Thursday, March 01, 2007

New media: how new is new?

This week I was in discussion with a colleague about a manuscript and for without thinking I used the term new media in order to indicate internet and CD-media and the other historic trends. My colleague asked me to forget the term new media and use the collective name digital media. And of course he is so right, for how new is new? So from now on I am going to avoid the term new media.

Historically, in my experience, the term new media has been used since the early eighties. At that time publishing companies used new media as an indication for the activities of an internal lab, experimenting with computers. VNU started such a department for its magazine products in 1983. In the Netherlands we had even an earlier variation on the term: modern media. The publishers had set up a foundation, Stichting Moderne Media, as a lobby to collect information about computers, new products and services and new business models. The representative talked to the government and civil servants on a range of subjects, from video tapes, cable television to electronic publishing and electronic products and services. (Mind you electronic and not digital).

The term new media was to set the new media apart from the traditional media, being print and broadcast products as well as movies and music. There was no hostility in the term as in other terms at that time. In the graphics world, they had no idea what to do with those computers and certainly not with those personal computers. They were a threat for the work force. So the graphics unions spoke about non-print activities. And that they saw all the computer activities as a hostile activity became clear in 1986 during the battle of Wapping in East London (UK), when Rupert Murdoch started up a new production plant. However the term new media was not hostile; it was just an indication of something new that was about to happen and it served as a cover for new activities, mainly in publishing companies.

The omnimachine (1988)

Using the term new media in this era looks stupid. It is more than 50 years that the world got to know computers. It is more than 25 years that people got gradually acquainted with the personal computer and it is more than 15 years since people got to know gadgets like the personal digital assistant (Apple with the Newton) and electronic book readers (Sony with Electronic Book, EB). So all the newness has been rubbed off by now.

I understand that the term new media is usually used by lack for a better word. One wants to indicate with a collective term all the new hardware and gadgets, products and services and business models. And in the beginning of the nineties it still was a good term as digital media were a gathering of different devices, software and business models. But at that time people also started to realise that the discriminating factor of these electronic media turned around digitisation.

From March 1 onwards I will avoid the term new media as an indication of digital publishing. Of course it will be difficult to avoid the term in a historical context. I will even get rid of my nickname of new media veteran and consider myself as a veteran in the digital era.

Blog Posting Number: 679

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