Sunday, January 23, 2011

New Isn't Always Better

When it comes to new media, new new media, social media, web 2.0, or whatever name strikes your fancy, I don’t think that “new” necessarily means better. New media gives anyone with an Internet connection power that was formerly reserved only to a specific group of people—the power to become a producer of content. With consumers now participating in the media production process, there are countless online outlets through which one may consume information, and satisfy the incessant hunger for instant gratification.

There is no longer a need to wait to read about the latest sport star’s debacle in the newspaper—someone just tweeted it. Don’t wait for local news to cover the story about the old woman who literally drove her car through the Dunkin' Donuts—someone there snapped a picture with their cell phone and uploaded it onto their blog. And because so many sites are linked together, it’s easy to read about each of these developments as they bounce around and spread to your Facebook news feed.

Sounds great. If it’s true.

More than ever before, it is essential that people view all content with a discerning eye. Virtually anyone can post something online without to the harsh scrutiny of an editor or a team of fact checkers. A journalist reporting stories for television, print, or radio news goes out into the world, interacts with people, and comes to a conclusion about something in order to determine what is real and important for people to know. This kind of attention to detail is not currently a part of social media. Blogs contain a lot of fat, and as people learn to view sources of information more carefully, they will see that a healthy diet for consuming information does not leave room for much fat.

Social media are great avenues to hear an introduction to popular stories, or to learn people’s opinions about a topic that is generating a lot of buzz. However, they prove to be inadequate if used as a one-stop shop for all information. The sudden bombshell of becoming an Ophiuchus nearly sent my mother into shock, and the reason for the change was nowhere to be found within Twitter’s 140-character limit. The next morning, though, she was able to read all about it in the newspaper, and realize that there was no cause for alarm.

New media are a great way for friends to keep in touch, but so much of the information is unnecessary. Do we really need to know that “the baby just pooped #turdalert”? Chris’ status informs you that he was on vacation in Cancun for a week, but are you supposed to feign ignorance when he tells you about it? What about the girl you met once 4 years ago, is it necessary to keep tabs on her by perusing through her “pajammie jam” picture album?

A worrying characteristic of the Internet in general is that whatever is there is there for good. Because everyone is linked into multiple social media sites, if you don't want someone to find out about something, the best solution is don't do it. Everything is interconnected, if you "like" a double rainbow video on Youtube, every linked account creates a separate message saying so; ensuring that everyone knows you liked double rainbows all the way. Constant connectivity means there's nowhere to hide, and with apps like “foursquare,” this is literally the case. People see you’re on Gmail, Facebook, Skype, or AIM, and you can’t pretend you didn’t get the message.

One of the most interesting aspects of new media is the ability to interact with and contribute feedback to businesses, television shows, and even celebrities. Many companies have some presence social media—a Facebook fan page or an official Twitter account—which allows those with an interest to offer support, voice concerns, or discuss common interests with others. This type of interaction is sure to gain further momentum, and holds great potential for the future.

The most enticing example is the game "Late Night Hash Tags” on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.” Anyone with a computer, Internet connection, and twitter account can contribute a joke to the show and could have their tweet read on national television. The ability to participate in an NBC television show and potentially gain recognition on the air is a huge incentive, and I can only hope that other programs begin to introduce similar systems soon.

Follow me at @idontgiveaDan

1 comment:

  1. A very thoughtful first post! The close connection between producing and consuming content has been dubbed "produsage" (which I don't find appealing), but the key point is the participatory nature of new media.