EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following is an excerpt from The New Media Frontier: Blogging, Vlogging, and Podcasting by John Mark Reynolds and Roger Overton, eds. (Crossway).

The New Media: First Thoughts
John Mark Reynolds

What Is the New Media Revolution? Is it Just Hype?

The world of communication is changing quickly. Nobody disputes that. When I started graduate school in the late eighties, I was still using a Commodore 64 with 32K of usable memory. While my students point out that this simply means I am old, it also demonstrates that just twenty-five years ago education was very different from what it is today.

Not much e-mail existed back in the late eighties. By the early nineties e-mail had produced the friendship that would lead to my founding the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University.

Not much information was easily available online. I taught an early introduction to philosophy on Q-Link, which used the massive installed base of Commodore computers to form an early network. A good class might include as many as ten or eleven students. This network (but sadly not the class!) evolved into America Online (AOL). Online philosophy is now extensive, and the dialogue is vast.

Not much Greek text was available in my field of ancient philosophy outside of expensive books. Now I use Perseus to research text every week for free.

Of course, the changes due to new media are not limited to philosophy, a field hardly at the cutting edge of technology. Some of these changes are not earth-shattering but still make life more pleasant. My computer just informed me of the weather forecast for tomorrow through a pop-up window, and the days of waiting in agony for Packer scores is over.

There are two reactions to this kind of change. The first is to dismiss it as unimportant, and the second is to proclaim that it is the beginning of a new age. The dismissive attitude always sounds wiser, while the optimist sounds as if he is trying to sell something.

The problem for the new media pessimist is that he is probably complaining about the new media from his Internet-based journal or on a television show that will be aired on the Net within minutes of his appearance. If he is giving a lecture on the unimportance of the new media revolution, clips from his talk can (and often will) be posted while he is speaking.

Information is so easy to get that anyone under forty is frustrated when it takes more than a few minutes to discover even a relatively obscure fact. When my wife claimed Gwyneth Paltrow was less than forty years of age, I could confirm the claim after the movie using my cell phone and the Internet. That is trivial, but it was not so trivial when I could easily compare local banks’ home appraisals while talking to them on the phone.

This change in the availability of information and the ease of communication is real. In fact, it is so pervasive and has so quickly replaced the world that came before it that it is easy to forget how massive a change it is. The information and communication revolution is changing everything, from how one lives daily life to how one writes an airport novel.

Don’t believe me? Watch reruns of detective shows from before the eighties (pre-cellular phones), and notice how many plot points would be ruined if the detective or victim had access to a cell phone.

Imagine a world where a few reporters can kill a story that does not fit their definition of news and where it is relatively easy for “stars” and personalities to massage their image.

Now recall that Dan Rather could report a story in 2004 about President Bush, but citizens of the new media, many with expertise that CBS did not have, were able to expose the documents that were the basis of the Rather report as almost certain forgeries.