The Oxford English Dictionary defines "Interactivity" in regards to new media as "allowing a two-way flow of information between it (a computer or other electronic device) and a user, responding to the user's input."
The OED's definition is broad, allowing one to assume that any and every computer program or website is interactive; if the user has an influence on the flow of information then it is interactive. However, the definition of interactivity in new media is greatly disputed among new media designers, artists, and users.
Cause and Effect interactivity
The most common view of interactivity involves "cause and effect" relationships with the user; the user performs an action with some sort of input device and as a result another action occurs. The following are common examples of some cause and effect levels of interactivity:
- Rollovers- the user rolls their mouse over a certain web-based object and that object responds in a certain way.
- Flash websites- the user can "interact" in a variety of different ways with the content of the website; the user has a cause and effect relationship with the content on the page.
- Video games- the player can control an on-screen character's actions through the input of a keyboard or game control.
- Hypertext- the user clicks on a bit of text and as a result is taken to a different location on the web.
- Input devices (keyboard, mouse etc.)- the most obvious form of interactivity, the user's actions towards the input objects are directly mirrored in the program the user is using.
"Cause and effect interactivity" is often disputed among new media designers, artists, and users as not really being interactive, this group refers to this type of interactivity as "The Illusion of Interactivity."
The Illusion of Interactivity
Lev Manovich in his book "The Language of New Media" proposes the idea that interactivity is an illusion because the user can only interact with those choices that have already been programmed into the "interactive" object by a designer; it seems like an interactive experience because the user is given a choice but in reality the user is only following one of the designers preconceived paths through a branching tree structure.
True interaction in new media according to these, can only come from an object that can be influenced in real time. Lev Manovich calls this concept teleaction or "action from a distance"
Interactivity in new Media Art
In new media art interactivity has taken on yet another form. In new media art the goal is not only for a cause and effect action or real time control over the object but an interplay between the objects and the users. Interactive new media art puts the viewer in a more active role; the "viewer" becomes responsible for the content of the interactive piece through their actions. Or simply the interactive "experience" is different for each different user because each user will respond to the piece in a different way.
Interactivity in New Media Communication
Another type of interactivity in respect to new media, is that of communication. The ability to communicate with another person over the internet instantly through instant messenger applications or telephone applications is another aspect of new media interactivity. Aside from hypertext, This form of new media interactivity is the most commonly used and represents the best example of interactivity in an undisputed context that fits a number of definitions; It is a transfer of information from person to person through the use of electronic devices that directly respond and correspond to the actions of the user.
- rhizome.org Lots of great new media art examples.