Tag Archives: Imagining the New Media Encounter

“For Better or Worse” Review of Alan Liu’s “Imagining the New Media Encounter”


On first reading Alan Liu’s article “Imagining the New Media Encounter” in “A Companion to Digital Literary Studies” the only part that I could identify with was the native in the McLuhan example. So, armed with a pen, a notepad, a dictionary and a search engine I began to wade through Liu’s article. Liu presents his argument as the media having an effect on the people who use it, not as one may have thought, the reader or the writer using the media changing the media to suit them. “For better or worse, media changes us.”

This article needed several readings before I could even begin to understand it. The major drawback of the article was the language that Liu employed. The Alan Liu article throws readers in at the deep end. The reader is practically drowning under information on new media, as with this new medium comes a new language. A technical language. It is this technical language that is most disconcerting to the reader. The language, which Liu uses to describe the internet, makes it seem like an incredibly daunting place.

However, the tedious technical language that Liu uses to illustrate the “first encounters” with new media is interrupted by insightful examples of the ways in which people have accepted these changes in media. From Plato’s disapproval of the written media to the child-like acceptance of McLuhan’s native. Even from these two examples we can see the stages of encountering new media as Liu presents it. The initial moment when this new phenomenon takes its place in society and begins to change the world as Plato knew it. Plato’s fear that literacy would change the people; they would become lazy and not use their brains. Then we have the native, learning how to write, although he does not know what he is doing he attempts to write on the paper. We see here that new forms of media do change the people and we accept them begrudgingly, hoping for the best.

The fascinating thing about Liu’s article was tracking the development of media, from oral society to the digital age. Liu highlights the developments in media from oral media to paper media, paper media to digital media. These developments show that there is no “pure” media. Every type of media affected by the one that went before it. By taking this view Liu’s article illustrates that the form in which the media is presented to the reader affects how the reader sees the content that is being addressed. This in turn changes the reader. Liu argues that the media is central to how the message that it conveys in received. However, Liu’s article also embraces new forms of media as they incorporate the old media into them while advancing themselves. Sound, text, images and even video clips can be utilised to enhance the message.

Liu’s article although difficult to read, gives the reader something to think about while reading a newspaper article or listening to a report. The transition from oral to written society changed how the ways in which people are remembered historically. Literacy gives readers something perceptible rather than remembering or just hearing and repeating a story and maybe getting it wrong. Therefore people were more conscientious in the ways that they recorded information. Nowadays, news channels take advantage of all these forms of media. Using new media like the internet to project stories around the world. They use recordings of newscasters; which incorporate oral media; they provide visual media through the use of videos and images while they also include some text or written report on the story. The new media that Liu discusses also affects other areas of the media encroaching on oral and print media with social networking and e-books becoming more and more popular.