What is new media, and what are the ways new media influences societal and cultural values?

Digital technologies that take advantage of computers and the Internet have led to products and services that provide information or entertainment. Social media, blogs, video games and online news outlets are typically referred to as “new media.” These channels of communication have far-reaching implications for society, including in business and politics.

However, older forms of media, such as radio, television and vinyl records, were once new. So what exactly makes “new media” new? In truth, new media is a relative term. Several practical and theoretical considerations help clarify just what new media is.

Definition of New Media

New media refers to “those digital media that are interactive, incorporate two-way communication and involve some form of computing,” Robert Logan writes in his book Understanding New Media. New media is “very easily processed, stored, transformed, retrieved, hyperlinked and, perhaps most radical of all, easily searched for and accessed.”

A distinction between new media and old media is that old media is for the most part mass media. In addition, each form of new media is highly interactive, while mass media is not. Users of new media are active producers of content and information, whether sending an email or using Internet collaboration tools.

Professor and new media theorist Lev Manovich describes new media as being native to computers or relying on computers for distribution: websites, human-computer interface, virtual worlds, virtual reality, multimedia, computer games, computer animation, digital video, special effects in cinema and interactive computer installations.

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Conceptualizing New Media

Theories can help define and characterize new media. In the book New Media, 1740–1915, media is examined as “a cultural process that involves not only the actual transmission of information but also the ritualized collocation of senders and recipients,” according to editors Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey Pingree. Thus, new media reflects societal values and societal transformation.

Manovich outlines eight possible concepts about new media in his essay “New Media from Borges to HTML,” from the book The New Media Reader. These theoretical considerations build upon new media as digital and cultural expressions.

  1. New media versus cyberculture. Cyberculture is the study of various social phenomena associated with the Internet and other new forms of network communication, such as online communities, cellphone usage in various communities and issues of gender and identity in Internet usage. In contrast, new media is concerned with the new possibilities that network communication technologies and all forms of computing present.
  2. New media as using computer technology as a distribution platform. New media uses digital computer technology for distribution. This definition must be revised every few years as computing technology advances.
  3. New media as digital data controlled by software. New media is digital data that can be manipulated by software. This allows automation for media operations to produce multiple versions of the same object. For instance, a picture can be altered or generated automatically by running algorithms like sharpen, blue and colorize.
  4. New media as the mix between existing cultural conventions and the conventions of software. Hollywood films keep computers out of key creative decisions, yet computer games use automation much more thoroughly, such as with 3-D character models and storyline events. New media becomes a combination of old data and new data; old data relies on visual reality and human reality, and new data relies on digital data.
  5. New media as the aesthetics that accompany the early stage of every new modern media and communication technology. Instead of looking at how digital computers function as media creation, media distribution and telecommunication devices, the focus can be on aesthetic techniques that accompany every new media and telecommunication technology. For example, filmmakers in the mid-1990s used small, inexpensive digital cameras for films characterized by a documentary style so that they could focus on the authenticity of the actors’ performances and a more intimate approach.
  6. New media as faster execution of algorithms previously executed manually or through other technologies. Digital computing can be thought of as a way to massively speed up manual techniques that already exist. Modern video games use an algorithm for linear perspective that originated during the Renaissance in Italy; in a first-person shooter video game, digital computers animate views and recalculate views for all objects in the frame many times per second. The modern digital computer can be thought of as a faster calculator.
  7. New media as the encoding of modernist avant-garde; new media as metamedia. The 1920s, or specifically 1915 to 1928, is more relevant to new media than any other time period in history. Artists in this period invented a new set of visual and spatial languages and communication techniques still used today. New media represents the new avant-garde, which is no longer concerned with seeing or representing the world in new ways; rather, it seeks to access and use previously accumulated media. Thus, new media is post-media or metamedia.
  8. New media as articulation of similar ideas in post-WWII art and modern computing. New media further develops ideas contained in the new art of the 1960s, including active participation of the audience, artwork as a temporal process rather than a fixed object and artwork as an open system. Also, “combinatorics” — creating images and/or objects by altering a single parameter or creating all possible combinations of a small number of elements — in 1960s computer art and minimalist art can be linked conceptually and historically to new media. It illustrates that algorithms, which are an essential part of new media, do not depend on technology but can be performed by humans.

Expansion and Future of New Media

New media has shortened the distance among people all over the world through electronic communication, according to the International Journal of Multifaceted and Multilingual Studies. Now, people can interact with each other anytime and anywhere. “As a result of the evolution of new media technologies, globalization occurs,” Terry Flew wrote in his book New Media: An Introduction.

New media will continue to evolve in the information technology age. For instance, content could transform from a passive object that is acted upon by the audience to an intelligent, responsive and reactive item, The Guardian reports. This real-time content could be able to “read” the audience and use real-time feedback to change what is delivered to readers, listeners and viewers. Specific technologies, such as virtual reality, are also expected to shape the future of new media.

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