Redefining “New Media"
The current understanding of New Media is identified through computer-mediated forms or the production of digital compositions. This term has become grossly overused as a catchall phrase concerning digital media and needs to be reexamined, especially in regard to the commonplace of computers and emergent technology in our society. The following article proposes to reclassify the term New Media based on historical considerations and contemporary practices.
The computerization of our culture has perpetually transformed countless dimensions of our lives more notably, human labor practices (1). However, the computer has also altered artistic practices by introducing new media & interactivity, expanding our ideas of intentionality in art. Computational tools have fundamentally changed how information and art is conceived, generated and experienced (2). How do we measure fundamental shifts in our media environment that dwarf all other previous media revolutions by comparison? What do we classify as New Media in an ever-expanding technocratic society?
Technology often sows profound change. In the 1400’s, Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press allowed literature and news to be produced and distributed at mass scale, spreading awareness of scholarly teachings and expanding humanism. However, comprehension and literacy of the populace wasn't a certainty (3). Mindful of the printing press’ impact on our civilization, consider the comparison to the internet. Aside from the many-to-many communication paradigm inherent in networked communication (4), it allowed complex theories and understanding to be more easily processed through visual and auditory mediums.
Computers were once impersonal, centrally controlled systems designed for work. Today, computers are powerful mediums of expression, independent and interconnected vessels for experience. Perhaps because of their vast potential, growing instrumentation and complexity, preconception shrouded computational mediums which led to the saturation of the term New Media. Today, many people mischaracterize New Media merely as an internet-based extension of mass media (5). This definition neglects New Media’s true capacity for interactivity, personalization and immersive content.
New Media should describe emergent content in which their ultimate functions and meanings are still in flux, not yet defined through habit, use and experience of potential users. Contextually, as traditional and mass media forms become ritually transposed onto the internet they should not be considered New Media. Serving as an organizational frame, New Media should describe discursive, evolving and contingent media that allows for mass communication and interactivity enabled through the internet. To further illustrate the key differences of New Media we can examine contemporary marketing practices concerned with user engagement.
Before the internet, traditional forms of communication focused on a “push” strategy (6). With a few exceptions like the telephone, one-way, direct messages were the most popular medium for mass communication. Today, the internet allows marketers and content creators to apply a “pull” approach. Leveraging social networks, blogs and search engines, internet-based media can incorporate unparalleled means of self-publishing, interactivity and personalization. Therefore, traditional media supplanted onto the internet (i.e. videos, photos, books, etc) should not be considered New Media.
Most working definitions of New Media focus on the premise of digital interactivity. I believe this function is a prerequisite of internet-based communication and should not be the sole arbiter of New Media. This antiquated definition folds any content with a comment section under the wings of New Media, which is a fallacy. Furthermore, most digital repositories online pride themselves on having video-on-demand (VOD) wherein they are convinced that placing a static video in a web portal is also New Media. Comparatively, over 77% of adults can broadcast-live autonomously from their smartphone with one simple click (7). Which again challenges us to question the nature of “newness” in our media environment.
Change in the media landscape is constant. Transformational ideas in communication and media are tough to recognize and quantify (8). As a content creator, it’s extremely important to try and classify New Media resources among a sea of digital assets. Therefore, among these waves of technological change, I suggest a new schema for classifying New Media.
1) Utilizes the Internet:
Interactivity allows for feedback, creative participation, coproduction and community formation.
Always available, virtually removing barriers for entrance.
2) Democratization of Content:
The content itself should be responsive and personalized.
Publishing, distribution and consumption should be collaborative.
There should be an aim to incorporate the possibility of dialogue.
3) Transmedia Qualities:
Aims to exist in multiple media formats and platforms.
Carries paratext and/or world building potential.
4) Immersive & Unmediated:
There should be an effort to limit any form of interference.
Should leverage technology and storytelling to create engrossment.
5) Novel & Creative:
Above all, New Media should be imaginative and exciting.
If relying on old mediums, should utilize them in sophisticated ways.
6) Constantly Updated:
Content should have the capacity to be reactive and proactive.
1. Autor, D., Katz, L., & Krueger, A. (1998). Computing inequality: have computers changed the labor market? Quarterly Journal of Economics, 113(4), 1169.
2. Jochum, E. & Putnam, L. (2017). Computation as Medium. Akademisk Kvarter.
3. Eisensten, E. (1980). The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. Cambridge University Press. September 30, 1980.
4. Crosbie, V. (2006). Rebuilding Media. Corante. April 26, 2006.
5. Gitelman, L. & Pingree, G. (2003). What’s New About New Media. MIT Press.
6. Robertson, T. (2018). Difference Between Push & Pull Marketing. Small Businesses Chronicle. June 27, 2018.
7. Rainie, L. & Perrin, A. (2017). 10 Facts about Smartphones as the iPhone Turns 10. Pew Research. June 28, 2017.
8. Kaul V (2012) Changing Paradigms of Media Landscape in the Digital Age. Journal of Mass Communication & Journalism. February 5, 2012.