My family did not purchase a home computer until around 2005, so my first experiences with personal computers were reserved to the computers located in my local library and my computer lab at school. I can remember the Windows 95 screen taking many, many minutes to load, and the dull, pixelated icons on the homescreen inviting users to a new world of content creation and consumption.
I instinctually remember the handful of things I would interact with on the early machines, including Internet Explorer, Paint, and Minesweeper. Navigating the waters of the early computing machines gave me an inflated sense of self-empowerment, a limitless roadway to expressing my imagination through painting, coloring on a screen and playing long hours of exciting games with my favorite TV show characters.
This type of consumption can be characterized by technologies developed in just the last two decades. In an essay describing What’s New About New Media and its consumption, editors Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey Pingree state:
“when new media emerge in a society, their place is at first ill defined, and their ultimate meanings or functions are shaped over time by that society’s existing habits of media use (which, of course, derive from experience with other, established media), by shared desires for new uses, and by the slow process of adaptation between the two.”
Childrens’ use of computers when I was growing up was reserved to the few, popular gaming websites catering to TV viewers and the included applications on the device, such as Paint and Minesweeper. However, over time, society’s children needed more. As technology developed and computers became faster and more efficient, the internet grew in not only popularity but content, advertising, and most importantly: a shared desire for new uses. Now, with great envy, I watch children grow up in the application era, where hundreds of thousands of games and utilities are a simple download away on personal computers and mobile devices.
The benefits of computers are clear, and in contemporary society, computers are only going to become more and more accessible and more and more functional for first-time users. Author van Dijk in his piece, Characteristics of the New Media, describes the advantages of contemporary personal computers versus older forms of communication, such as face to face and telephone. He selected nine communication capacities including speed, geographical and social reach, storage capacity and interactivity among others. Of the nine, forms of new media such as the Internet held several high capacities of those communication forms, further isolating old media as shown below.
van Dijk’s comparisons reveal something wondrous about the digital era. While older forms are media are phasing out, newer forms bring with them several advantages. But this does not mean that they are the best or will be the best in terms of providing interactivity and stimulated richness in the interaction between man and computer. Rather, the comparisons he brings to the table reveal how vulnerable new media is to critique and, as Gitelman and Pingree pointed out earlier, new media’s “ultimate meanings or functions are shaped over time by that society’s existing habits of media use.” We need to understand the limitations of newer media to further develop it for our benefit.
How would you compare and contrast old media and new media?
Why do you think it is important to learn from previous forms of media to shape new media?