Monday, January 21, 2013

New Media - Blogs

This is the beginning of a directed study on New Media (a very open and general kind of descriptor for what we'll be talking about). I will link to an article (or two) and then pose a few ideas or questions for consideration. So, let's begin the discussion on blogs.

We can begin by asking a few questions (that don't necessarily need to be answered here):

What is “new media”? What is “old media”?

In his forward to the book edited by Quentin J. Schultze and Robert H. Woods Jr., entitled, Understanding Evangelical Media: The Changing Face of Christian Communication (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2008), Clifford Christians states, “The discussion of media technologies—radio, film, books, internet, gaming and the rest—are a venue for the permanent questions about our place in the universe.” (Schultze, 8)

Schultze begins to describe new media: “The idea of mass media has been replaced by networked media. Narrowcasting has replaced broadcasting. Media power has become democratized; low-cost digital production lets younger evangelicals tell stories in multiple venues.” (Schultze, 15)

Narrowcasting can be defined as the dissemination of information to a specific audience (also called niche marketing). It presupposes that there is no such thing as a mass audience.

Podcasts are a type of narrowcast, since they are generally targeted towards a specific sharply-defined audience. Just a note regarding Apple and the podcast - it doesn’t really come from the term "iPod," but it became synonymous with it.

Advertising can be thought of narrowcasting, a kind of persuasion, an attempt to make us think a certain way. It moves in one direction, towards the audience, attempting to sway the consumer is a particular direction.

What about some of the opinions that we have, some that might be coaxed along by narrowcasting, that we hold without firsthand experience? Why do we hold these kinds of opinions and how do we develop them?

Schultze states, “we are inclined to use communication, including media, to support our existing views of reality. We pick and choose media according to what we want, what we enjoy, what we like to discuss with others. For instance, Christian contemporary music fans download more of it than do the music’s detractors. We use media to mediate our experience of reality in tune with our interests and desires, even our religious beliefs. If we don’t like U2 or Amy Grant, we spend time with friends who share our criticisms. We like to know that we have got it right, even self-righteously so!” (Schultze 20)

“those shared definitions of reality function like shared maps that help us navigate life by making judgments about faith and culture, including popular culture.” (Schultze 20)

Take a look at this article: Qian, Hua and Craig R. Scott. “Anonymity and Self-Disclosure in Weblogs.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12:4 (2007).

What are the authors' points in the article? Do you agree or disagree?

Also, take a look at the following blog posting, which suggests how to write good blog postings. Is this useful?

Finally, are blogs now a thing of the past? If so, what has replaced them? If not, how long will they last?


Phil Wiebe said...

To make a broad sweep, new media is media that only became possible in the digital era, while old media is 'analog' (to steal a term that is often contrasted with digital but, to my knowledge, is really only relevant when dealing with audio equipment and clocks). Specifically, New Media encompasses all computer and especially internet-delivered media, e.g. video games and websites, while Old Media consists of television, film, print media, and radio, to name a few.

An aside on language: I'm a proponent of the preciseness of language, so I'd like to comment on the usage of the term 'New.' From scholars to settlers, it seems like there is a general lack of foresight in appellation - will we still call the media birthed by the dawn of the digital era 'New Media' in 100 or 1000 years? Like the New Criticism of the first half of the 20th century, or New Wave music from the 1980s, we have been too content to name things based not on their actual characteristics but merely by virtue of their severance from previous entities. New Criticism is coming up on 100 hundred years old, and New Wave music is treated like a curious and camp relic of the opulent 1980s, a decade old enough to already have had longing paeans dedicated to it (everything from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City to the 2011 film Drive). New Media itself is getting old; I would pose the question, "What is a better name for 'New Media'"?

I think Clifford Christians' quote nicely positions communications/media studies between sociology/cultural studies and philosophy/linguistics. I think it takes some of the key questions of each venture and contextualizes them vis-a-vis media.

Narrowcasting: I affirm the idea that there is no mass audience intuitively based on my ideological leanings, but in light of actual practice and experience, I question its veracity. For all of the niche audiences that have 'come out of the woodwork' through the power of digital media, a mass audience still seems to exist, that enjoys the typical or traditional venues of media - one that watches primetime television, CNN or Fox for news, football on Sunday, and most relevantly is advertised to en masse. After all, people still seem to be drinking Budweiser. With New Media, I think we are seeing a diversification of the mass audience: it's still there (though some true believers may have consciously made the effort to depart fully), but we now realize that those among the mass audience also have a variety of interests outside the purview of the typical. After all, that football lover might be drinking craft beer, and someone who just finished their favourite primetime TV show might be going off to watch a webseries on Youtube. The ad men, I think, know this and will use all the tools available to them, through broadcasting AND narrowcasting, to get their message to their target demographic. I think this is great, it reveals the two sides of the coin: new media is not just the messiah that will liberate us from the oppressive pap that appeals to the lowest common denominator of the unwashed masses but also the harbinger of the fantastic new and innovative ways in which people will try to sell us things and exercise or gain power ("plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose").

Phil Wiebe said...

The power of choice works well both for the viewer and the purveyor. The viewer will actively seek out things that cater to their interests and affirm their positions; when they discover such things, they stick with them proudly, because those media products have become a part of their self-chosen identity. Meanwhile, those who have executed a successful production can rely on a grassroots, diehard fanbase that can grow increasingly malleable as the producer fosters goodwill with viewers (anything from not selling out to acceding to their feedback/input/desires).

Anonymity and Self-Discourse: The authors advanced the idea that audience awareness on behalf of the blogger and the level of shared personal information available determine how much self-disclosure a blogger will engage in. Visual anonymity was less relevant to disclosure; it seems sound that if an author posts a picture of themselves it will only be meaningful to those who already know the blogger, and the research suggests that bloggers are very confident in their knowledge of who does and does not read their blog that they know in their personal life. This deviates from the traditional fear of the anonymous media purveyor (typically in the vein of the conspirator or confessor) that their Image will be discovered; in the digital era, information (name, email address, home address, etc.) is what is in fear of discovery. Their is also an enhanced sense of accessibility to the digital journal - an old diary may sit unread and forgotten for decades, and is certainly only accessible to those who know its physical location, but the online journal can be abandoned by the author for years and still be readily available to anyone who queries a few, well-aimed search terms. A final conclusion by the authors of the paper is that bloggers are, in general, less anonymous than they think - I am disposed to agree with this.

Good blogs: Should be personal, reveal obsession and thought processes, well-written, stylish, strange, inspire others to blog, ambitious, and break their own rules. Can it be useful? Yes, I think if someone were to consult these rules and follow them closely, they could end up with quite a successful, 'good' blog. However, I am not sure who the target audience was; after all, the people described as being inclined to write blogs, and especially good blogs, do not sound like the conscientious, deliberate list-consulting types. On the same note, I disagreed with much of what he said - he predicts such responses, and thinks it is good because it reveals the presence of opinion. Me? I think people are just wrong sometimes.

Blogs went through a bubble that burst, but I wouldn't say they are a thing of the past. Blogs represent a continuation of personal journals, engagement in niche activities, and amateur journalism into the digital era. Their form may be replaced at any time in the future by a better content distribution model or media, but the creative impetus behind the blog will not be suppressed.

On an unrelated note: here is a cover of "Hand in Glove" you may enjoy -