New media refers to the media forms that are created through computational processes and depend on computers for distribution and redistribution. New media is used in contrast to old media which refers to the traditional media forms such as radio, television, and prints. Generally, new media doesn’t include those media that don’t use technologies that will enable the digital interactive or generative process.
There are different ways to define new media. One scholar who does a thorough job of this is Lev Manovich in The New Media Reader. He establishes new media with eight propositions highlighted below.
New media vs cyber-culture: New media focuses on the shifting paradigms and cultural objects such as analogue to digital television. In contrast, cyber-culture deals with the social phenomena associated with network and internet communications.
New media as technology serving as a distribution platform: Here, new media refers to the cultural objects that use digital technology for exhibition and distribution. This definition is subject to constant revisions as technological developments make it subject to change.
New media as software-controlled digital data: It is assumed that all cultural objects, on the computer-based distribution and digital representation, have certain qualities in common. Thus, new media is defined as digital data manipulated and controlled by software. It is, therefore, possible for multiple versions of one object to exist due to new media operations.
New media as a combination of cultural conventions and software conventions: This definition was new media as a mix of new conventions of data access, manipulation, and representation and old cultural pattern of data access, manipulation, and representation. The new data focuses on numerical information, while the old data refers to human experience and visual reality. Here, humans, rather than computers, make crucial creative decisions. Examples are in filmmaking.
New media as aesthetics that comes with every new media and communication technology: Here, there is a contrast between the appearance of ideological tropes and that of aesthetic strategies. When this approach is used, it is not enough to merely list the tropes and strategies and record the time of their appearance. There’s a need for a more comprehensive examination and analysis that links the history and growth of technology with political, economic, and social histories.
New media as the speedier execution of processes and algorithms that were once executed with other technology or manually: The arrival of computers quickened the processes that depended on manual techniques in the past. This has made it possible for new forms of media art, including video games and interactive multimedia to come into existence.
New media as a meta media: According to Manovich, the 1920s was the most relevant decade for new media. Postmodernism coincides with meta media in a similar feature of reworking old works instead of creating new ones. New media avant-garde refers to the new ways of manipulating and accessing information.
New media as a parallel articulation of ideas that existed in the post-second world war art and computing: The post-world war II art involves the creation of images by the systematic alteration of one parameter. It leads to the creation of old similar spatial structures and images and illustrates that the algorithm is executed by humans and doesn’t depend on technology.
The development of personal computers in the 1980s, which shifted computers from the control of big organizations to individuals played a major role in the emergence of new media. The development of the internet was the perfect catalyst that completed this emergence. Until the 1980s, prints media and analogue broadcasts on radio and television were the order of the day. However, the past three decades have seen an exponential transformation in the media space. Many media now depend on the use of digital media. Digital computers have influenced even the traditional media.
One significant effect of new media is that it redefined who controlled the information and in the process, made censoring more difficult and almost impossible. Many scholars consider the emergence of new media to be a positive thing as it has created a democratic postmodern sphere where people can actively participate and exchange opinions and ideas in a well-informed and non-hierarchical manner. However, some have a contrary view and believe that new media technologies have both positive and negative impacts. One opinion is that new media has seen the emergence of powerful multinational telecommunications corporations with a global influence that was once unimaginable. Some also claim that early studies of new media suffered from technological determinism – where technology, instead of the social network that governs the development and implementation of technology, determined the effects of media. There is also the displacements theory which claims that since people had limited time to spend on media consumption, the readership or viewership of one form of media will lead to less time being spent on another form. Going by this theory, the emergence of new media reduces the time that people would spend on the old media, and could eventually lead to the demise of the old media.
The rise of new media has a significant effect on globalization. With the internet, people across various cultures can connect and exchange ideas. Social media has been a significant driving force in this regard. It has gradually allowed telecommunications across geographical boundaries and broken the connection between social and physical space. In the previous age, physical space had more significance than social relationships; the opposite is the case today. This has made new media an instrument of social change. Both political and social revolutions have used new media to achieve great results in terms of education, organization, communication, coalition, and more.
New media is subject to continuous redefinitions as improvements in technology will continue to challenge existing norms. Perhaps, more than any inventions of the 20th century, computers and the internet have had and will continue to impact the human race.