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New Media and the Internet’s Staying Power

What do the major components of mass media, books, magazines, newspapers, sound recordings, movies, radio and television all have in common? Generally speaking, their presence in modern society is pervasive and their purpose is to either inform or entertain. Through the presentation of topical information and advertising placements, these components all contain forms of persuasion. Additionally, they help to create a binding effect in communities by “giving messages that become a shared experience.” (John Vivian – The Media of Mass Communication, Seventh Edition 2004. p. 4)

These components are differentiated and categorized through various models – ie. books, magazines, newspapers and movie theatre presentations – which are considered hot media because of the high degree of involvement while viewing them. On the other hand, television is a cool media because it requires less “intellectual involvement”. Due to programming considerations, radio content can straddle the divide and be considered warm media.

However, the primary differences within these components are their delivery methods, which we can use to define their current state of accessibility and pervasiveness within the domestic mass market audience. For example, in 2005, there were 847 television sets and 2,115 radios per 1,000 people in the US population. (Vivian p. 3) Again in 2005, daily newspapers reached an estimated 127 million people per day. (Vivian p. 76) That’s an incredibly deep media penetration for those models, pointing to their persistence and importance in society. However, these ratios proved a huge divide between the US and other developing countries. India, the most populous country charted, had a mere 68 televisions and 117 radios per 1,000 people. (Vivian p. 3) The world was ripe for leveling the playing field.

This is where a current technological “game changer” comes into play – the “new media” World Wide Web. It’s an understatement to say that the Internet created a cataclysmic shift in worldwide accessibility to all forms of media. As Vivian quotes, “Every major mass media company has put products on the web.” (Vivian p. 216) He also talks about technological convergence, the digitization of media, and how the two blend together into various outlets. Local daily newspapers and minor market lifestyle magazines now have websites, giving them the same potential audience as The Wall Street Journal or Time magazine (which, of course, also have websites). At the time, Hulu.com brought a large chunk of television network programming to the web, expanding the accessibility and reach of the programs. iTunes, along with other (illegal) file sharing applications created the ability to download and watch movies at the viewers convenience on their laptop computer. Apple TV and other game consoles allow us to watch movies and other syndicated content on our 60” high-def televisions. Amazon.com offers book downloads to high-tech digital reader devices. Facebook currently has millions of members on its popular social media site. These and other web technologies have put full access to media directly at our fingertips – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Demassification is over. Now remassification is taking place. The web tore down the distinctions of traditional media and blended them together into one pervasive, mass universe. Domestic web usage has become the definition of the term “pervasive.” Vivian noted that in 2005, web usage was approaching 100 million users (30% of the US population). In 2009 alone, the number was approaching 227 million or 74% of the population. That’s more than double the users in just a 4-year period! (Internet World Stats)

The key component that furthered this cataclysmic shift is broadband – or high-speed – internet access. Broadband breathed life into the web, enabling faster access to data and downloads of large media files (such as movies and audio files). Although the US leads all nations in broadband access – 81 million subscribers as of June 2009 compared with 31 million in #2 Japan (OECD web) – there is even more convenience on the horizon.

However, just like the emergence of newspapers and television, implementation of internet access in third world countries still lags far behind. But with lower infrastructure installation costs and increased access to PCs, this field is leveling over time.

With the web’s accessibility, penetration, pervasiveness and absorption into daily life, one can immediately recognize the Internet’s importance as a cultural force. The more difficult question is – what will the business of media look like in just the very near future? What will be the next “game changer”?

Interestingly, Vivian’s definition of “new media” is “current media technology whose potential has not yet been fully recognized.” (Vivian p. 9) What will be in store for media audiences with these continual technological advancements? As new content and functionality constantly evolve, will the web continually leapfrog its own potential? Will it always be “new media”?

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