I’m So Much Cooler Online
For a student like myself with little to no experience in media studies, New Media: A Critical Introduction lays the perfect foundation to understand the key ideas behind this interesting subject. The main point of the book is to provide a foundation on the cultural implications and critical issues that have arisen over the past two decades with the emergence of new media technologies (1). Structured like a textbook, New Media provides an array of different theoretical opinions in an attempt to expose the reader to all aspects of the subject. As the introduction states, “the field is so complex that it cannot be addressed other than by combining, or synthesizing knowledges.” (1) For me, this works out well; I enjoyed getting unbiased, informative information out of this book without being suffocated by an author’s strong opinions (cough, Mattellart, cough).
Considering that it would take me well more than a few pages to summarize the entire book, I wanted to talk about the section that most interested me: New Media in Everyday Life. This section focuses on popular new entertainment and communications media in daily life, emphasizing how this affects family relationships, routines, cultural practices, the home environment, etc. So often we as human beings experience changes with introductions of new technologies and adapt our routines and way of life to them without even realizing it. While this section does reveal new theories and insights, there are also a lot of ‘ahah!’ moments, when the authors take ideas that the reader already knows or has experienced firsthand, but puts them in a new context to make them useful. For example, the discussion of the effects on physical and social constraints on computer and network access reveals something that most have experienced in their own homes without ever thinking twice about. Typically, a computer is located in the den or in a spare bedroom of a home. Have we ever sat down and considered why that is? Why is it not normally found in the living room right next to other forms of media, such as the television? “It is argued, even where everyday consumption or use of digital networks is possible, that it is constrained by socio-economic factors, established by household politics and relationships of gender and age, and by material constraints of space and time.” (246) In addition, the multiple functions of the computer (that is, for educational and entertainment purposes) and the different levels of knowledge and authority of the computer users adds a distinct element to role the machine plays and how that effects the family (or community) using it. In one example of a mother discussing her children’s computer use: “We try and stick to only two hours on the computer each in any one day…in terms of playing games. If they want to go on and do some homework, then that’s fine.” (46) Yet, it didn’t take long for this to get complex when educational software creators began disguising homework and ‘learning activities’ as games. Where does that leave Mom now?
Discussion Question: What socio-economic factors (or what I find particularly interesting, gender factors) can you identify that inhibit or constrain the consumption of media technology?
The second half of this section introduces the topic of new media and identity. (Remember the discussion we had about identity, netizenship, nationalism, etc? This section contains a lot of the ideas we talked about during that discussion) More specifically, it examines the claims that identity and subjectivity have undergone (or are undergoing) and how the affects the contemporary living experience (267). Personal home pages, for example, allow individuals to create a space that is their own; that can be what they want it to be and thus, allow them to express themselves.
A home in the real world is, among other things, a way of keeping the world out…An online home, on the other hand, is a little hole you drill in the wall of your real home to let the world in.
Susanna Stern’s study on the home pages of adolescent girls revealed that girls actually used their home pages to reflect the way they think they are, the selves they wish to become, and most likely, the selves they wish other to see (268). (Check out this song by Brad Paisley…so relevant to the discussion and new media’s effects on identity and the social structures revolving around it).
What stands out to me here is: Where can I find they girl AS SHE IS? Does the Internet and the ample opportunities it provides to recreate ourselves actually provide a medium to make that transformation happen in real life? That is, does who we define ourselves as online actually reflect reality? Again, we are back to the issue of ‘identity’ and what that really means. (When I play the Sims, I actually make myself a rocker-chick with purple highlights in my hair. I have enough confidence in who I am to know that I am not secretly wishing for a new identity, but it sure is fun to pretend for awhile 😉 ) Interesting topic to say the least!