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Sunday, November 06, 2005

The New Medium

One of the troubling features of the so-called "digital" or "new" media sector has been the inability to define it properly. The purpose of this blog is to bring some sort of classification to what seems to be an intangibly amorphous area. So we read with interest an article written in 1998 by Vin Crosbie of Digital Deliverance, a digital consultancy based in California. Crosbie maintains that, like Einstein's Theory of Relativity what makes it difficult for people to comprehend is its simplicity. Another barrier to understanding is semantic - tied up with the popular misuse of the words media and medium. What we commonly describe as media are in fact vehicles within a medium, according to Crosbie.

For example, you may be surprised to be told that a magazine isn't a medium nor is the radio, television or the Internet Even collectively, they are not media. They are simply vehicles for conveying information within a medium or media. They aren't the media or medium in which they operate. In fact, Crosbie believes that there are in fact only three communications media that exist.

Confused? Well, he uses an interesting analogy to explain. He compares communication media to the transportation media. Again, he argues that only three transport media exist (so far): Land, Water and Air. The first medium for transport was Land - aboriginal man simply carried what they needed with them. Then he developed vehicles such as carts, chariots, bicycles, trains, cars and eventually lorries. The second medium was Water - after learning to swim, man invented vehicles such as rafts, canoes, barges, sailboats etc. Any other medium for transport was inconceivable - that is until the Wright brothers conquered the Sky and so another medium was born which overcame many of the disadvantages of the other two. The point being that technology alone delivered the third medium for transport - man was incapable of transporting anything himself through the air. (No, Superman doesn't count.)

When we consider the communications media in turn, there are startling similarities. The first medium for communication was the interpersonal medium. This is when two individuals communicate to each other. Its defining traits are that it is individualised and it is equal and reciprocal i.e. the recipient has equal control over the communication as the sender. The vehicles for this medium include the letter, the telephone call, email etc.

The second medium, and probably the more familiar one, is the mass medium. This is often mistakenly seen as a product of technology but in fact predates that. When Kings delivered edicts or priests delivered sermons, they were using the mass medium long before newspapers and satellite television. The defining characteristics of the mass medium is that it can deliver information to an infinite amount of recipients, but it cannot individualise the content for those recipients. It is a "one to many" medium and the sender has complete control over the information. The vehicles of this medium are, for example, the book, the newspaper, the television broadcast and most websites on the Internet, as a matter of fact.

Now we are seeing the birth of a third medium - the New Medium - which like using the sky as a transport medium has only been made possible by technology, or a convergence of technologies, in this case. This new medium is overcoming the constraints of the previous two media by being able to produce mass customised information tailored to the individual need of the recipient. In fact, it takes the benefits of both media and combines them through technology. Thus we are entering an age where television programming can be customised to our needs through PVRs and Media Centres. Where news filters create news content that is individualised to our own interests and pre-occupations. Multimedia gaming experiences happening in real time with an infinite amount of players on a globally-connected network; and, in the not to distant future, advertising signs that recognise and greet us.

The vehicles for this new medium will be similar, if not the same as some of the vehicles for the other media - television, online newspapers, email etc. But the technology that underpins them will allow for a greater degree of sophistication that will define them as being part of this new medium. In the end, though the aim is the same as it has been for thousands of years - communication.

Acknowledgments to Vin Crosbie of Digital Deliverance.

For the original newsletter that this article came from go to:

posted by Neil Leyden @ 2:19 p.m. 0 comments