The New Media

Until the 1980s media relied primarily upon print and analog broadcast models, such as those of television and radio. The last twenty five years have seen the rapid transformation into media which are predicated upon the use of digital computers, such as the Internet and computer games. The use of digital computers has also transformed the remaining 'old' media, as suggested by the advent of digital television. Even traditional media forms such as the printing press have been transformed through the application of technologies such as image manipulation software like Adobe Photoshop and desktop publishing tools.

New media rely on digital technologies, allowing for previously separate media to converge. Media convergence is defined as a phenomenon of new media and this can be explained as a digital media."The idea of 'new media' captures both the development of unique forms of digital media, and the remaking of more traditional media forms to adopt and adapt to the new media technologies."[1] Convergence captures development futures from old media to new media. For example, we can easily see that people watch movies in the home on DVD these days instead of videocassettes. Also it is true that people listen to music with their CD player and mp3 player instead of cassette player. The most prominent example of media convergence is the Internet, whereby the technology for video and audio streaming is rapidly evolving. The term convergence is disputed, with crtics such as Manovich pointing out that the 'old' medium of film could be seen as the convergence of written text (titles and credits), photography, animation and audio recording. Equally, Espen Aarseth has surveyed the ever increasing number of incompatible electronic appliances to critique the techno-utopian claims of convergence. The status of convergence is one of many such disputed claims regarding the revolutionary 'newness' of new media.
While the term New Media is disputed - the technologies involved are now up to 25 years old, and therefore not new in the sense of recent innovations - theorist Lev Manovich has argued forcefully against the alternative term digital media in The Language of New Media (2001). Manovich contends that a digital process is one which is based on sampling a continuous (analog) one from the real world in order to re-present it. While computer based media fit into this description, as data is converted into binary code, so too does cinema - which functions by sampling time into a series of discrete images which are then played in rapid succession. Consequently, the term digital media signifies too broad a range of technologies for Manovich to consider it to be of any value within academic discourse.

Andrew L. Shapiro (1999) argues that the "emergence of new, digital technologies signals "a potentially radical shift of who is in control of information, experience and resources" (Shapiro cited in Croteau and Hoynes 2003: 322). W. Russell Neuman (1991) suggests that whilst the "new media" have technical capabilities to pull in one direction, economic and social forces pull back in the opposite direction. Thus, although social changes will occur, they "will be evolutionary, not revolutionary" (Croteau and Hoynes 2003: 322). According to Neuman, "We are witnessing the evolution of a universal interconnected network of audio, video, and electronic text communications that will blur the distinction between interpersonal and mass communication and between public and private communication" (Neuman cited in Croteau and Hoynes 2003: 322). Neuman argues that New Media:
  • will alter the meaning of geographic distance
  • Allow for a huge increase in the volume of communication.
  • Provide the possibility of increasing the speed of communication.
  • Provide opportunities for interactive communication.
  • Allow forms of communication that were previously separate to overlap and interconnect.
In place of the vague, hype infused terms often used to describe new media such as digitality, hypertextuality and interactivity, Manovich presents what he purports to be the principles of new media - which are not to be understood as fixed as laws - but general ways in which new media function.[2] These principles are listed as-

  1. Numerical Representation
  2. Modularity
  3. Automation
  4. Variability
  5. Transcoding

As an area of academic inquiry, new media studies has sought to understand the genealogies of new media platforms and texts; tracing the distinct pasts of digital computers and the media, and understanding how these paths came to intersect in the 1980's with the advent of GUI's and computers which were sufficiently powerful to run image manipulation programs. New media studies also seeks to map the potential trajectories of new media systems, and analyse their relationship(s) with democracy and the Habermasian notion of the public sphere. Consequently it has been the contention of scholars such as Douglas Kellner and James Bonham that new media, and particularly the internet provides the potential for a democratic postmodern public sphere, in which citizens can participate in well informed, non-hierarchical debate pertaining to their social structures. Contradicting these positive appraisals of the potential social impacts of new media are scholars such as Ed Herman andRobert McChesney who have suggested that the transition to new media has seen a handful of powerful transnational telecommunications corporations who own the majority achieve a level of global influence which was hitherto unimaginable. Recent contributions to the field such as Lister et al (2003) and Friedman (2005) have highlighted both the positive and negative potential and actual implications of new media technologies, suggesting that some of the early work into new media studies was guilty of technological determinism - whereby the effects of media were determined by the technology themselves, rather than through tracing the complex social networks which governed the development, funding, implementation and future development of any technology.

A host of companies and organizations describe themselves as "new media". With this all-encompassing use of the term, "new media" can refer to any type of media that is used for public relations or marketing, if it is more electronically sophisticated than an animated flashing neon sign. Because this broad use of the term has a vague definition, it may be considered something of a buzzword.

Such marketing organizations may understand "new media" as another term for digital media, whilst others discussing the term tend to see it as more related to a hypothetical future of digital media. This narrower, more advanced use of the term doesn't just apply to digital media, but to the technological leaps themselves--from developing new concepts, products, or technology to pushing technological advances on items already in circulation.

New Media has become a significant element in everyday life. It allows people to communicate, bank, shop and entertain. The global network of the Internet, for instance, connects people and information via computers.[3] In this way the Internet, as a communication medium of New Media, overcomes the gap between people from different countries, permitting them to exchange opinions and information. Diverse means for this exist even within the context of the Internet, including chat rooms, Instant Messaging applications, forums, email messaging, online video and audio streaming and downloads, and voice-over-internet telecommunications. New Media is defined not only as a communication tool, but also as a tool for the commercial exchange of goods and services.[4] Consumer goods are for sale, and personal property may be auctioned, through the Internet. New Media is increasingly ubiquitous in everyday life. To adopt the phrase used by Lister et al in New Media, a Critical Introduction, those of us with access to the online world are now 'living in the interface'.[5]