Lev Manovich – Software Takes Command


Bloomsbury Academic, ISBN-13: 978-1623567453, English, 376 pages, 2013, USA

More than a decade after his best seller “The Language of New Media”, and five years after he started to post drafts on mailing lists, the new Manovich book is finally published. The preponderant role of software in contemporaneity has been noted for some time, so the question now is to understand its key elements (in terms of standards and media) and their strategic role in influencing society as a whole. This is part of the project of developing a constructive criticism that could give “software studies” its due relevance. Manovich focuses on popular software like After Effects, Photoshop and Google Earth, as case studies of “cultural software”, or “software to build cultural objects”, analyzing interfaces and the cultural significance of standards. Starting with Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg’s definition of computer as a ‘metamedium’ he reinforces the importance of software emulation in early systems. This is not only very useful for a philology of systems, but also for making them expandable in original ways and aware of their own history (at the same time as underlining how the business models of IT companies are based on forgetting, instead of celebrating their past). He writes about the benefits that could be derived from the “hybridization” of systems, and the “deep remixability” of medium and content. Symbolically Manovich considers this book a piece of “software”, with its (free) updatable digital publication and online distribution, it is a constant work-in-progress (previous versions are maintained and made available in a sort of “versioning” for publications). Alessandro Ludovico