New Media: Anyone and His iPhone

Isabel Lake, Staff Writer

Imagine for, a moment, that you lived one or two hundred years ago. It is easy to see that we would have to live without TVs, iPods, or other technology that is near necessary for today’s society.

What most people don’t realize is the amount of isolation that many people had to live in or the lack of access to information the average person man or woman had until the past few decades.

People alive before the turn of the century hardly held relationships over state borders, let alone across countries. Today, I have Facebook friends as far away as New Zealand, Poland, and Chile. I can share information instantly on Twitter or Facebook, Wikipedia or Youtube.
This monumental change is due to something known as “the new media.”

“New media” is roughly defined as electronic communication made possible through the use of computer technology, or content accessed on a digital device. The key part of “new media” is its interactivity. This “new media” emerged in the 1980’s and has been evolving since then.
Perhaps one of the most important results of new media is globalization. In the past two hundred years, the average person’s world has grown from one local town to the entire world.
With the click of a button, one can donate rice to the hungry in third world countries, read about economic affairs in Europe, or simply chat with a friend across the globe.

Basically, new media “… radically break[s] the connection between physical place and social place, making physical location much less significant for our social relationships,” states a 2003 study by Croteau and Hoynes.

With this globalization comes social change; people have such a myriad of resources now available to them. Movements can easily share, educate, and communicate their ideas to a global audience.

Take, for example, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. This group, which has been fighting for a Mexican revolution since 1994, is widely regarded as the first major example of new media stimulating social change.

One of the strategies this group uses for gaining support stems from the idea that media attention of an event is more important than the event itself.

As communications scholar Denis McQuail says, “[The] communications revolution has generally shifted the ‘balance of power’ from the media to the audience.”

The Zapatistas choose to give information to the people who have the ‘power’ in the most effective ways possible.

The EZNL broadcasts their information on both leftist and mainstream media outlets and even receives endorsements from popular bands like Rage Against the Machine. As a result, the group has gained support across the world.

We have created an information society, where gaining and losing information is seen as not only an intellectual activity, but political and economic as well. Information is becoming a sort of currency in the modern world.

And this brings up an important question: should it be this way?

Unlike any time before, we have the world at our fingertips. In the recent uprisings of the Arab Spring, many protests were organized by rapid communication through those with computers or smartphones and access to internet.

Citizen reporters can disseminate information, providing quick information from almost any event. But are all people qualified to report in this way? Should information be treated with more care, not only manipulated for economic and political gain?

The role of new media in our lives is not a matter that’s just come into question. There have been people using new media to all ends.

Next time you check your iPhone or Blackberry, look at the little piece of future that you’re holding in your hands.