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What Does 'New Media' Mean?

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A short discussion of the denotation and connotations of the phrase 'new media'.

It's difficult to define "new media" well. The term has actually been used since the 1970s by researchers conducting social, psychological, economic, political and cultural studies of information and communication technologies ("Lievrouw 2002":http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/llievrou/HNMwhatis.html). But as the field met with enormous growth in the 1990s – as optical (CD/DVD) and Internet technologies became popular – its meanings changed significantly. Some writers have come to define new media with simple lists of technologies, such as: "CD-ROM":/forums/CD/, "HTML":/forums/X-HT-ML/, "streaming media":/forums/Streaming/, "DV editing":/forums/DV/, "web applications":/forums/WebApplications/ and "DVD-video":/forums/dvd/. The problem with this is that its specificity requires the definition to change constantly, as it would have in 1993, then again in 1995, 1998, 2000 and 2002. This effort would seem fruitless, as some technologies prosper and others falter over time. Many writers take a different tack, instead focusing on the sense of *interactivity* that new media give users. Some take pains to differentiate new media from traditional mass media, such as radio, film or television. But this effort seems to us perhaps too vague to mean much to readers, especially as even traditional media such as television become interactive with devices such as the DVR or set-top box. A more interesting definition would be one that explains "new media" in a way that promises to be more lasting, yet also seems meaningful to readers. Perhaps that could be accomplished by defining new media as a family of genres that involve digital media: like "poetry" or "the novel," each new media format could be conceptualized as a collection of styles of production which have implications for the sort of content appropriate within the style. As with a poem or a novel, both the writer and reader have some knowledge before beginning the work as to what sort of work it will be, and what their role is supposed to be when interacting with it. Of course such a definition is at this stage very tentative. Those of us working with the Studio will continue to discuss these issues, and to produce examples of emerging genres to help define the term for the future.
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