The New Media Frontier
- Thursday, October 23, 2008
Get used to citizens with video cameras so cheap and small that opposition candidates can afford to shadow their opponents with devices to catch them in a career-ending gaffe like the infamous “macaca” incident that helped end George Allen’s political career.
Hugh Hewitt, professor, lawyer, and talk radio star, wrote a book in 2006 whose title sums up the case for the optimists: Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World.
Hewitt focused on the web log (or blog for short), a kind of online journal that anyone can set up for free. He was right to do so since the rise of the blog meant that any person could set up his own opinion journal with theoretic access to millions. Of course, most blogs are not worth reading, but many provide up-to-the-second eyewitness testimony about the conduct of war, Christian apologetics, and informed pastoral reflections. In the 2008 presidential elections, both parties, but especially the Democrats, found themselves forced to deal with the power of the “net roots.”
Of course, the new media are not limited to printed text. Ask the music industry, which is still trying to come to terms with the digital revolution. In the Torrey class of 2008, few if any students had purchased any music anyplace other than from their computers.
My students spend more time on YouTube than with the dying “major” networks. Consumers can easily become producers in this environment. One of my former students, Josh Sikora, creates high-demand content for YouTube from his modest apartment that can compete online with George Lucas.
The revolution is here, and it is real, but what does it mean? What will the implications be for Christendom and for the church? Philosophers like to ask big questions. We also like to make sense of changes and suggest what these changes mean. At this stage of the development of new media, all thinking must be a sort of playful philosophizing because the change is so new and so little hard research has been done. But it is my belief that while technology changes, the essence of men does not. The past can be of some help in speculating about what the future may hold, and even speculation might help start the discussion that this topic needs within Christendom.
What Do We Mean by New Media?
You can know something without defining it. I know that my old vinyl Amy Grant album is not part of the new media revolution but that my Badly Drawn Boy download for my iPod is. My new Madden 2008 Wii game is new media, but the Sorry board game we just played is not.
Definitions can help us think about a thing with more precision. “The new media revolution” is a catchphrase, perhaps a dated one, but it is the best available. It covers a wide range of activities from my ten-year-old playing Runescape to my sixteen-year-old listening to Fred Sanders’s lecture on the Trinity online.
Let me propose a definition of new media that will capture video games, downloaded music, and TiVo.
New media: any material presented to a person in a digital format that can be cheaply and easily accessed, distributed, stored in a variety of ways, manipulated, and consumed by an average person.
New media are digital.
New media are cheap.
New media are easy to access.
New media are almost too easily distributed and are easy to store.
New media can be transformed by the “consumer.” In fact, the new media allow any consumer to quickly become a producer.
It will someday be possible for consumers to easily manipulate their favorite “shows.” Imagine the ability (if you dare) to create new episodes of long-dead TVLand staples such as Green Acres or Star Trek. There will be no reason for a virtual William Shatner to ever stop “playing” Captain Kirk as fans manipulate his image and voice to produce new episodes of Star Trek featuring his character.
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