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Ramón Reichert and Annika Richterich, eds., Digital Material/ism Vol. 1, Issue 1 – Digital Culture and Society

Lizzy Pournara

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1Ramón Reichert and Annika Richterich, eds., Digital Material/ism Vol. 1, Issue 1 – Digital Culture and Society

2Bielefeld: [transcript] Verlag, 2015. ISBN 978-3-8376-3153-1.

3Lizzy Pournara

4Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

5The issue Digital Material/ism edited by Ramón Reichert and Annika Richterich inaugurates the first volume of the journal Digital Culture & Society. The significance of this volume’s work lies in its attempt to redress the concept of materiality in digital environments and shift its focus from its virtual–and often wrongly presumed immaterial–substance. This is accomplished even from the volume’s very title that oscillates between “material” and “materialism.”

6The introduction to Digital Material/ism by Reichert and Richterich explains fundamental theoretical concepts that pertain the whole volume, and familiarizes the general reader with the various schools that appeared in the medial turn established by Friedrich Kittler, Lev Manovich, Katherine Hayles, and Matthew Kirschenbaum. Each of these schools follows a different agenda that is reflected in the way the essays are grouped together in the issue. Moving from forensic materiality, to hardware, software and code studies, the essays in Digital Material/ism are organized into four sections. An additional section at the end of the volume contains two interviews.

7The first section entitled “Software/Code Studies and Digital Material” includes two essays. The first essay by Tim Barker and Conor McKeown discusses the layered relationship between nature and technology, namely the ways in which “nature has been given form through its transduction into communication systems” (21). Under the light of that essay, the term ecology is not only associated with systems of organic matter, but extends its meaning to a different register that entails ecologies that “are mediated via computer code” (21). The second essay in this section by Till A. Heilmann takes up Matthew Kirschenbaum’s theory about “forensic” and “formal” materiality and brings it a step further by introducing the concept of “reciprocal materiality.” Heilmann argues that the body of code “is shaped by the material framework it inhabits” and uses the ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) to illustrate “the extent to which this code incorporates the materiality of media such as punched tape and teletype terminals” (39). Heilmann’s essay tackles very efficiently the material dimension of data and the ways in which media influence the structure of data.

8The essays in the next section entitled “The Material of the Digital and Emerging Practices” consist one of the most interesting groupings, which focus on the influence of touch screens and cyber-urban environments. To be more precise, Stefan Werning explores “the epistemic status of the screen and the complex relationship between technical affordances and cognitive processes” (55). Although Werning discusses the tactile sense in relation to particular touch screen apps and wearable touch-sensitive devices, he does not comment on the compromise that such devices pose in relation to the development of cognitive abilities. On a different tone, Laura Forlano explores the hybrid, almost cyborgian life style in big cities nowadays, and observes that human beings still need to think in binaries, what is physical and what is digital.

9Section III, “Methodological and Conceptual Reflections” has a more theoretical orientation and its dynamics are not as stark as in the other sections. Some notable instances though are the essays by Grant Bollmer, and Ashley Scarlett. Bollmer’s essay addresses the differences between the German school of media studies that draws on Friedrich Kittler’s theory about the primacy of the technical medium, and British cultural studies on the active agency of the audience. Scarlett’s essay revolves around the importance of synaesthesia as a key interpretive strategy in multimodal artworks.

10Another intriguing addition to Digital Material/ism that merits special attentionis the section “Entering the Field,” which discusses the philology of software as a “practice of preserving material objects” (151), lived experience and the operating systems of computers, and last but not least the alert to environmental concerns via technological prototypes made by high school students at SensorLab. This section focuses on more practical applications of digital materials, and the third essay in particular gives us glimpses of the creative cooperation between high school students and specialist designers and what they can achieve within the limited time of a single day.

11The last section of the volume contains two interviews with two theoreticians in the field of media studies, Jussi Parikka and Tim Jordan, who discuss their newest publications A Geology of Media (2015) and Information Politics: Liberation and Exploitation in the Digital Society (2015), respectively. It is my opinion that these publications do not only set the tone for the whole volume of Digital Material/ism, but they engineer the foundations for the discussion of the material aspects of digital media.

12Enlightening and stimulating, the first issue of Digital Culture & Society is a dynamic beginning for a forward-looking series. Digital Material/ism is addressed to scholars with an interdisciplinary background, and it constitutes a very appealing read to anyone interested in digital media studies.

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Lizzy Pournara, « Ramón Reichert and Annika Richterich, eds., Digital Material/ism Vol. 1, Issue 1 – Digital Culture and Society », European journal of American studies [Online], Reviews 2017-1, document 5, Online since 14 March 2017, connection on 30 May 2017. URL : http://ejas.revues.org/11965

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About the author

Lizzy Pournara

Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

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This text is under a Creative Commons license : Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Generic

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