“Why is New Media becoming popular?”
After being introduced to a friend of a friend as a ‘full time blogger’ the other night at a pub I was asked the above question by the friend of a friend. He accepted that ‘New Media’ is popular – but was at a bit of a loss as to the reasons for WHY it was.
I answered his question by reflecting upon a number of the things I see happening at present in wider culture and talked about how blogging and other forms of new media seem to be tapping into some of these 9 factors (I’m sure there are more than 9 – but these are what came to mind). Just a warning – this is a longish and slightly philosophical post – if you don’t have time to read it you might like to bookmark it to ponder later. Also note that much of this comes from a variety of reading I’ve done on post-modernism and culture, particularly in my reading around new forms of spirituality and why they are emerging:
For many years the way we’ve interacted with news and knowledge has been in a very one way form. Our society has had professional experts and news reporters who seek news and knowledge on our behalf and who present it to us for our consumption. The experts do the work and in a sense the rest of us are quite passive in the process.
This is not cutting it for many these days who not only want to know the latest news or knowledge but instead now want to interact with it and even participate in it.
Expertise and Knowledge is still valued but there seems to be a move towards an understanding that true expertise lies in the collective rather than the individual. As a result conversation and a sense of belonging is central in many forms of new media.
People want to interact with news and with the rise of technology they want an opportunity to even take part in it’s creation and reporting. We see this through blogs, podcasts, the rise in the camera phone in many news stories (remember the images from the London bombing?) etc. The line between reporters and consumers of news and information has blurred as people participate in media more and more.
2. Suspicion of Institution
Government, Church, Business and other institutions have had an increasingly tough time in recent decades. Whereas in days gone by ‘Big’ was respected and looked to as legitimizing something – I’m sensing a change and the beginning of a return to the micro. I’ve seen this on many levels in recent times ranging from a decline here in Australia of people’s opinion of the church (perhaps partly a result of various scandals and failings over the years) through to a rise of the ‘inner city village’ which seems to be happening more and more in different parts of our city as people intentionally decide to shop locally, put their money in community banks and seek alternative lifestyles.
I don’t have figures to back it up but anecdotal evidence among my friendship groups seems to indicate a growing sense of disillusionment and suspicion of mainstream media outlets also. Here in Australia most of our media is controlled by a small number of players and there is a lot of talk in the circles that I hang around in about alternatives sources of news – many of them online.
Excuse my language but Australians love to ‘take the piss’ out of people. I’m not sure how that translates into other settings but there is a certain irreverence and playfulness that exists in the way that people interact with one another in daily life.
Childhood seems to extend well into adulthood for many also as they seek to find ways of escaping ‘the grind’ and enjoy life. Video games are played more by adult males than children and gadgets seem to be more about entertainment than productivity or a couple of examples of this.
New media has a playfulness about it in many instances also. Irreverence, humor and ‘taking the piss’ (especially of institutions) are all givens in blogging and pod-casting efforts – to the point where almost anything goes.
(I may have just made up a word) Perhaps this is just an extension of ‘participation’ but I’ve noticed in the last decade or so (especially in younger generations) a change in the air when it comes to individualism.
While there is still a big focus upon looking out for your own best interests (selfishness frustrates me and I see it everywhere) there are plenty of indications around that people are thirsting to connect with one another.
Of course the way we connect and have relationships is changing with the rise in different technologies that allow cheap and easy connections across vast distances – but the desire to belong to communities of like minded people remains (and is perhaps growing).
As I’ve said above – new media is at its best when it involves conversations, collective learning and being a part of things that are bigger than just yourself.
This is one of the main reasons I got into blogging three years ago – the day I discovered blogs I was sucked into the conversations I saw happening on topics that meant something to me – I’ve never looked back.
The world used to split life in segments. We had work lives, home lives, sex lives, spiritual lives, social lives, dating lives etc etc etc. In recent years there has been a return to a more holistic and integrated lifestyle. Rather than compartmentalizing there is a desire among many to integrate and connect these once fractured aspects of our existence.
New Media can buy into this compartmentalized world view but I wonder with the advent of tools like news aggregators whether we’re starting to see people controlling and integrating their different interests into the one place. ie now in the same tool I can get the latest gadget news, read a soap gossip column, check out the latest Bollywood news, get news of my football club’s latest fundraiser, hear about a great new way to cook biscotti from an Italian chef and find out tips on how to get rid of that annoying rash!
While Web 2.0 gets a lot of criticism – many of the tools being developed in it at present will take this holistic/integrated thing a lot further as we see the convergence of aspects of life that we’d never would have dreamed of.
Perhaps this is a generational thing (I suspect it’s not) or maybe it’s just me growing up (it had to happen eventually) – but doesn’t the world seem a lot less black and white? While I used to want ‘the answer’ or ‘the information’ and didn’t want to hear different opinions or ideas that might clash with one another – these days I seek out juxtaposition and paradox in my life.
People seem increasingly comfortable with hearing diverse opinions and living with contradiction. I see this in many of my friends (and if I’m honest my own life) where people hold strong values that quite often contradict the decisions that they make (perhaps a better word is hypocrisy?).
I met one person who embodied this a few months ago. She told me that she was grappling with the fact that she was really passionate about social justice and advocating for the poor (she does ALOT of volunteer work for different organizations) yet she has just bought herself a $15,000 fridge. She couldn’t make sense of her decision but had this strange sense of being ok with it even though it didn’t quite seem to fit.
As New Media and Web 2.0 moves towards convergence and integration (see last point on holism) I guess we will increasingly see a juxtaposition of ideas side by side.
I was in a hardware shop the other day and noticed an area that was set up with around 50 chairs all set up like a meeting was about to happen. I asked what was going on and was told that it was their ‘learning centre’ where they ran classes on how to do various maintenance jobs around the house. They ran over 30 classes a week and were booked out for at least a month.
‘Do it Yourself’ TV shows and magazines are pretty massive here in Australia (almost to the point where a year or so back it felt like there was little else on TV). People increasingly seem to be feeling empowered to do things that they’d previously have paid an expert to do for them.
It’s not wonder that thousands of people around the world are looking at what they see on TV, radio, magazines and newspapers and are deciding that they could do that themselves.
I heard of one Melbourne teenager who was listening to dance music one day a few years ago and decided that he could produce similar kinds of sounds on his PC. He’d never really done anything like that before but after looking at some websites that told him what to do and after downloading some software he put together a number of tracks that he promptly posted on a music website.
Six months later he was being played in London clubs. He was just a kid messing around in his bedroom one day and what everyone thought was the coolest artist the next.
New Media is making kids (sometimes grown up ones) famous (in their niches) all over the world.
Last week I was in a food court and saw a woman completely loose it because the McDonalds staff were not able to get her a cheese burger and fries in the 60 seconds that she wanted it in. She was told there’d be a three minute wait and she threw a tantrum as a result.
I laughed at the situation at the time but when I came home and my laptop took a few seconds longer to start up than normal and I began to wonder if it was time for an upgrade I realized that we’re all much the same. We want ‘stuff’ now! Waiting is not part of the equation any more.
Now I’m not saying that this need for everything to be immediate is a good thing (I think we need to slow down) but one of the reasons I think new media is appealing to people is that it’s very fast.
This hit home to me when I was online the day that the London bombings happened last year and when I saw read first hand reports and saw pictures from within the subway within minutes of the incidents happening.
Just yesterday Steve Rubel proudly proclaimed that bloggers had the story of Gmail being down before the press did.
New Media is light footed, nimble and quick – so much so that many mainstream news sources just cannot compete any more. I notice this most with a couple of Monthly magazines and periodicals that I subscribe to – I don’t remember the last time when they broke a story to me that I’d not read about within hours of the announcements being made.