Yin and Yang: Reconciling New and Old Media

By Yash Mahendra.

If you’re reading this sentence, there’s a high chance that you belong to the New Media Generation.

After all, you’re reading a “blog post” that belongs to a “tech startup.” The “link” to this post reached you through “social media” platforms. If you like what I say here, you’ll express it through a “like,” “share,” or a “retweet.” And if you need more information about what we’re doing you will be sure to check out our “website.” Some of you might even end up “pinning,” “tagging,” or “bookmarking” us!

Moreover, here is what you will definitely not do — pick up the phone and talk to one of us. Even if you live blocks away from our office, you will definitely not, not even in your wildest dreams (!), envision a scenario involving you walking down the street with us for some coffee and conversation.

Even as I draw this contrast between consumers of old and new media, I promise not to pass any value judgments. I promise to not eulogize the good old days of reading newspapers and stopping every five miles to ask for directions. Nor, I promise, will I express any disgust for the times in which we live when I can connect to a thousand people across the globe while living an increasingly lonely life huddled in my apartment.

I look at Old Media as the place where it all started. Old Media is home. Old Media is where your parents live. You grew up surrounded by Old Media. You might not know this yet, but Old Media lives deep in your unconscious and sometimes might even call you from in there! Old Media was good because it stood for deeper engagement with another human being. (Compare watching a news anchor deliver the news in their unique style or witnessing the characteristic eloquence of a popular radio host to the “Breaking News” push notifications that pop on your cell phone screen.) Why is this deeper, in-person engagement good? It is because language accounts for a mere 5% to 10% of human communication. That’s just the way we are. Most of what we want to say is expressed through cues and hints and micro-expressions that other members of our species are programmed to intuitively pick up. At the same time, Old Media was bad and slow. It was too real and heavy. It could not be replicated a million times like a ghost and transmitted across the globe at the speed of light.

I look at new media as the place you went to rebel. New media is like college. New media is where your friends live. You created a world full of New Media to block out Old Media. New Media is closer to your conscious identity because you chose it. It was not thrust upon you by another generation. You adapted it and built a life around it. It has you stamped all over it. Why is New Media good? It is fast and easy and convenient. It broadens your horizons, makes you a global citizen, makes you aware of not just your community, locale or town but the entire world. Thanks to new media, we are much more actively recording and sharing the human experience and realizing that despite our differences we’re similar in so many ways. New media is also liberating. You can be who you want to be — thanks to New Media. Want to be a writer? Self-publish on Amazon. An entrepreneur? Spread the message on a Kickstarter campaign. A film director? Put up your film on YouTube and watch it go viral.

Living in a time when we had the good fortune of tasting the vintage as well as the fresh variety of media, the natural question to ask is what next? Should we start taking sides? Should we start dividing ourselves into two camps? Some clear victories of New and Old Media might suggest this divisive approach. As an example, most people would agree that navigation and related services (Google Maps, Waze, Yelp, etc.) are best taken care of by mobile apps. A clear win for New Media! Similarly, a lot of you would agree that reading a book in hardcopy format is a far more fulfilling experience than reading it on any electronic screen. A clear win for Old Media! The last few years have been full of debates based on this method. Perhaps now is the time to try the exact opposite of a divisive approach.

Taking forward the home-college analogy, I believe an integrative approach would be akin to how you fashion your life as you step out of college and enter the real world. You look back at your childhood as a beautiful time. You’ve hopefully forgiven your parents and now empathize with them much more. You are proudly aware of the values that you have inherited and recognize the importance of family and “settling down” in life. At the same time, you distinctly remember the side of you that college made you discover. You’re full of aspirations and ambitions, and sprinkle your life with achievements you can be proud of. You stand in the middle of the personal and the professional. Most of all, you seek balance.

An integrative approach would try to bring the best elements of old and new media together. Some of the greatest success stories in recent times, I would argue, are based on this approach. Uber makes it extremely easy to hail, track and pay for a cab through your smartphone app. But that alone does not make Uber great. Uber has implemented a two way rating system (you rate the driver, and the driver rates you), which ensures that the two parties will be nice to each other. What makes Uber great is seamless digital convenience and pleasurable real world experiences.

By the same token, Airbnb is great not just because of the beautiful mobile app interface and ease of booking. It is also great because it works hard to make the real life experience of staying with another family in a foreign country an exciting multicultural experience.

Bringing together the best of the two worlds is also what we aim to do at Bookselves. We understand the power of digitally connecting all the books owned by a community into one mega-bookstore accessible to everyone through exchanges. At the same time, we realize that the beauty of appreciating good literature is in having an intellectual conversation about it, in person, with another book lover. It is a humble attempt to preserve the culture of intellectual debate and emotional engagement with literature which is getting lost with the mass digitization and commoditization of books.

If you’ve come so far to this last sentence of my blogpost, having overcome a myriad of distractions and your short attention span (a common ailment of the New Media Generation), I’m confident that you will become a proponent of integration and support attempts like Bookselves that try to bring the Yin to your Yang!

Originally published at bookselves.wordpress.com on June 17, 2015.