New Media: 1. Features

This short series of blog posts looks at various dimensions of new media, beginning with a broad overview of some key distinquishing features:

As Socha and Eber-Schmid (2012) argue “Part of the difficulty in defining New Media is that there is an elusive quality to the idea of new”. This “elusive quality” can, perhaps, be best captured by thinking about how Crosbie (2002) suggests three features of new media make them qualitatively different to old media:

  • They can’t exist without the appropriate (computer) technology.
  • Information can be personalised; individualised messages tailored to the particular needs of those receiving them can be simultaneously delivered to large numbers of people.
  • Collective control means each person in a network can share, shape and change the content of the information being exchanged.

As an example Crosbie suggests “Imagine visiting a newspaper website and seeing not just the bulletins and major stories you wouldn’t have known about, but also the rest of that edition customized to your unique needs and interests. Rather than every reader seeing the same edition, each reader sees an edition simultaneously individualized to their interests and generalized to their needs”.

A further feature of new media is its capacity to be truly global in scope and reach. While older technologies like TV and film have global features – the American and Indian film industries, for example, span the globe – they are fundamentally local technologies; they are designed to be consumed by local audiences that just happen to be in different countries while new media, such as web sites or social networks, are global in intent. They enable global connections through the development of information networks based on the creation and exchange of information. A significant aspect of these global features is the ability to create and share text, images, videos and the like across physical borders through cyberspace.

There is, in this sense, a different emphasis with new media, one that breaks down the conventional “old media” producer – consumer relationship and reinvents it in ways that blur the boundaries; in networks such as Facebook and Twitter the consumer is the producer. New media, in this respect, has much higher levels of interactivity between consumers (the Facebook model) and in terms of how users relate to different forms of media technology. Playing interactive media such as a video game, for example, is a very different mediated experience to reading a book or watching television. Interactivity is also a feature of how information is presented and used through new media:


On one level, old media is a linear technology; information, such as a film, song, newspaper / magazine article or television programme has a start, middle and end and the consumer must follow this linear logic. New media, however, has the capacity to organise information differently, through a non-linear or nested logic; information placed inside other information. Hypertext, for example, allows information to be organised and explored in non-linear ways rather than, Socha and Eber-Schmid argue “simply following a straight order”. The potential, not always realised, is for the user rather than the producer, to control how information is received and developed.

On another level, new media connects all kinds of information – text, images, sound and video – in all kinds of ways across a global network. A key feature, therefore, is interconnectedness; not just of information but also people – an example of both being the development of Wikipedia, a free non-linear online encyclopaedia created by its users to which anyone can edit.

A further feature of new media is empowerment by encouraging user creativity. With old media creativity resides with the producer, such as a director or author, and flows in one direction only; from producers to consumers. New media changes this flow of information; from digital publishing to social networks like Flckr or YouTube, the consumer is also the producer. As Lievrouw and Livingstone (2005) put it, new media has “demassified, time- shifting features” that contrast sharply with the “one-to-many, one-way message flows of traditional mass media”.

Taken from:

Cambridge International AS and A Level Sociology Coursebook (UK)


Cambridge International AS and A Level Sociology Coursebook (USA)

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