It should be understood that “new media” is really just “old media” that has evolved. In fact, media technology has transformed so much (not to mention so fast) that we had to divide the term media into two separate categories: old and new. I’m sure most people have a basic idea of what should be considered “old media” and what should be considered “new media”, but what really separates new from old? Better yet, what effect do the technologies associated with new media have on society?
Media is defined as a means of communication that reaches or influences people widely. If old media was in the dictionary as a separate term, the definition would probably include the words “less personal”. Think about it: newspapers and magazines can be read by anyone who chooses to. Radio and television can be accessed by everyone that wants to listen/watch (given that everyone owns a radio/TV set or at least knows someone who does). There is nothing exclusive about these things. Sure there are different channels to watch, different radio stations to listen to, different magazines and newspapers to read because people have different tastes, but these “choices” still target large groups of people. Individuals do not have any control over the content or the time the content is released. So with old media, communication is limited to whatever a person decides to watch, hear, or read at the specific time that a media source has made it available to the public.
Such is not the case with new media. The internet has practically erased these limits and opened up new forms of communication. Anything that people watch, listen to, or read can be accessed online at the time they want to access it. Not only can people access media whenever they want, but they can become a part of media that can be accessed by others. The definition of “new media” should then be a personalized means of communication that influences people widely. Just think of all the social networking websites that are available to the public and how they are used, along with blogs, P2P file sharing, and other forms of communication in which the content is controlled by the public. A video of your dog chasing its own tail on YouTube is considered media. The content is not new or unusual but the fact that half the world can see your dog is. This may seem like old news, but this is the foundation of new media.
The ironic part is that while new media has made communication more personalized, it has almost dehumanized people. Even though it sounds contradictory, it is in fact another way to distinguish new media from old media. Think about this: Hypothetically, a person can, from their computer, watch their favorite TV show, pause it, read some major news stories for that day, and then have 10 different conversations with people in different countries via Skype, Facebook, and others all at one time. It is not humanly possible to carry on several conversations about different subjects at the same time in person or over the phone. With the help of the internet, this is no longer impossible. A person can be having as many “live” conversations as they want, communicating in different languages if they choose, at the same time. And any conversation between two (or more) people easily becomes media if it takes place on a public website.
Perhaps that person who was “multitasking” will share the news stories they read about or tell their friends how awesome the last episode of Family Guy was, and then those friends will access the same things within minutes. Information travels fast. Recall how you found out about the death of Michael Jackson. I initially found out from a friend who sent me (and probably 20 other people) a text message. She probably read someone’s Facebook status, who posted it because they heard it on the radio, which got their info from the news, which got their info online from TMZ. More than half the country knew about Jackson’s death and the man was not even dead for an hour. You can also send out 200 invitations at the same time (or just post a status on Facebook or Twitter) and be guaranteed that each person received it and will view it within 24 hours. In “real life” this would not be possible on account of time.
It’s not that new media slows down time, but it most definitely speeds up people’s lives. Important emails can be viewed on your mobile phone immediately after they are sent. Companies can market (and sell) products online efficiently to people across the world. Restaurants and nightclubs can promote their establishments and events to thousands of people in a specific area through social networking websites. The advertisements on Facebook are even targeted towards specific viewers (i.e. female, male, married, single, college student, etc.). Although you may think they are random since you see different ads all the time, they are in fact personally aimed towards you (e.g. a male would probably not see an ad for laser hair removal and a 15-year-old would probably not see an ad for real estate).
New media has broken barriers in communication, making everyone more united in a way. Time is saved, content is personalized, and the possibilities are limitless, but without old media we would be living completely virtual lives.