Skip to main content

Database as a genre of new media


After the novel, and subsequently cinema privileged narrative as the key form of cultural expression of the modern age, the computer age introduces its correlate — database. Why does new media favour database form over others? Can we explain ist popularity by analysing the specificity of the digital medium and of computer programming? What is the relationship between database and another form, which has traditionally dominated human culture — narrative? In addressing these questions, I discuss the connection between computer's ontology — the way software represents the world — and the new cultural forms privileged by computer culture such as database. I propose that computerisation of culture involves projection of two fundamental parts of computer software — data structures and algorithms — onto the cultural sphere. Thus CD-ROMs and Web databases are cultural manifestations of one half of this ontology — data structures; while new media narratives are manifestations of the second part — algorithms. I conclude by proposing that in computer culture database and narrative do not have the same status. Given that on the level of data organisation most new media objects are databases, it is not surprising that on the level of form database also dominates new media culture.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Bal, B. (1985). Naratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative (Toronto: University of Toronto Press), 8.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harwood. (1996). Rehearsal of Memory, CD-ROM (London: Artec and Bookworks.)

    Google Scholar 

  • McGowan C. and McCullaugh J. (1995). Entertainment in the Cyber Zone (New York: Random House), 71.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lyotard, J. F. (1984). The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), 3.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lev Manovich.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Manovich, L. Database as a genre of new media. AI & Soc 14, 176–183 (2000).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Key Words

  • Algorithm
  • CD-ROM
  • Computer game
  • Database
  • Data structure
  • Genre
  • interface
  • Narrative