What makes that one so tough to answer is that parts of speech the make up that term are misleading. You’d be tempted to emphasize the “media studies” part and see the “interactive” as shorthand for digital or online. But the distinguishing factor is, in fact, the interactive part. At the end of the day, nearly everything can be classified as media – from the traditional (print, blog, video, etc.) to less the traditional (language, sound, light, trees, etc.). In its most abstract sense, the term “media” quickly becomes meaningless. The pervasiveness of the digital makes digital media, as a term, antiquated by the time it is spoken. Today there is little that differentiates the study of digital marketing from marketing or digital composition from composition (not because they are the same, but because knowledge of the digital has become requisite to the field). What is at the heart of the AIMS line of inquiry is interaction.
Instead of a Wikipedia definition here, I will point you to an interview/blog entry from last week on the WorldChanging website/blog (which, as an aside, is a great site and book). The interview with Vinay Venkatraman, while short, does a better job that I can, in making the case for, and description of, interaction design. The author, Julia Levitt, positions this field as
the study of the way our stuff behaves. Although it’s natural for most people to understand the need for interaction with gadgets like software and mobile devices, the field is actually remarkably broad. In an increasingly interactive age, the success of systems, services and even whole corporations and organizations often comes down to an effective interface, created with human behavior in mind.
As the notion of fixed PC screen has morphed into laptop, then into netbook, then into smartphone, then altogether disappearing into store windows, projected displays, heads-up navigation, augmented reality, and other “screenless” worlds, the field – OUR FIELD – becomes the study of the way we interact with all of that din and how it interacts with us. It becomes the study of the ways we explore, design, create and observe the multitude of interactive, human-created, and responsive experiences the mediate our lives. In fact, I would argue that the “media” in interactive media studies should be seen in its most classic sense – to mediate. The interactive mediation of our lives presents new challenges, opportunities, and lines of intellectual inquiry that truly do define what we do.
So I would like to take the less-than-straightforward path in self-definition. We are NOT about studying websites and computers. We are NOT about creating digital media, animation, or games. While those things are part of what we do, they are part of the language needed to work in our space. These skills are necessary, but not sufficient. Sufficiency lies in the in how people interact with those digitally mediated experiences. And how they interact with us. From systems to screens.