The neophiliac perspective on new media

Neophiliacs argue that the internet and social media have been beneficial to society and individuals. New Media have created more opportunities for individuals to find information, offered individuals greater choice and freedom, provided new ways for people to interact with each other, and ultimately resulted in more people challenging the powerful and economic growth.

This post has been written for A-level sociology students studying the media option, AQA specification, and contrasts directly with the cultural pessimist view of new media.

neophiliac new media

 

Easier access to more information and advice

The internet makes it very easy to access a wide variety of information about almost anything, often for free. Some of the more obvious examples here include Wikipedia and instructional videos on YouTube and various blogs where many experts will provide their expertise for free.

24 hour news coverage from a variety of sources and the option to switch on instant notifications also makes it very easy to stay in touch with what’s occurring in the world.

Increasingly it is possible to ‘hack’ an education online, as many colleges and universities post up their learning materials for free (often lectures on YouTube) and there are various blogs around in which people have put together syllabuses which link to free information.

The internet also makes it easier for people to seek advice confidential advice and support for sensitive issues such as mental health issues, abuse and addiction.

Greater individual freedom and choice

Social media allow people the chance to construct new online identities and give them greater freedom to express themselves than ever before. Online, individuals can experiment with new identities in the comfort of anonymity and expand their personal boundaries.

Social media and blogs have proven to be an accessible way for marginalised or disadvantaged peoples to find a voice – there are many active LGBT and disabled bloggers for example.

New social networks and global connections

The internet has blurred the boundaries between the local and the global, resulting in the emergence of a ‘new global village’, with more daily communicative interactions occurring now than ever in human history.

The global internet makes it easier for individuals to make new global connections that wouldn’t be possible just at the local level or through traditional (one-way) media – as a result of social media sites like Facebook there are now thousands of new ‘tribes’ with millions of people interacting on a daily basis.

Social media apps also make it easier for families and friends to stay in touch anywhere in the world, and while nothing new, this opens up the possibility for people to move to other places yet still stay connected.

Challenging power and revitalising democracy

The internet allows people to access a wide variety of political opinions and commentary and to easily ‘fact check’ what politicians are saying, making it easier to hold those with political power to account.

There are thousands of blogs which voice radical political opinions which challenge the dominant mainstream neoliberal voice in the mainstream news.

The internet has also provided a platform for many social movements and allowed them to expand the reach of their voice and activism. Extinction Rebellion is one of the best recent examples of this, with many of their protests being organised via social media.

All of these points apply equally as well to holding Corporate as well as political power to account.

The growth of E-commerce 

The internet has made it very easy to buy all sorts of goods and services, and for very cheap prices if you shop via the largest sites such as Amazon.

Comparison sites allow people to easily compare the costs of utilities and other services, and to easily switch to the best deal, which is empowering for consumers.

Finally, the internet has also allowed thousands of people to set up or enhance their business – by selling goods and services online.

This is a very brief ‘list post’ – more depth posts (and references) to follow later in 2019!

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The postmodern perspective on globalisation and popular culture

Postmodernists see the media as central to globalisation and emphasise the positive effects media globalisation has on society.

Before reading this post you might like to review the concepts of postmodernity and postmodernism and globalisation.

More individual choice

The globalisation of the media means that people are now more aware of hundreds of diverse cultures all over the world, and this gives them more inspiration to break with their own local traditions and live the lives they choose to.

There are also many more consumption opportunities: more choice of films, music, travel opportunities and of course global products.

The boundary between high and popular culture has also blurred: some classical music artists have sought out popular audiences for example, making high culture more accessible to the masses.

Finally, there are more opportunities for individuals to express themselves via social media.

The rejection of metanarratives

Postmodernists argue that media saturation means there are now an incredibly diverse array of voices and opinions online.

This challenges traditional ‘metanarratives’ – or any viewpoint which holds that there is one truth – as is found with traditional religions, political ideologies such as Marxism and science.

As a result of media saturation, people are now more sceptical of the ‘truth claims’ of experts, which means it is harder for those with power to manipulate people because ‘they know better’.

Participatory culture

Audiences are now more involved with the creation of media content, so the global media space is now more participatory than old style one-way media.

Many people create and upload their own content to platforms such as YouTube, or write blogs, or spend time maintaining their social media profiles.

Audiences also contribute by sharing and critiquing other people’s content on social media.

The globalisation of protest

New media has been used effectively to fight oppression.

Spencer-Thomas (2008) conducted an analysis of protests against military violence in Burma – he found that in 1998 very little media attention was received, but that by 2007, once Smart Phones had penetrated the country, widespread global media coverage of the protests was achieved.

Some political campaigners have also used Twitter and Facebook to fight oppression – during the Arab Spring for example. Another example is the use of Facebook by Saudi women campaigning for the right to drive.

Cultural hybridity

Thompson (1995) argues that global media products are modified by local cultures which results in various new hydbrid forms. Bollywood is a good example of this.

The cultural pessimist view of the new media

Cultural pessimists point to the possible downsides of the New Media such as the rise of Fake News, domination of a few media companies, the rise of echo-chambers, the reinforcing of elite power and increasing commercialisation.

Cultural pessimists criticise the cultural optimist view of new media.

cultural pessimist new media

More information is not necessarily a good thing

There may be more information, more news channels and blogs, but a lot this is just copied and modified slightly, or recycled from other places.

Some of the information online may just be ‘fake news’ – deliberately misleading to serve political or corporate ends. The Vote Leave campaign is a good example of this.

More information sources make it more difficult to verify the sources of information, and this is not always possible (in which case you should not use the information!)

information overload may be a problem – having too much data too deal with.

Constant news feeds can lead to us just being ‘distracted by the new’ rather than taking the time to look at one thing in depth. We end up with a shallower understanding of the world as a result.

Domination by media conglomerates

Pessimists argue that rather than the internet being a free space which allows for the free development of individual expression, it has come to be controlled by a handful of big tech companies – namely Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.

These companies have invested hugely in New Media in the last decade and they now control not only access to social media sites but also search engines and the web servers which store our information.

There are examples of people being de-platformed without warning or reason on YouTube and Twitter – typically those who hold radical views, suggesting these companies determine who can express what on social media.

So marginalised groups might be able to blog and have a say, but you’ll only be able to find them if these companies allow you!

Echo Chambers

Social Media has led to more polarisation and conflict – Social networks are increasingly isolated from each other into ‘bubbles’ or ‘echo chambers’ – people find other people with the same views as them and they all follow each other and just reinforce their own views of the world. People are now less likely to see views which challenge their own. As a result, we have a polarisation of opinion. The case of Brexit is a great example of this.

As well as allowing for ordinary people to connect with each other globally, the internet also makes it easier for organised crime to commit phishing (mass emails) and to sell drugs online, among other crimes.

Groups like 4chan are also a good example of the downside of online global communities – largely anonymous groups who organised collective trolling and hacking just for the lols.

Reinforcing Elite Power

Mainstream political parties now run sophisticated advertising campaigns using big data to manipulate the public into voting for them: Trump’s campaign and the Brexit campaign are two examples of this.

Larger political parties and corporations have more money to spend on advertising to keep their biased information at the top of internet search engines such as Google.

The most radical views are censored – while individuals may be free to express any opinion online, some of the most radical have de-platformed.

Politics is much less visible than entertainment on the internet – suggesting critical political thought is ‘drowned out’ more than ever

Surveillance – the ex-CIA analyst claimed in 2015 that the British security services had the technology to access the information stored on people’s smartphones.

Increasing consumption and commercialisation

The internet seems to have turned into a sphere of consumption, where most of what we see is aimed at selling us something. It is hard to read some news sites, such as The Independent, because of the sheer amount of space devoted to advertising.

Companies such as Amazon use the data we collect to find out our preferences and sell it to advertising companies, so they can target ads at users more effectively, thus manipulating them to buy products they wouldn’t normally buy – it’s estimated that 1/3rd of all Amazon purchase are a result of ‘recommendations’ for example.

This is a very brief ‘list post’ – more depth posts (and references) to follow later in 2019!

 

Who uses New Media?

What are the patterns of new-media usage in the UK by age, social class, gender. Is there still a digital divide?

In 2019, almost nine in ten (87%) UK households had internet access, and adults who use the internet spent, on average, 3 hours 15 minutes a day online (in September 2018) (1)

Around 70% of UK adults have a social media account and about one in every five minutes spent online is on social media (1)

The number of households connected to the internet and the use of New Media has increased rapidly in the last decade, but statistics from OFCOM clearly show that there are still differences in new media usage by age, social class and gender.

For an overview of what the New Media are, please see these two posts:

The generation divide

New media usage varies significantly by age.

This is especially clear if we contrast the youngest age groups (as classified by OFCOM) of 16-24 year olds with the oldest of 74+

The differences are less marked, but still clear if we look at a wider variety of age groups. I’ve deliberately selected two consecutive age groups below (45-54 and 55-64) because there appears to be quite a significant drop off in new media usage between these two age categories.

AGE 16-24s 45-54s: 55-64s:

 

AGE 75+
·         99% use a mobile phone

·         79% watch on-demand or streamed content

·         93% have a social media profile

·         1% do not use the internet (2)

·         47% play games online (4)

 

·         98% use a mobile phone

·         69% watch on-demand or streamed content

·         76% have a social media profile

·         7% do not use the internet (2)

·       10% play online games (4)

·         96% use a mobile phone

·         43% watch on-demand or streamed content

·         58% have a social media profile

·         19% do not use the internet (2)

·         5% play online games (4)

 

·         81% use a mobile phone

·         22% watch on-demand or streamed content

·         20% have a social media profile

·         48% do not use the internet (2)

·         5% play games online (4)

 

The social class digital divide

Working-age adults in DE socio-economic group1 households are more than three times as likely as those in non-DE households to be non-users of the internet (14% vs. 4%). (1)

The contrast is best shown by comparing the highest socio-economic group (AB) with the lowest socio-economic group (DE):

Socio-Economic Group AB:

  • 97% use a mobile phone
  • 73% watch on-demand or streamed content
  • 74% have a social media profile
  • 57% correctly identify advertising on Google
  • 6% do not use the internet (2)

Socioeconomic Group DE:

  • 93% use a mobile phone
  • 46% watch on-demand or streamed content
  • 56% have a social media profile
  • 37% correctly identify advertising on Google
  • 23% do not use the internet (2)

The digital gender divide

  • In 2017, women (81%) continue to be more likely to have a profile/ account, compared to men (74%). (4)
  • Women are more likely than men to say they have ever seen content that upset or offended them in social media over the past year (58% vs. 51%). (4)
  • (50%) of men say they are ‘very’ interested in the news (50%) compared to only a third (34%) of women. Twice as many women (15%) as men (8%) are not interested. (4)
  • A quarter of men (24%) play games online, compared to 9% of women. (4)

Conclusions – is there a significant new media digital divide in the UK in 2019?

  • While there does seem to be a very significant generation divide between the very youngest and oldest, the differences between young adults and those in their early 50s is relatively small.
  • There does appear to be some evidence that those in class DE are less well connected than those in class DE with nearly a quarter of adults in class DE not being connected to the internet.
  • There also appear to be quite significant differences by gender: women are more likely to have social media profiles while men are much more likely to take an interest in the news.

Sources

  1. OFCOM – Online Nation 2019 – https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0024/149253/online-nation-summary.pdf
  2. OFCOM – Media Use and Attitudes Report 2019 – https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0021/149124/adults-media-use-and-attitudes-report.pdf
  3. OFCOM’s Interactive data link.
  4. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/113222/Adults-Media-Use-and-Attitudes-Report-2018.pdf