I've started reading Lev Manovich's in-progress book Software Takes Command (PDF available from this site). The book begins with the articulation of an emerging field Manovich terms "software studies." This term emerges in The Language of New Media where Manovich writes
Transcoding was one of the five main principles of new media discussed in that book and was Manovich's approach to mapping the intersection between new media technologies and culture. Interestingly, it also proves to be the concept that moves Manovich beyond "new media studies" into "software studies," which he seems to see as a broader project that looks into the processes by which new media is produced. As he notes in his new book:
Manovich recruits a wide range of traditional disciplines into the work of software studies, including the humanities. Who knows if the term will catch on, but it is certainly clear that the explosion of participatory media and mobile networks has dramatically redefined what new media might mean in comparison to what we were discussing at the beginning of the decade. This is clearly a challenge for any discipline, as technological change outpaces the disciplinary-institutional apparatus.
As with any interdisciplinary project, we each have to bring the strengths of our perspectives and methods to bear on the subject. In the case of rhetoric, we continue to struggle with the inclusion of "multimodal" composition, drawing on language from Gunther Kress that hails from the first new media ago. In the trenches of first-year composition classroom, faculty offices, and hallways, we can certainly still hear the debate of whether such instruction is necessary or appropriate; the point is probably moot in that most instructors nationally don't have the technical skills to teach such material, and even if they did they may not have access to the technology to make such things possible. Still we continue to engage in these conversations about students building web pages or making videos.
And certainly the rhetorical skills and knowledge behind multimodal composition remain germane, just as the long history of print rhetoric remains germane. At the same time though, in some ways we are fighting the last war. We are now in the midst of a very different new media environment from the one that spurred the conversations we largely continue to have. This is Manovich's argument, or at least part of it. Manovich takes up the concept of remix as the familar, integral component of software studies, and looks to deepen that idea (more on that later as I get further into the book).
To offer just one final snippet along these lines, Manovich notes
What does this remix culture mean for the way we think about composition? What does it mean for how we understand invention and the use of existing information in compositional processes? What implications exist for design or organization when we realize that our audience might encounter our work in an atomized way, through any number of devices? Software studies suggests the examination of such concersn.