Social Media Networks are examples of New Media which are Digital, interactive, hyper-textual, globally networked, virtual and sometimes based on simulation. These are the six key characteristics which distinguish New Media from old media.
This post provides further information and elaboration on these six key features of New Media.
With the growth of digital technology in the 1990s, the vast majority of information is now converted, stored and transmitted as binary code (a series of 1s and 0s.). Qualitative information has today become ‘digitalised’.
Digitalisation what allows so much information to be stored in compact hard disks or micro memory cards and it is also what allows for the near instantaneous transmission of information via cable and satellite.
Digitalisation has also resulted in ‘technological convergence’, or the convergence of different forms of information (text, audio and visual) into one single ‘system’ – most web sites today offer a fusion of text and audio-visual information, and our mobile devices allow us to perform a variety of functions – not only reading text and watching/ listening to videos, but also searching for information, sending messages, shopping and using GPS functions.
Analogue is the opposite of digital. It is stored in physical form and examples include print newspapers, records, and old films and T.V. programmes stored on tape.
‘Old media’ tended to be very much a ‘one way’ affair, with audiences on the receiving end of broadcasts, for the most part able to do little else that just passively watch media content.
New Media however is much more of a two way affair and it allows consumers and users to get more involved. It is much more of a two way form of communication than old media.
Increased interactivity can be seen in simple acts such as liking a Facebook post or commenting on news piece or blog. However some users get much more involved and create their own blogs and videos and actively upload their own content as ‘prosumers’.
New Media seem to have fostered a more participatory culture, with more people involved and the roles between consumer and producer of media content becoming ever more blurred!
Hypertext, or ‘links’ are a common feature of new media, which allows users more freedom of choice over how they navigate the different sources of information available to them.
In more technical terms, links in web sites offer non-sequential connections between all kinds of data facilitated by the computer.
Optimists tend to see this feature as allowing for more individualised lifestyle choices, giving users the chance to act more independently, and to make the most of the opportunities new media markets make available to them.
Digital Media has also facilitated cultural globalisation – we now interact much more globally and via virtual networks of people rather than locally.
These networks allow for ‘collective intelligence’ to increase – they allow us to pool our resources much more easily and to draw on a wider range of talents and sources of information (depending on our needs) than ever before.
NB one question to ask about networks is what the main hubs are, through which information flows. This has implications for power.
New Media presents to us a very different reality from face to face to ‘lived reality’ – for most of us this means a very fast paced flow of information with numerous products and people screaming for our attention.
However, this situation has only existed since the mid 2000s, and it must be remembered that New Media reality is virtual reality.
This is especially true when it comes to social media sites which give users the opportunity to present themselves in any way they see fit, and while most users don’t go full Cat Fish, most people choose to present only one aspect of themselves.
Simulation goes a step beyond the ‘virtual’ nature of New Media as usual. Simulation is most obviously experienced computer games which provide an immersive experience for users into a “virtual life” that is simulated through digital technology.
These virtual worlds are synthetic creations that ultimately rely on algorithms which set the parameters through which events in the gaming environment unfold.
Examples today include not only online RPG games, but also driving and flight simulations.
This material should be mostly relevant to students of media studies and those studying the media as one of their A-level sociology options.
Adapted from Martin Lister et al – New Media: A critical Introduction (Second Edition).