Reflections on New Media (3)

Jan Visser responds to Jonathan and to the New Media Series

Jonathan Tyrell raises the question: "...if we were to study 'everyday' face-to-face conversations, would we discover less or more idle chatter?" I think the question is relevant, and I would immediately raise the related question: "If, overall, whether in face-to-face situations or in conversations via diverse media, idle chatter is on the increase, what role is played in this development by how we use our media?" The latter question assumes that there is not a one-on-one relationship between the ways in which we communicate and the means through which we communicate. In other words, there may be a spill-over from, say, idle chatter in Internet chat rooms to everyday face-to-face conversation and vice versa.

Ron's point about the customizability of technologies is well taken in that regard. How much freedom do we really have in using today’s technological tools? Yes, they evolve, thanks to market research, with the assumed needs and expressed desires of the user. At the same time, people’s needs and desires evolve with changes in the technological landscape that may well be determined by other motives, such as profit making. Compared with the technology of the past, customizability has changed quite dramatically. For the majority of today’s users, technological tools have become black boxes that at best offer them a limited menu of choices for alternative configurations. With the exception of the hacker community and open source software (typically not marketed on commercial products) most people will not be able to take their iPod or cell phone apart (either physically or in terms of its software) and rebuild it THEIR way. This limit to customizability - not so different from the culinary culture of fast-food restaurants and other instances of commoditization in our society - may well be a factor of influence on how we evolve increasingly to being satisfied with choosing from limited menus rather than feeling inspired to cook our own meals. Instead, if we want it different, we have to send someone back to the kitchen in Cupertino to do it for us.

Part Four…