studying film analysis. In many ways, what we constructed together using Hypercard was more advanced than anything we’ve seen so far coming out of the realm of e-books, with hundreds of clips on command from almost as many movies to illustrate core concepts in film editing.
Shortly afterwords, she left MIT for Georgia Tech, while with William Uricchio, I took over the leadership of our newly created Comparative Media Studies Program. We’ve remained in touch through the years, with Murray always proving to be a wonderful thinking partner, sometimes affirming, sometimes challenging my own thinking, and always overseeing cutting edge projects which stretched the affordances of digital media in the service of expanding human expression or more fully realizing its pedagogical potential. We’ve both found ourselves under attack for being “narratologists” in the famous “Ludologist” debates, and sharpened our own thinking about games as a medium in the process. I was delighted (well, for many reasons) when the British magazine, Prospect, identified both of us as among the top thinkers for the digital future.
Murray recently released her long-awaited new book, Inventing the Medium: Principals of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice. On one level, the book is a textbook designed to help designers in training develop a fuller, more robust understanding of digital media, one which builds productively on principles she first outlined inHamlet on the Holodeck, but which also reflects on the past decade plus of developments as many once cutting edge practices have now become normalized and routinized within digital media. This book captures some of the thinking she did as the chair of her program at Georgia Tech, which remains one of the most forward thinking about new media platforms and practices.
On another level, the book is a theory of media — especially of media change — with a strong emphasis on the intersections between technology and culture. I was delightful to see how much more deeply Murray had read and thought about media theory since the first book, and in the process, she is pushing all of us to think more deeply about what it might mean to consider the digital as its own medium rather than as a delivery system for multiple media or what it might mean to think about the local choices made in digital design as contributing to a larger evolution of that medium. Murray’s writing has shifted in a more technical direction than her first book, which was very much an argument for why humanists should engage with new media production and critique, but she remains very much a humanist at heart, who sees digital media as making vital contributions to our contemporary culture. Inventing the Medium is an epic accomplishment, one which we will all be mining for years to come.
In this interview, Murray reflects about the larger conceptual framing of the book, what it has to say about the nature of media change and the role of design in constructing contemporary culture. Her thoughtful and engaging responses to my questions should provoke further reflections about the state of the art in digital design.
Henry Jenkins: You rather quickly dismiss the concept of “transmedia” or “crossplatform” storytelling from your focus here. Yet, I know you have been working with the American Film Institute on various projects to think about the computer as a “second screen” in relation to film or television. What insights might you be able to share from this work with my readers who are interested in transmedia issues?
Janet Murray: My etv group has been an important focus of my own research since I came to Georgia Tech. It assumes a convergence platform that combines everything we love about TV with all the affordances of the digital medium. This is what I predicted in HoH in 1997, and described in chapter 9. The home TV is converging with the computer, the game platform, and the telephone which is now a video telephone. The tablet has become a useful second screen and is very well positioned to replace the remote control. Our prototypes address these possibilities. For example, we assume that TV series are stored in an archive that is navigable across episodes and across series. Then we ask, what kinds of connections will viewers want to make? So we do prototypes that connect two American history documentaries that explore the Cuban Missile Crisis from Castro’s perspective and from Kennedy’s. Or we show how a long-form story arc, like Graham Yost’s masterfully controlled Justified season, can be made clearer to viewers by scene-specific synchronized visualizations that do not distract them from the unfolding story.
I like your categories of transmedia very much and I know the term has been very energizing within the entertainment industry. I particularly like your calling attention to the need for a consistent storyworld across media instantiations. I have picked a friendly quarrel with the term “transmedia” on my blog and I am taking up the same issue in a keynote at Euro iTV next August, calling for a process of “transcending transmedia. ” Instead of interactive environments as separate media from television, I want to encourage people to think about more complex storyworlds that integrate the affordances of the digital medium, such as documentaries that are indexed for multiple paths, or dramatic series that come with the ability to follow a single thread across multiple episodes or seasons, or fantasy dramas that support investigation and sharing of clues to mysterious forces without a sense of leaving one medium and entering another one. I’m more interested in the integration because I think that more complex storytelling is a human resource. It holds the power to make us smarter and more empathetic.
The post above is an excerpt. For the original post, visit Confessions of an Aca-Fan.
-Contributed by Henry Jenkins, -