II – What’s new media, anyway?

Firstly, new media is new because they are continually improving in an ongoing process of innovation of devices, services, systems, and activities on account of human capacity and abilities, creativity and agency.

According to Lievrouw (2011, p. 7), new media can be defined as information and communication technologies and their social contexts formed by devices, practices, and social arrangements and organizational forms that people create and build around artifacts and practices.

There are also some features that distinguish new media from the “old” or so called mass media – networked architecture, ubiquity (presence ‘everywhere’), interactivity, and participation.

Websites, mobile telephones, digital technology – photography, video, and audio – blogs, wikis, file-sharing systems, social media, and open-source software are among what can be considered new media, including devices, systems, process and practices using all this.

With access to new media, this “all permit social groups with diverse interests to build and sustain communities, gain visibility and voice, present alternative or marginal views, produce and share their own do-it-yourself (DIY) information sources, and resist, talk back, or otherwise confront dominant media culture, politics, and power” (Lievrouw, 2011, p. 2).

The easiest way to define new media is to claim that new media is everything that is not traditional, or by other words, old media. New media then become media associated with post-millennial technology and communication.

However, this definition feels very over-simplistic and perhaps it is easier to define new media by the features that it embodies, the most important one for the reflections that are to follow is its possibilities to be interactive.

New media, in our opinion, hence turns the spectator into a spect-actor. This is something that Lievrouw also seems to land in. She writes that new media is media that “provides conditions for participation” (Lievrouw, 2011, p.3).

With, for example, the expansion of, and the wider use of, the world wide web, the distance between gaining information of something you find is wrong and acting/partaking to prevent the wrongdoing from continuing has lessened (Lievrouw, 2011, p.14).

To relate this to the wider use of internet it is also interesting to note, as Chun does referring to a verdict from a judge from the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on the Characteristics of Internet Communication and the four key features of the Internet that make it participatory: “First, the Internet presents very low barriers to entry. Second, these barriers to entry are identical for both speakers and listeners. Third, as a result of these low barriers, astoundingly diverse content is available on the Internet. Fourth, the Internet provides significant access to all who wish to speak in the medium, and even creates a relative parity among speakers” (Chun, 2006, p.114).

Of course, we also have to consider the digital divide, i.e, the fact that the majority of population mostly in underdeveloped and developing countries has no access to internet to date, which is considered for many an overwhelming and contemporary mode of social exclusion.

However, this is a highly controversial topic within development field. Some scholars as Nederveen Pieterse (in Lovink & Zehle, 2005, p. 11) criticize the emphasis on Internet to bridge social apartheid. He states that “less emphasis on Internet and more on telephone, radio and television would normalize and ground the discussion [ICT4D].”

Back to the difference between new and old media, another important point to mention is the idea of accessing and storing information. “Whereas television offered information that disappeared on contact, the Internet erased the difference between viewing and storing information. The Internet made media content concrete, savable, and exchangeable. Whereas television is organized around time, the Internet is paradoxically organized around space and memory” (Chun, 2006, p.48).

Lievrouw, Leah (2011) Alternative and Activist New Media. Oxford: Polity Press

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong (2006) Control and Freedom Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics. Massachussets: MIT Press

Nederveen Pieterse, J. (2005). Digital Capitalism and Development: the Unbearable Lightness of ICT4D. Lovink, G. and Zehle, S. The Incommunicado Reader (pp. 11-29) Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.