A Genealogy of New Media


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In just under 50 years, computers have gone from frightening behemoths to countercultural totems to everyday consumer fashion accessories. The history of new media helps us understand why it is so ideologically powerful today.

These lecture slides are from my Masters unit, Future Media Platforms, taught at Bournemouth University.

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A Genealogy of New Media

  1. 1. OverviewPart 1: Three Phases of New Media Growth -- Institutional: Military, industrial, educational -- Radical: countercultural visions of cyberspace -- Commercial: new business models, economiesPart 2: Colonising New Media --The Internet as social space --Theories of computer mediated communication --New media identities
  2. 2. Mythologies of new media The Internet is a powerful tool for self-realization The Internet will spread and promote democracy The Internet short-circuits traditional power hierarchies The Internet will make you cool The Internet will make you rich The Internet mirrors natural evolution
  3. 3. “The denial of history is central to understanding mythas depoliticized speech, because to deny history is toremove from discussion active human agency, theconstraints of social structure, and the real world ofpolitics.According to myth, the Information Age transcendspolitics because it makes power available to everyoneand in great abundance. The defining characteristicof politics, the struggle over the scarce resource ofpower, is eliminated.” (V. Mosco, 2004; Barthes,1957)
  4. 4. Institutional PhaseThe first computers were used ininstitutional settings for:Code breakingPerforming atomic simulationsPlotting trajectory of rocketsNaval artillery simulationAnalysing the censusCalculating insurance riskLater in university research
  5. 5. "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” - Thomas John Watson, President of IBM, 1943"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”- Ken Olsen, Founder of Digital Equipment Corp, 1977 LINC, MIT Labs 1966
  6. 6. Timeline of Early ComputingThe price per transistor on an integrated circuit fell from $50 in 1962 to $1 in 1971 to $0.001 in 1980 to 1/100,000th of a penny in 2000A billion operations per second cost $8 trillion in 1961. In 2012 it cost $0.73
  7. 7. Until the 1970s computers were: Frightening (primarily used by large institutions to measure, control, surveil and kill people) Concentrated in centres of power Expensive (early PDP-1 cost £500,000 in today’s currency) Associated with expert knowledge, difficult to use unless highly trained Imagined to have capabilities beyond real performance
  8. 8. The Radical Phase Emerging from countercultural movements in the 1960s libertarian, anti-hierarchical ethic radically empowered individuals Asserting mastery over the autocratic computer
  9. 9. Levy’s ‘Hacker Ethic’  Access to computers should be unlimited and total.  All information should be free.  Mistrust authority—promote decentralization.  Hackers should be judged by skill, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race or position.  You can create art and beauty on a computer.  Computers can change your life for the better.
  10. 10. A quaint vision that persists…Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace“Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather. […] We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth. Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here. John Perry Barlow (1996)
  11. 11. The world brings even the most radical gestures under its wing.
  12. 12. Opening shot of the commercial phase Feedback we have gotten from the hundreds of people using BASIC has all been positive. Two surprising things are apparent, however, 1) Most of these "users" never bought BASIC (less than 10% of all Altair owners have bought it), and 2) The amount of royalties we have received makes the time spent on Altair BASIC worth less than $2 an hour. As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid? “Open Letter to Hobbyists” (1976)
  13. 13. Today, the global semiconductor industryIs worth $350 billion USD per yearAccounting for 10% of global GDPInventory is measured in billions of squareinchesPlaced end-to-end, yearly output would circlethe Earth 5 times
  14. 14. Theories of social and economic change Major social transformations since 1970: Economy, Governance, Culture Changes to business environment as a consequence of digital technology Theories of individual and group behaviour in computer- mediated environments
  15. 15. Many terms for similar/related processes ‘Globalization’ Late capitalism Informational capitalism Postindustrialism Postfordism Information society Network society
  16. 16. Effects:Moderately increased productivity per worker due to knowledge economy (but not increased employment)Declining national sovereignty (transnational economic agreements, mobility of capital investment, ratings agencies)Work and workers are increasingly organized around flexible arrangements, making it easier for businesses to be agile in globally competitive marketplaceBifurcation of high-skilled/low-skilled workforces along axis of knowledge intensity.
  17. 17. Porter (2001)Internet creates distorted market signals: Companies have subsidized online ventures to gain marketshare Govts have subsidized online ventures through tax avoidance Curiosity, novelty that will presumably wear off Lower wages and other forms of remuneration acceptedCompetitive advantage: Operational effectiveness difficult to sustain in era of internet.
  18. 18. “Postmodern information economies configure all communication, even ‘looking’, as part of the productive labour process. This is so because communication produces information, which makes up the core resource of the information economy.” (Zwick et al, 2008)2008 is the year we hit peak attention. Matt Webb
  19. 19. Mark Deuze (2011) Media Life: We are increasingly involved as BOTH producers and consumers of media Media is becoming invisible in daily life: media are ‘everywhere and therefore nowhere’. We increasingly move through our own personal information space Everything is mediated: romantic relationships, shopping, politics, work and leisure. We are moving as a society toward the top of Maslow’s pyramid