‘New media’ is a term which is often used interchangeably with ‘digital media’, and is defined by Terry Flew as “forms of media content that combine and integrate data, text, sound and images of all kinds, and are increasingly distributed through networks” (2014, 2). New media include all multimedia technologies which have emerged since the popularisation of the internet (Gitelman and Pingree 2003). The universal distribution of mobile phones, PCs, laptops, tablets, gaming consoles, web applications and wikis have acted as drivers of unprecedented social and cultural change. These changes have affected all regions of the planet (Appadurai 1996), thus the greatest social development new media has precipitated, arguably, is globalization. A worldwide, digitally-interconnected community, built upon the foundation of the internet. This phenomena has facilitated instantaneous communication and trade, connecting people from around the world by providing a cyber information-highway. It has been contended, however, that globalization despite its benefits, has led to concentrated ownership of media by elite media conglomerates which control a disproportionate proportion of global information (Croteau and Hoynes 2014). Another notable social change, which has resulted from the emergence of new media, is the rapid evolution in how people communicate. Initially web applications, such as short message service (SMS) and email, allowed people to communicate instantly and conveniently. Subsequent developments towards social networking, with built-in instant messaging applications, have increased interconnectivity between people in a way which would not have been possible prior to the internet. A third significant effect of new media is the extensive dissemination of information, particularly how it relates to education and international, social-awareness. The existence of online wikis, prominently Wikipedia, and search engines to navigate these repositories of information provide supplementary sources of education (Gomes and Sousa 2013). This essay will aim to illustrate the ways in which the introduction of new media has precipitated social and cultural change around the globe. This will be demonstrated in highlighting how modern, technological innovation has completely transformed the way we produce, share and receive information.
Modern globalization refers to the digital interconnectivity which has occurred as a result of new media. The internet has provided the means for people around the world to communicate, transcending spatial barriers, and this has enabled segregated cultures to share ideas and establish interconnectivity. Despite its contemporary, technological definition, the concept of globalization existed long before the introduction of the internet and new media. Perhaps the most important writer on the subject was Marshall McLuhan who coined the term ‘global village’. Writing in 1962, McLuhan suggested that channels of international communication would necessarily spawn this global village and become what he described as an extension of “collective or tribal consciousness” (1962, 302). This international extension of human consciousness, ‘the internet’, has allowed artists and scholars to spread their work globally, and forms a platform for an almost limitless supply of information and entertainment. Cross-societal integration and cultural exchange are a result of access to this multi-national platform, which in turn is a direct result of new media. There are those, however, who argue that globalization has had a negative impact on society. David Croteau and William Hoynes (2014) raise concerns around globalization from an economic standpoint, yet praise new media for the benefits to individual communication. Though they concede that “today’s new media technologies facilitate much greater personal communication” (Croteau & Hoynes 2014, 338). The process of globalization has, they argue, led to the existence of disproportionately influential media conglomerates,- Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp being the most notorious of these. In reference to the centralization of power amongst the media, Croteau and Hoynes conclude that the pattern of increased digital globalization “has led to a series of developments that may be more of a cause for concern than a source of hope” (2014, 339). On balance, it is difficult to ascertain whether the increased interconnectivity for personal communication has been worth the sacrifice of relying on centralised media ownership for information.
A significant social change which can be attributed to the introduction of new media is the alteration to how people communicate and interact. Prior to the global adoption of the internet, Sheizf Rafaeli said of interactivity; “it is generally assumed to be a natural attribute of face to face conversation, but has been proposed to occur in mediated communication settings” (1988, 27). Fast-forward to today where interactivity is almost synonymous with new media, none more so than social media, which has opened the floodgates for interconnectivity and information sharing. An international study conducted by UM Social
Media Tracker (2010) found that 75% of active internet users had signed up to a social network. In Australia, 68% of internet users access social media frequently, 49% of those access social media sites daily (Ravensdale 2015). These statistics clearly demonstrate a social trend towards dependence upon social media as a primary form of communication and source of information. Social networking has enhanced methods of communication and changed the way people socialise. Video chat services, which are incorporated into most social networks, allow people to communicate ‘face to face’ through a digital screen irrespective of their respective locations. Instant messaging is the default form of communication for many people, which has both the benefit of being accessible at any time and fault of being considered impersonal (Tree et al. 2011). Despite these benefits, critics of social media such as O’Dea and Campbell (2012) suggest that these sites breed antisocial behaviour, primarily cyber bullying, and as a result promote introversion. Historically, the ways in which people communicate have co-evolved along with technological innovation, social media is the latest step in this process which continues to change society, and will undoubtedly continue to do so.
A significant change which resulted from new media, and one that may be regarded as indisputably beneficial to humankind, was the dissemination of information and how it relates to education. This was supported by Education Professor Michael Peters, who argues that emerging information systems encourage “open knowledge production as an area of intellectual activity driven by an ethic of collaboration” (2012, 19). Education providers recognise that ‘net generation students’ are intuitively collaborative and have developed methods of scanning texts for key information as a result of being immersed in this new technological age (Klibavičius 2014). Learning to navigate the internet and filter relevant information are key academic skills, and these are instilled into students today. Not only has new media created a generation of tech-savvy students, it has provided the largest repository of information in history. The most popular of these is Wikipedia, the user-generated wiki, which affords students free access to an enormous, organised pool of knowledge (Ghimpu 2014). Education institutions around the globe are starting to integrate these forms of new media into the learning process and capitalise on students’ propensity for new media to deliver a better quality of education (Beavis 2013).
In conclusion, the arrival of new media in the late 20th century has stimulated much cultural and social change across the globe. The system which has been most influential in precipitating change has been the internet, acting as an interconnecting matrix between new technologies. Digital media and the World Wide Web have existed symbiotically, as Flew points out, “the concept of new media is integrally bound up with the history of the internet” (2014, 6). The internet paved the way for digital globalisation, literally providing links to transfer information free from spatial and temporal barriers. Though it is not a perfect system, globalisation has increased social interaction on a global scale and allowed cultures to blend and share ideas, art and knowledge. New media has altered the way people communicate, it has enhanced previous forms of communication; textual, video and audio messages can now be sent and received instantaneously. The applications which allow for this connectivity may have created a digitally-obsessed user base (Cabral 2008), but their utility seems to outweigh their faults. New media has also collated much of the planet’s collective intelligence and made it freely available in digital format. The access to this information means that education is more accessible than ever before, and the pool of knowledge is ever-increasing. New media is being created and improved constantly, the refinement of these technologies will continue to alter and improve the cultural status quo.
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