Is New Media Really New?
We have read a handful of articles and publications the past couple of weeks in New Media 100 and they all serve to help define the same thing, “What is new media?” These articles have given many different interpretations of what New Media can be, all definitions of which can be considered correct from a certain perspective. However what these articles largely elaborate on is how New Media ties into Media, not how it ties into “New”. We ask only how the new intentions in the field tie into media, but never what makes them new. Are these ideas new or are they just restored versions of an original product? It is this idea that these products may just be ever evolving iterations of an original product that begs the question, is New Media really new?
The first reading assignment that we received in class was titled “New Media-A Critical Introduction” This reading was most students in the classes legitimate introduction to the concepts of what new media incorporated into its core concepts. One of the first things the reading does is throw in a paragraph titled “The books historical dimension.” While the books quickly moves on to the different concepts of new media, this paragraph is one of the most central in that it one of few in the reading discussing the “new” in New Media. The paragraph expresses its concern with knowing the history of the media that you are discussing, but also expresses this statement; “New things do not have no history; rather, they make us search a little harder for their histories.” It then goes on to say that the development of these new things can actually be the product of some other overlooked history. This is also important knowledge, however the statement about new things having no history is a bold statement that makes the distinction of New media even harder to elaborate on. What makes this especially difficult is that when you bring history into the equation, you also open up to the idea of old media, or aging media.
With these new categories of media in the fray, it makes the reader wonder, is media really “new” if it is based on an older form of media, or is just an updated version of a now obsolete piece of media technology? The problem the book presents is that anything new is not supposed to have a history, but in order to come up with an original idea you often need a base idea or component to your idea. Another line from the reading says “ We need to consider that ‘old’ media technologies were themselves once new and held enormous significance for their contemporaries for that very reason” With this reading we can recognise that at some point, any media technology that is generated is at one point in its life new. The next question to emerge from this statement is “when does that same technology become ‘old media’.”
Later on in the same reading, in 1.6 the book moves into a section called “New Media- Determining or Determined” . This section tries to help clarify how “New” Media is defined but only serves to expand the ways of perceiving new media even more. The way that new media is defined is explained in two ways in this reading however, since one viewpoint is from the early New Media theorist Marshall McLuhan and the other is from the viewpoint of Raymond Williams. One of the points the text makes is that Raymond Williams was very interested in the conditions of their emergence of new media and their subsequent use and control. On the other hand McLuhan sees the technology as “business as usual” and believed that new media technologies are created in a way that can be easily adopted and integrated into a societal, economic, or political system that is already in place, keeping truly original ideas from flourishing. These two ideologies that guide these ways of thinking do help in that they get you thinking of what new media should do. If something is to be a “New Media” it should impact the culture that it is created in or other cultures throughout the world, and/ or it should serve to revolutionize a way of doing things, either by taking the previous system and improving upon it or by creating a new system that is entirely more efficient.
The second reading assignment that we received in class presented students with, as the article was titled, “What is New Media, Eight Propositions”. These propositions were eight different ways of perceiving New Media. These different perspectives are all valuable because while there is a lot that can qualify when exposed to such a large set of definitions, it does help to eliminate some things and sort them into old media. The sixth proposition that is presented is titled “ New Media as Faster Execution of Algorithms Previously Executed Manually, or Through Other Technologies.” This statement makes many forms of media old. These forms include print on paper, the telegraph, and the floppy disk just to name a few forms of digital media. These do not even touch upon the updated software algorithms developed over time to make execution of said algorithms faster. To this day binary is still used to code digital messages, because it is still the leading new media in that area. It has yet to be replaced by a newer form of media, although it is believed that a new media, quantum computing, will be a much more powerful coding system than binary. Proposition six makes it so that if quantum computing takes over, it would be considered to be a form of new media; and the reason it can be called new media is because it fits one of the many descriptions “faster execution of algorithms previously executed manually, or through other technologies”.
With this new system of computing other new media would be created as well, and these would relate to other concepts of new media such as “New Media used as digital data controlled by software”. With the creation of a new digital data software system and by extension a new software to control the use of this digital data new media would be created. There could also be new media generated from “ New Media as the Mix Between Existing Cultural Conventions and the Conventions of Software.” With this new and powerful software available there’s a good chance that many more things will become automated using this system of coding, or that a lot of old technology will become obsolete because of the newest iteration. All of the media technology to be created through the introduction of such a system would all be considered New Media. With the creation of this new wave of technological innovation all the newly generated media will create a new generation of old media. This new media will then be the media that everyone becomes acquainted to and is comfortable with, until yet another wave of media comes along and either changes the way that the technology is used or changes how that technology works.
One last proposition of New Media that comes along with any new wave of media is New Media perceived as “The Aesthetics that accompany the early stage of every new modern media and communication technology” This is mostly related to the look of the new media relative to the old. A great example of New Media overtaking the old and having a wildly different aesthetic feel is with VR. VR or, virtual reality, headsets have taken off and become the topic of a lot of intrigue the last couple of years. The reason that it is so intriguing is because the television screen has been the standard media tool for so long. Now we have a new product that offers what the television did but with a furthered sense of immersion. This increased sense of immersion is the aesthetic that attracts potential buyers and users of this new product.
This brings us back to the main question of “Is New Media Really New” and in the end it breaks down to this, New Media IS really new. New Media as a concept is not new since new forms of media have been created since cave man wall paintings. Sometimes the ideas that New Media bring forth are not new, but reiterations of old technology retrofitted or repurposed to serve in a different manner or upgraded to interact with the user in a superior way. However with every form of New Media there is a time where it is new, even if it is just a new way of presenting an established idea, like with virtual reality headsets, or if it revolutionises the way that those systems work and technology integrates with them, as suggested in the example of quantum computing. Over time these New Media do age, and become standard, and eventually become obsolete when, for example, they no longer fit in any of the 8 propositions of New Media. Whether being created for more artistic reason or see it as business as usual to create this technology, from the moment it is created it is New Media, New Media is a constantly evolving and changing field, and that is what really makes New Media new.
Dovey, J., Lister, M., & Giddings, S. (2008). New media: A critical introduction. London: Routledge.
Manovich, L. (2002). The New Media Reader. Cambridge, Mass.: Mit Press.
Marks, P. (2009, September 8). Ditching binary will make quantum computers more powerful. Retrieved September 29, 2016, from https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17575-ditching-binary-will-make-quantum-computers-more-powerful/