A twenty-year-old problem

Part I or II

This is a two part essay I wrote for my application to the OII (spoiler alert, I didn’t get in). It was an early appraisal on how the media landscape is naturally evolving into a sustainable business model. I didn’t write most of the smart things reported in this essay, I’ve simply stitched together other very-smart-people thoughts and build my theory on their models. Footnotes are in a link at the bottom of the page if you are interested. Hope you enjoy.

Defining new media

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We first saw a widespread adoption of the term “new media” in 1980, when it was used to define what, for the first time, was a media not restricted to any sector or element of a particular industry. It is often related to a shift from modernity to postmodernity, intensifying process of globalisation, or replacement, in the West, of an industrial age of manufacturing by a post-industrial information age. However, the adoption of the Internet today is not a prerogative of the western world alone. Two thirds of the Internet user base is outside Europe and North America and three quarters of the Internet uses languages other than English. This suggests that the extent of new media, as described in this work, could potentially be applied elsewhere than in the western hemisphere where most research is from.

“Every media were once new media”, and new media in the digital age has been defined as “the translation of all existing media into numerical data accessible through computers”, or as the convergence of analogue media and digital technologies.

Social implications

There is a fundamental difference between the evolution of the means of publication, and the revolution brought by the collaborative process between people and networks at the age of the triple revolution. A completely new aspect of new media is the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation across multiple media industries, and the migratory behaviour of media audiences.

An added feature to consider is the intrinsic value of digital databases and their primary quality of being immediately ready to be processed by algorithms.

Besides the technological dimension just mentioned, media convergence can operate also within the industrial, social and textual dimensions. Across these four it is important to highlight the distinctive feature of user-generated content. The extent of user-generated content is well represented in Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks:

“We are seeing the phenomenon of peer production scale to much larger sizes, performing more complex tasks than were possible in the past for non professional production”.

This is due to the very low and constantly falling transaction cost of finding and connecting people, which allows for a streamlined process of creation. New media content has very different attributes from traditional media content: data in digital environments can be richer and broader. Most importantly, information online is consumed horizontally through links, rather than vertically as when reading a newspaper. If we look at new media from the perspective described above it has a lot of the features of the so-called Web 2.0: harnessing the collective intelligence of the information, online delivery, user behaviour tracking etc.

UGC indexed in Google by country, OII 2013

Scholars argue that as a result this will lead to audiences losing capacity for deep reading, or foster the “the cult of the amateur”, or that this evolution will actually bring to a digression of human knowledge, generating an intellectual race to the bottom. Lastly, there are clear unexplored issues on the new capabilities for information control and manipulation of the media space by any affect, public or private.

A key argument in those critiques is user-generated content, which is vital to the positive connotations of new media. “Making is connecting” and user-generated content has been found to have emotional and ideological qualities usually lacking in traditional media. Furthermore, new media users are aware and more engaged with the topics of health care, political activities and news. New media play a significant role in enhancing domain-specific knowledge. As analysed by Tolbert and McNeal in their study National Election in the United States, the Internet may increase voter turnout by giving individuals greater access to political information. On the other hand, there is no evidence that traditional media has ever had any influence in the first place in forming knowledge through information.

In his book The 4th Revolution and briefly in this speech about Grey Power, Luciano Floridi elaborates on a philosophical Orwellian observation that

“those who control the questions shape the answers and those who shape the answers control reality”.

As long as the users control the questions, they control the answers and hence control reality. Floridi warns that in order to develop a sustainable infosphere, we need to have a proper understanding of creating, designing and managing information.

Next part will focus on business implication and draw recommendations and conclusions.

Link to the references page