The development of new media has led to a general debate about the implications of changing technologies and their impact on economic, political and cultural life, polarised around two opposing views – the first of which can be characterised as:
From this viewpoint the defining characteristic of new media is a form of digital liberation based, for Negroponte (1995), on four processes:
These processes impact on society in a range of ways:
In economic terms we see the development of new models of production, distribution and exchange, particularly “free” or “gifting” models where the consumer pays nothing to use a medium. One significant new model is the development of open economic systems where software, for example, is developed collaboratively to take advantage of wide creative pools of talent – an idea Tapscott and Williams (2008) call “Wikinomics” to reflect the pioneering collaborative efforts of Wikipedia.
Producers, especially large corporations, have to be more responsive to consumer demands because the ability to act as a global crowd, passing information swiftly from individual to individual, means corporate behaviour is continually being monitored, evaluated and held to account. Surowiecki (2005) argues digital technology facilitates crowd-sourcing, a process based on “the wisdom of crowds”; if you ask enough people their opinion a basic “crowd truth” will emerge.
Politically, the global flow of information weakens the hold of the State over individuals and ideas. Repressive State actions are much harder to disguise or keep secret when populations have access to instant forms of mass communication, such as Twitter. The Internet also makes it harder for the State to censor or restrict the flow of information and this contributes to political socialisation by way of greater understanding of the meaning of issues and events.
Culturally, behaviour can be both participatory and personalised, processes that in cyberspace can be complementary. The global village combines collectivity with individuality; cooperation flourishes while people simultaneously maintain what Negroponte calls the “Daily Me” – the personalisation of things like news and information focused around the specific interests of each individual. Personalisation contributes to participation through the development of a diverse individuality that leads to the development of new ways of thinking and behaving. The ability to be anonymous on the web encourages both freedom of speech and whistle-blowing.