Critical Approaches to Culture + Communications

A Weblog by Ron Burnett (Founded in 1994 and now celebrating 23 Years!!)

This site began as one of the first academic sites in Canada when the World Wide Web was in its early phase of development. I have maintained it through many iterations since 1994.

Reflections on New Media (1)

This is a NINE part series.

A discussion on the term "new media" may indeed seem pedantic. I should note, though, that the term has been in use at least since 1967 when UNESCO published “The New Media: Memo to Educational Planners." The book was a companion volume to an extensive and in-depth study of the potential impact of the media of the day on education world-wide. Considering that also the media of our day will look obsolete in, say, another twenty years, I rather avoid using the term altogether and instead refer to digital media.

A study like the one you describe should, in my view, seriously look at what goes on between individual human beings. However ubiquitous the use of cell phones, chat platforms and the like, for all kinds of purposes has become, how does, what happens as a consequence, impact the humanity of who we are? Surely, in the best of cases "new kinds of relationships are established within and among communities" but what else happens when much of the use of such media results in "idle talk" rather than “inspirational interaction," (see Meira Van der Spa: Cyber-communities: Idle talk or inspirational interaction? or, in edited version, in Educational Technology Research and Development, 52(2), 97-105)? More important perhaps: What does not happen while we pretend to communicate? Yes, there is a couple of hidden assumptions in my questions, but I’m sure you’ll unravel them.

by Jan Visser

Ron Burnett responds

The term New Media actually appears in a variety of of different ways throughout the history of new techologies. One of the most striking examples of this is in 1929 when "New Film" appeared as a term in many journals of the time. When the telegraph appeared in the 19th century it was described as a "new medium" with a distinct play on the meaning of the term "medium."

The issue seems to be one of emphasis and historical placement. I do agree that the fundamental question centres on the quality of the communications processes put in place by new technologies as they come on stream. It must be remembered that when telephones were invented, most people said that they would destroy communications between people. We now know of course that the opposite is true.

Digital tools such as peer-to-peer communications seem to enhance both the quality and quantity of connections that individuals have with each other. On the other hand, computers may also be contributors to an increasingly lonely and isolated way of living where the sense of community that grows out of a virtual connection is never realised in everyday life.

Part Two…