12 Oct Don’t Underestimate The Importance Of Our Digital Video Culture

In this blog I will show you that, by simply sending a video to your friends through WhatsApp, you have contributed to media history. Perhaps I could go so far as saying that you are part of today’s biggest film industry. Hollywood is nothing compared to us.

A New Approach

Let me start with a beautiful example which shows where creative freedom can lead to. In 1939, Joris Ivens was hired to make a short documentary on the production process at the original Phillips factory in Eindhoven. He was given creative freedom, as long as he would not make any social commentary on the working conditions of the employees. He took the opportunity to experiment with film in a very expressive and artistic way, and ‘Phillips-Radio’ would become one of the first ever Dutch sound films. Apart from being a great bit of marketing for Phillips, the film was also picked up by critics all over Europe, elevating it from a ‘commercial’ to a well-respected film. It was even given a new, French title: ‘Symphonie Industrielle’.

Later the Dutch would prove once again that they had really mastered the short industrial film, when in 1958 Bert Haanstra won an Academy Award for ‘Glass’, a short documentary about the Dutch glass industry.

For years media have been historicized in a very conventional, chronological and teleological way. Every development in media history was thought of as a linear progression on the (almost predestined) road from A to Z. In the past few years, however, media thinkers have backed away from this idea and have adopted a new perspective: media archaeology. It’s a new approach that breaks with oversimplified ideas of linear developments and trends, and instead states that all media can be seen as equal and as existing next to each other. So to give an example of this: sound film is no longer seen as an advanced version of silent film, but just as another medium with its own characteristics and features.

Cinema Outside The Theater

If we use this perspective of media archaeology to look at our current digital video culture, it is fair to say that people aren’t simply participating in a form of new media. After uploading a video on YouTube, sharing a video of your holiday on WhatsApp, or Snapchatting a moving picture of your new cat, you have actually just made a contribution to the history of cinema. As media archaeologist Thomas Elsaesser noticed, “the moving image in its multi-medial electronic form is today ‘breaking the frame’ and exceeding, if not altogether exiting the movie theater” (1). In short: we see moving images on billboards, on trains, on our mobile phones, etc., and virtually all of them are in digital video format. In this sense, digital video has become the most popular form of film.

In this day and age, where film is everywhere, the influence of the industrial short film could rise again. Media archaeology shows that we should not think of video as just a minor offshoot of film, but as a medium of its own that is even more popular than the ‘real cinema’ – and at least as important.


  1. Elsaesser, Thomas. “Early Film History and Multi-Media: An Archaeology of Possible Futures?” New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader.” Eds. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and Thomas Keenan. New York: Routledge, 2005. 13-25.


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