“What Is New Media?” Essay

The Essay:

This essay will examine the question, “What is new Media?” in order to define what New Media is. The major ideas, authors, and works that will be examined are Marshall McLuhan’s “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” (1964); Vin Crosbie’s “What is new media?” (1998); and Sherry Turkle’s “The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit” (2005). I will arrive at a fully formed conclusion analysing the different ideas of what media actually is, and the impact that these different kinds of media have on us as a society and as individuals, as well as coming up with a relevant definition of what new media is, and whether I believe any of the definitions and explanations given are correct.

One of the people who has given a definition of media is Marshall McLuhan, with his so-called McLuhan equotation, “The Medium is the Message”. This statement came about before new media existed, but is still highly relevant, if not more relevant, now that it does. McLuhan says this about the Medium: “This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium — that is, of any extension of ourselves — result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.” (McLuhan, M. 1964) Effectively, McLuhan’s Medium is anything that expands the scope of Human actions beyond their normal limits. This means that the wheel is an extension of our legs, as it allows us to travel at greater speeds; and a hammer is an extension of our hands and arms as it allows us to hit objects with a greater force than normal. It allows us to do something that our bodies could not do ordinarily. McLuhan defines the message that is given by the medium as “…the psychic and social consequences of the designs or patterns as they amplify or accelerate existing processes. For the “message” of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.” (McLuhan, M. 1964) What McLuhan is saying here is that the message that any medium sends out is the impact and effect that that medium has on human society. For example, the wheel, which is an extension of our legs, allowed for faster transportation, therefore reducing the amount of time that journeys take, allowing foodstuffs to be consumed in other areas of the country that they were unable to reach beforehand, as the food would have spoiled before it reached it destination. When the internal combustion engine became powerful enough to drive goods vehicles, this brought another great impact, as foodstuffs could now be transported intercontinentally more easily, allowing us to enjoy cuisine from China and Japan at a lower price. McLuhan, however, says that the message that a medium gives out is completely separate to the content. Using the analogy of transport, McLuhan defines the railways as a Medium, then says this: “[The Railway created] totally new kinds of cities and new kinds of work and leisure. This happened whether the railway functioned in a tropical or a northern environment, and is quite independent of the freight or content of the railway medium.” (McLuhan, M. 1964) What he means, is that the railway (medium) had the same effect on human society (message), regardless of the function (content) of the railway. So, in this context, the actual content of the medium is completely independent to the message. Another good example of this is Television. The medium of television allowed live or pre-recorded messages to be broadcast locally, nationally, or occasionally internationally. However, what is being played on the television is completely irrelevant to the effect that the television has had on society. Whether the television is broadcasting Strictly Come Dancing, or constantly bombarding the viewer with propaganda, the effect of the television is exactly the same, a massive amount of people are viewing the same information, at the same time. Using all of this information, what the McLuhan equotation means is: The medium is the item or technology that incites a change in the psychic and social conscience, and the message is the measurable impact (intended and otherwise) of that Medium, regardless of the information physically provided within that medium.

Whilst McLuhan defines broadly what the medium and its message is, Vin Crosbie defines much more specifically what he believes New media to be, using his theory of the ‘Three Mediums’. Vin Crosbie published “What is New Media?” in 1998, in order to give his interpretation of what new media was, and to separate it from old media. The first medium that Crosbie defines is what he calls the ‘Interpersonal Medium’, about which he says “This original medium arose in basic animal communications, predating both humans and technology. Human technology later extended its speed and reach. Interpersonal conversation is the basic form of this medium.” (Crosbie, V. 1998) This first medium is the act of normal conversation between two people, one-to-one communication. This Medium has several distinct advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that each person has equal control over the information that is given, and that the content is delivered in a personalised manner to each person that receives it. However, this medium does not allow for a great number of people to be included at once, as the conversation would degenerate and become confused among all of the noise. Examples of the Interpersonal Medium include, conversations, and letters. The disadvantage of the first medium would be solved with the advent of the ‘Mass medium’. Crosbie states that: “It originated with the utterances and speeches of tribal leaders, kings, and priests. Technology has merely extended its reach to global dimensions.” (Corsbie, V. 1998) What Crosbie is talking about is communication coming from one person that is being received by a group of other people. In other words, this is one-to-many communication. Like the first type of media, there are specific advantages and disadvantages. The Mass Medium allows the same message to be sent out to many different people all at once, so all of the people receive the same information. However, the information cannot be personalised for that person’s interests or abilities. Examples of this medium would include group e-mails, speeches, television programmes, and advertising. The final medium that Crosbie defines is the ‘New Medium’. He states: “…the New Medium has the advantages of both the Interpersonal medium and the Mass Medium, but without their complimentary disadvantages.” (Corsbie, V. 1998) What Crsobie means, is that ‘New Medium’ allows the communication of information to a large number of people at once, but the information is displayed in a personalised manner, and with each person having equal control over the content in the message. One of the major differences between the Interpersonal, Mass, and New media is the fact that both one-to-one and one-to-many communications are both completely independent of technology. Technology has increased the reach of both of these media, but they existed before modern technology. The New Medium, however, relies entirely on modern technology to exist. The internet is what has made the New Medium possible. Things like websites, social networking, and online games, which are all examples of the New Medium could not exist without modern technology.

In her book ‘The Second Self’, Sherry Turkle looks at the effect that the introduction of the personal computer had on members of society. The Personal computer is a highly versatile and adaptable piece of technology, allowing communication in all three of Crosbie’s mediums. It has had a profound effect of society since it was introduced, and as computers have become more powerful, they have become important in all areas of our lives. Sherry Turkle recorded a quote which she gives in the introduction of the 2005 edition of ‘The Second Self’, in relation to wearable technology and PDAs that states “”I become my computer. It’s not just that I remember people or know more about them. I feel invincible, sociable, better prepared. I am naked without it. With it, I’m a better person.”” (The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit, 2005) I think this quote shows a definite connection to Marshall McLuhan, who talked about the message of a medium being the impact that it has on society. This is clearly an indication of the effect that the technology has had on the person, and therefore society. There are other instances where Turkle shows a connection to the McLuhan equotation, including the way that we explain other things in society, even complex theories. Turkle says: ”While I was writing The Second Self, I introduced the idea of slips of the tongue in my MIT classroom. At that time, one of my students recast the idea of Freudian slips as “information processing errors.”” (Turkle, S. 2005) This shows how ubiquitous and recognisable computers and computing terminology have become since they were introduced to the general population in the 1980s.

During the course of this essay, I have looked at three different elements of media in my quest to define what new media is. The two that are most closely related, I think are the McLuhan equotation, and Sherry Turkle’s ‘The Second Self’, both of which speak about the social impact of technology and its development through the ages. Vin Crosbie’s definition of the new medium is a much more specific and practical definition. Looking at these theories, we can tell that Vin Crosbie believes that new media is any kind of communication method that involves many-to-many communication. However, are modern television programs not new media? By Crosbie’s definition they aren’t, because they are one-to-many communication. I believe differently. McLuhan talks about a medium being anything that increases the scope of human action, which I think is a much more accurate definition of what new media is. McLuhan also talks about the fact that the message that a medium generates is not based on the content within that medium, therefore whether a medium is regarded as new media cannot be based on what is produced in that medium. The only thing left for us to use to classify media as old or new, is the technology and processes used in its production. For example, books are old media, the printing press has been around since the early 1430s [See Fig 1], and basic forms of printing predate even this, so books are produced using technology that is centuries old, and all books are therefore old media. However, if the same book is reproduced in an electronic format for the Amazon Kindle as an e-book [See Fig 2], it would use a modern program to be reproduced, and would be transmitted over the internet, to be read on a tablet computer or e-reader. This would be new media because, although the content is the same, the technology and processes used in order to produce the book are more modern. So, now that we’ve established that the kind of technology effects how it is classified, how do you class the differences between old and new media? Well, I think that for anything to be classed as old media, it has to have been superseded by a newer technology. Keeping with the printing press theme, the printing presses have been superseded by the modern printer. Conversely, any kind of process or technology that has recently come into use or fruition would be new Media.

In conclusion, I believe New Media is any technology or process that has recently come to fruition, or is in major use to produce contemporary products, regardless of their content, for a modern society.


McLuhan, M. (1964) Understanding Media [Online] California. GINGKO PRESS inc. Available from: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00DIEZI7U/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=LG0X1GX8Z581&coliid=IF1T4057GUQMO [Accessed: 23rd December 2015]

Turkle, S. (2005) The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit [Online] Twentieth Anniversary Edition, Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT PRESS, Available from: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Second-Self-Computers-Human-Spirit-ebook/dp/B001DITH4I/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1451908168&sr=8-6 [Accessed: 27th December 2015]

Crosbie, V. (1998) What is New Media? [online] Available from: http://www.sociology.org.uk/as4mm3a.doc [Accessed: 14th November 2014]

PsPrint (2016) The invention of the Printing Press [online] Available from: https://www.psprint.com/resources/printing-press/ [Accessed: 2nd January 2016]



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