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Social Consequences of New Media

4342 words (17 pages) Essay in Media

12/10/17 Media Reference this

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Identify the most consequential features of ‘new media’ and assess how and why sociological theory and concepts deal with these.

Abstract This essay establishes the background of new media technologies within the context of their historical development. The argument is then addressed towards the largest social consequences tial outcomes of new technologies as through analysis of the augmentation and facilitation of social communities and online interest groupsthe key consequential developments of new media, culminating in the premise that online community augmentation is the most crucial in order to provide social structures for the existence and promotion of other new media consequences. This argument is then placed into a framework of related theoretical endeavour and elucidates salient arguments in order to establish the premise within contemporary academia. The essay closes with a summation of the discussion along with concluding comments.

The term ‘new media’ has gained a great deal of currency over the past two decades. It is also worthy of note that the term has gained status as a collective, singular noun form as if it was in reference to a single, coherent entity. This practice has become increasingly common, not only in marketing circles and journalistic reportage but also in the world of academia. Whilst the term in itself is incredibly vague, the utterance of such increasingly implies solidarity of existence as a totally formed and fully achieved social and material practice. Whilst there is little truth in this premise, this nature of conduct continues, and in doing so undermines development of coherent debate.

Throughout this paper, the term ‘new media’ will be applied to the technological practice, development and subsequent social construction of those technologies which have been borne of internet and digitally associated technologies. In addition to this, it must be pointed out that it would at best be truculent, and at worst benighted, to talk of the consequences of new media in terms of cause and effect; this does not do the subject justice nor does it recognise the transience of the situation. It is for these reasons that throughout the course of this critique the consequences of new media technologies will be catalogued in a historically linear form in order to demonstrate the manner in which such technologies lead to further technological developments, each built upon the innovation of the previous. This essay will address the inception of those technologies which have now come to be known as new media and establish them within a historical framework with particular emphasis placed on the development of the World Wide Web. Scholarly endeavour on these matters is subsequently placed into context of existing examples of new media development, along with their societal consequences. These arguments are then consolidated with broader, underpinning theories which argue for the case of community augmentation as the primary consequence of new media technologies. The essay then closes with a summary of key points raised with according conclusions.

Current developments in new media technologies can be traced back to the inception of internet technologies and the consequential developments which ensued. When John Licklider joined ARPA, Leonard Klienrock was already developing ideas for ‘packet sending’. This was a method of sending information in broken up pieces, or ‘packets’. The information would be reassembled at the other end. Because the files were broken up before sending, they would be more difficult to eavesdrop, therefore of great appeal to ARPA. In 1965 an experiment saw computers in Berkley and MIT linked over a low-speed dial-up telephone line, forming the first ever Wide Area Network (Sadar, 2000).

ARPA scientists continued the development of networking protocols and in 1972 TCP/IP was born. This would allow different networks to communicate with each other. Now it was simply a matter of time and growth, as at this stage computers consisted of large mainframes that were not available to the majority of people. In 1982, whilst ARPANET was still the backbone of the system, they adopted TCP/IP. This is considered as the birth of the internet; an international network of computers all using the standard. Expansion of the system was also occurring due to advances in computer technology and in 1984 the number of online hosts was over 1000. Governments started using and promoting the system for educational purposes and by 1987 there were 10.000 hosts (over the following two years this number had swelled to 100,000) (Baym, 1998).

The year 1991 saw the launch of the World Wide Web (WWW) which consisted of a network of searchable and retrievable sites that employ the use of Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). This protocol automatically searched for the site and retrieved it for automatic viewing. Tim Berners-Lee and other scientists had been developing ideas for making data easily retrievable since 1989 and several browser/editor programs were made shortly after. This formed the basis of what would become new media technology as it is now known (Baym, 1998).An important consequence of the proliferation of new media is the digital divide. In economic terms, the digital divide emphasises the gap between those with privilege and those without. Those without suffer a more limited access to the means of information distribution that new media has come to be synonymous with; internet access, email, smartphones, etc. The consequences of this are broad reaching since they can affect people not just on their individual access to digital information services but also by geographical location or by their access to social entities such as businesses, educational services and public services. This gap also exists between nation states and is known on an international scale as the global digital divide (Halford & Savage, 2010).

The historically recent rise in new media has also prompted an interest in the academic study of mobilities; an area of the social sciences which was largely disregarded until the phenomenon. The turn in attitude is due largely, if not wholly, to the ubiquity of locative media and mobile communications in increasingly novel forms (Urry, 2000). These new technologies are augmenting and supplementing the manner in which members of society communicate with one another, and indeed their locations, on the move. Such ICTs (Information and Communications Technologies) are increasing in ubiquity, as increasing numbers of people begin to carry smart technologies with them, and rising numbers of architectural structures and public borders are becoming embedded with responsive entities which can relay pertinent information. Transport structures, public service buildings, architecture of interest, etc. are becoming increasingly embedded with satellite connectivity, GPS, responsive software, sensors and other interactive data transfer forms (Urry, 2004).

It is uncontroversial to argue that the most important and far-reaching consequence of new media is the increased ability for social and community forming; the world has witnessed a massive rise in online groups and communities. For many people it is now possible to be part of multiple online groups simultaneously.

Much of the general debate around the value of the virtual communitiesdebate which surrounds new media also highlights the increase in digital representation and through subcultures. From the early days of online chatrooms and social portals which existed entirely in textual form, the development into widespread social media has brought with it a sharp rise in both the globalisation of culture and digital representation of the self through online platforms. Debate on such representation has become which have developed from new media technologies has become polarised in academic debateia. On the one hand is the groupA strong argument in scholarly endeavour which argues maintains that the internet has created a new platform for with which to resurrect traditional notions of community (perceived as fading in ‘real life’) which could be perceived as diminishing in modern culture; this and is a positive step towards achieving a new global solidarity, particularly with the concurrent development of cultural globalisation. The opposition to this school of thought maintain that cyberspace detracts attention from the issues faced in ‘real life’ community and is therefore erodes it. This point of view is eloquently allegorised in the opening page of Jean Baudrillard’s Simulations (1983). Baudrillard paraphrases the Jorge Luis Borges tale of cartographers who create a map of the empire to such detail that it perfectly covers the land it represents. Whilst the map is celebrated the land underneath it declines into wasteland. This is only brought to the attention of the people when the map itself erodes, revealing an uninhabitable “desert of the real” (Baudrillard, 1983).

It is uncontroversial to argue that the most important and far-reaching social consequence of new media is the increased ability for the formation of communities which were previously unavailable. These community groups are salient and consistent throughout the development of new media technology and additionally it is now possible for many to be part of multiple societal groups simultaneously. Such communities are so influential because they underpin and promulgate the existence of other key elements of new media technology development, such as social change, cultural globalisation, digital identity, the mobilisation of smart technologies, etc.

Theorists Wellman and Gulia argue that the current debate on virtual communities is problematic for several reasons. They state that the polarisation of opinion makes the debate Manichean, and also that a sense of the history of community is absent. In addition to this, they contend that the debate on virtual communities is largely unscholarly and is parochial in the sense that it forces a divide between ‘real life’ communities and those online. They go on to say that the notion of a traditional community is nostalgic and saturated with myth (Wellman & Gulia, 1999). Whilst Wellman & Gulia make some fair points, certainly the polarisation of the online debate (and also the separation of online life and real-life in theory) the two extremes of opinion have produced a substantial amount of research on the matter.

When defining community it is useful to look at the work of German sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies, who developed the terms Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. Gemeinschaft (translated roughly as ‘community’) is described by Tonnies as traditional community, characterised by bonding through kinship, friendship, shared religious beliefs and community loyalty. Tonnies termed modern, capitalist societies as Gesellschaft (community, or association), where social interactions and relationships are much less personal, more calculated and contractual, where the society experiences increased isolation of individuals living within it (Tonnies, 1988).

There is also important work regarding broader communities, in particular Benedict Anderson’s theories concerning nations, or as he terms “imagined communities” (Anderson, 1983). Since the members of a nation cannot possibly interact with (or have knowledge of) everyone within that nation, certain symbolic resources and rituals (or as Anderson refers “invented traditions”) are utilised to coalesce people and create a sense of shared identity (flags, national anthems, etc.). Anderson maintains that these types of communities depend on their members believing in them, and are maintained through the shared practice of cultural customs and devices (Anderson, 1983).

These Current definitions of digital community, whilst useful, suffer the same drawbacks as most in that they can be taken to extremes within their own boundaries, and do little to draw the line as to how far to go. A useful analogy is presented by David Bell (2001), who asks “I drive a car. To what extent could I argue that I belong to a ‘community of car drivers’?”. Bell goes on to explain that his car driving community satisfies all aspects of popular community definitions. Identity as a ‘car driver’ is institutionalised by a driving licence, which not only provides certain privileges but also acts as a proof of identity in a broader sense, and this is a commonality with other car drivers. Bell continues to describe a ‘set of knowledges’ which all car drivers possess (of driving, of the road, etc.), some of them formalised and some tacit. Whilst the Highway Code formalises one strand of such knowledge there also exists a tacit understanding in the form of driving etiquette and the like. The final point Bell makes is that of facilitation. The car also facilitates his membership of off-road communities (Bell, 2001).

Whether or not Bell’s example does satisfy a definition of community is still debatable, but it does raise some important points when trying to define community, especially when comparing or contrasting to those which exist online. The same terms of Bell’s analogy could just as simply be applied to MySpace or EBay, both of which have had a far-reaching and consequential impact on capitalist societies; MySpace in many ways became the prototype of digital self-representation, with its ability for photographic and thematic customisation, coupled with a platform for creative endeavour or the broadcast of opinions. This paved the way for a broad range of online social media platforms which developed or augmented the original MySpace model. Conversely, EBay provided a platform for commerce which laid down an archetype for online trading. The eBay model for the first time allowed people to generate income through private auctioning on a global scale, in many cases providing entire businesses to operate solely within the confines of the site. Regardless of their achieved scope and proliferation of use, but would the question remainsthat mean regarding whether or not that these ‘created communities’ satisfy a Gemeinschaft definition of community, and even if they did this would not necessarily make them communities in the nostalgic sense. , would that make them a community in the nostalgic sense? Bell explores this matter by offering a distinction between the terms (sometimes used synonymously by critical theorists) ‘community’ and ‘sub-culture’:

Clearly there’s a slippage between the two words, both taken to mean the same thing – Baym’s own work has used both to describe the same group of online soap fans, for example. But I think that the two words have very different connotations, so I started to wonder where the boundary between terms like these lies. (Bell, 2001:101)

In this statement Bell makes a valid point. In the labelling of factions and groups as ‘communities’ more often than not the term either becomes encapsulate, including a whole host of assemblies which are perhaps better described in another category, or becomes exclusive to the point of rejection of all those groups which fail to satisfy the nostalgic and seemingly outdated notion of traditional community.

With these comments in mind it seemsIt is important to establish a boundary by which to sector those groups which, although they may satisfy certain aspects of community ‘new technology’ consequences, are not engaged in sufficient humanistic interaction to be defined as such. This does not present an immediate problem as there are many online groups which fit this description and do not label themselves as communities, but remain consequential of new media. However, the emphasis on human interaction seems to be the key to which distinctions can be drawn between online organisations and actual communities. One notorious commentator on the subject, Howard Rheingold, states just that:

Virtual communities are social aggregations that emerge from the net when enough people carry on…public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace. (Rheingold, 1993:12)

Since traditional community is no longer possible in its pure form, due predominantly to capitalism and globalisation, people have searched out the areas of their community which they now lack. Humans , being social animals (and at best, survivalists) have utilised the internetnew media in tandem with the development of technology to maintain and keep control of the things which they inherently hold dear. In this case, the elements of community which contemporary society have consequentially eroded with new media are also supported by new media. These consequences are now are now to be found online in forums, groups and interactive spaces. New media technology The internet does not house communities, but symbiotically supports those areas of community which no longer exist outside of the webof such developments, and arguably, due to such developments. Online platforms such as MySpace or Facebook provide many services, but do not create a social network for its users. Rather, new media they allow users to supplement their existing social networks with online support. Furthermore online Interactions can take place which will allow families who are miles apart to keep in touch in ways that have previously been impossible, thus they are solving previous difficulties pertaining to traditional community, predominantly that of distance and (the resulting factor of) time, and strengthening these communities in ways that previously could not be achieved. It is now possible for community to become reinforced by new media technologies in ways that were previously impossible, thus strengthening the weak elements that existed in the Gemeinschaft-style structure. Utilising technology, traditional communities are able to function over distance in real-time, in cybernetic unison.

References

Anderson, B. (1983) Imagined Communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, London: Verso.

Baudrillard, J. (1983) Simulations, USA: Semiotext[e]

Baym, N. (1998) ‘The emergence of an on-line community’, Cited in S.Jones (ed.) Cybersociety 2.0: revisiting computer-mediated communication and community, London: Sage.

Bell, D. (2001) An Introduction to Cybercultures, London: Routledge.

Halford, S. & Savage, M. (2010) Reconceptualizing Digital Social Inequality’, Information, Communication and Society 13 (7): 937-55. [online] Available from: www.cresc.ac.uk/sites/default/files/Paper No 86_0.pdf (Accessed 18/11/20130).

Rheingold, H. (1993). The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. New York: Addison-Wesley.

Sardar, Z. (2000) ‘Alt.civilizations.faq: cyberspace as the darker side of the West’, Cited in Bell, D. and Kennedy, B. M. (eds.) The Cybercultures Reader, London: Routledge.

Tonnies, F. (1988) Community and Society (Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft). (C. P. Loomis, Trans.). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction. (Original work published in 1887).

John Urry (2000) Sociology Beyond Societies London: Routledge.

John Urry (2004) ‘Mobile Sociology’, ch.13 in Frank Webster (ed.), The Information Society Reader London: Routledge.

Wellman, B. & Gulia, M. (1999) ‘Virtual communities as communities: net surfers don’t ride alone’, Cited in Smith, M. & Lollock, P. (eds.) Communities in Cyberspace, London: Routledge.

Bibliography

Benton, T. & Craib, I. (2001) Philosophy of Social Science: The Philosophical Foundations of Social Thought. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Benton, T. & Craib, I. (2001) Philosophy of Social Science: The Philosophical Foundations of Social Thought, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Castells, M. (2001) The Internet Galaxy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Craib, I. (1997) Classical Social Theory: An Introduction to the Thought of Marx, Weber, Durkheim, & Simmel. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Flew, F. (2002) New Media. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Lievrouw, L.A. (2006) ‘New Media Design & Development: Diffusion of Innovations Vs. Social Shaping of Technology’, in Lievrouw, L. & Livingstone, S. Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and Social Consequences, London: Sage

Lister, M., Dovey, J., Giddings, S., Grant, I., Kieron, K. (2003) New Media: A Critical Introduction. London: Routledge.

May, C. (2002) The Information Society: a sceptical view. Cambridge: Polity.

Sayer, D. (1991) Capitalism & Modernity: An Excursus on Marx & Weber. London: Routledge.

Webster, F. (2006) Theories of the Information Society, 3rd edition. Routledge.

Woolgar, S. (ed.) (2002) Virtual Society?Oxford: Oxford University Press.References

Anderson, B. (1983) Imagined Communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, London: Verso.

Baudrillard, J. (1983) Simulations, USA: Semiotext[e]

Baym, N. (1998) ‘The emergence of an on-line community’, Cited in S.Jones (ed.) Cybersociety 2.0: revisiting computer-mediated communication and community, London: Sage.

Bell, D. (2001) An Introduction to Cybercultures, London: Routledge.

Rheingold, H. (1993). The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. New York: Addison-Wesley.

Sardar, Z. (2000) ‘Alt.civilizations.faq: cyberspace as the darker side of the West’, Cited in Bell, D. and Kennedy, B. M. (eds.) The Cybercultures Reader, London: Routledge.

Tonnies, F. (1988) Community and Society (Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft). (C. P. Loomis, Trans.). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction. (Original work published in 1887).

Wellman, B. & Gulia, M. (1999) ‘Virtual communities as communities: net surfers don’t ride alone’, Cited in Smith, M. & Lollock, P. (eds.) Communities in Cyberspace, London: Routledge.

Bibliography

Castells, M. (2001) The Internet Galaxy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Webster, F. (2006) Theories of the Information Society, 3rd edition. Routledge.

Lievrouw, L.A. (2006) ‘New Media Design & Development: Diffusion of Innovations Vs. Social Shaping of Technology’, in Lievrouw, L. & Livingstone, S. Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and Social Consequences, London: Sage

May, C. (2002) The Information Society: a sceptical view. Cambridge: Polity.

Flew, F. (2002) New Media. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Benton, T. & Craib, I. (2001) Philosophy of Social Science: The Philosophical Foundations of Social Thought. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Craib, I. (1997) Classical Social Theory: An Introduction to the Thought of Marx, Weber, Durkheim, & Simmel. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sayer, D. (1991) Capitalism & Modernity: An Excursus on Marx & Weber. London: Routledge.

Benton, T. & Craib, I. (2001) Philosophy of Social Science: The Philosophical Foundations of Social Thought, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

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