New Media: Not As Old As You Might Think

September 17, 2009

3223044657_84299a688b_oNot too long ago, I came across some social media marketing blogger (I can’t remember which) who said in his blog that he doesn’t like to call new media “new media” anymore, because new media are no longer “new”.

At first, I thought maybe he was right, and that maybe it was time I stop saying “new media” when referring to these technologies that really have been called new for quite some time now. Sure, it might make sense to call them that, since people usually know what you mean when you say those words. But, maybe it IS time, I thought.

Trying to find that blog post, I came across this digital marketing blogger who was saying as far as back as 2006, that “…new media are no longer new—everybody who is anybody is doing it”.

Right. So, I filed it into the back of my mind like everything else and went on about my “new” media work.

Until this past week. I realized something in that time. New media ARE still new. Here is my case (or at least some of it).

New media are changing the way that information can be spread and marketed, especially social media. Those organizations and companies that are embracing social media, and that understand how to maximize the effectiveness of the new media they are using, are getting a huge jump on those that are not.

And yet lately, I keep finding myself in the same basic conversation with organizations and people “that are not”, who do some fairly high level work in the name of trying to make the world a better place, to companies trying to market their products and make a buck. I keep getting that same skepticism, that same almost suspicion, as if I might be a sneaky illusionist. Particularly with social media. They seem to see these tools as ONLY having some silly personal use, like telling your poor friends that you had eggs for breakfast or that your cat coughed up a hairball again.

They don’t seem to see past the personal use. And they seem to miss that new media are having a huge impact for organizations, companies, but more importantly, political movements in places like Egypt and speaking out in places like China. It’s not just that they don’t seem to see this, but that they almost find it… funny to even consider such an absurdity (as they stick proudly with their much more costly push marketing and snail mailings).

I did these training seminars in Ukraine this summer for journalists and NGOs, teaching how to use social media, mobile phones, and the Internet for their work in media and change. Some people at these seminars got it. Some were even quite advanced in their skills. But some scoffed. Even as I was showing them that the New York Times and Amnesty International were using technologies like Facebook and Twitter, built on new media, to expand their brand, engage audiences, and spread information, they couldn’t get past the idea that these were just places where you joked around with your friends.

Before that, I spent two years at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs having conversations like this. Not with everyone. The international media development people got it. And people scattered throughout the various concentrations within the degree (like Economic and Political Development, International Security Policy, and Human Rights). But still there was a surprising amount of people who didn’t really seem to get just how vital new media were, or just how much of a difference they could do, to their respective policy industries. So many graduated without ever having taken any kind of new media class. They never formally studied the important development, security, advocacy, or other uses new media presented, or the social and political ramifications of new media and how they are changing the world—especially mobile phones, which are penetrating the developing world and exciting and alarming rates. So many students just saw things like Facebook as a place to joke around with their friends.

While at Columbia, I traveled to Nigeria, and interviewed journalists there as part of my research on extractive industry transparency and media development. Most of them surfed the Web and used email as part of their jobs. But, most of them admitted to not doing much more than that, and that they were sorely lacking in even basic Web research skills.

Then I think back over the years at the countless websites I’ve visited. How many of them were designed so terribly that A. it was extremely difficult to find what I was looking for, or it wasn’t there at all, and I had to find it somewhere else through Google, and/or B. it was clear they just didn’t understand Web design, how their customers used the Internet, and were in many ways shooting themselves in the foot for it. How many? Surprisingly many. Which is crazy, since so many were American, and America is supposedly the leader in Internet innovation.

It’s even more insane to me to think how businesses don’t even have a website, in a time when creating one is both free and frighteningly easy.

So, I just can’t help but think that new media really are still new. At least, to large populations of people. In the world. And even in America. In places you wouldn’t expect, no less.

Guess that just means there’s a lot of opportunity out there for us media developers with expertise in new media.

Photo 1:  Courtesy of Kristian D.


One comment

  1. […] Ben Colmery wrote an interesting post today onNew Media: Not As <b>Old</b> As You Might Think « Adventures in Media <b>…</b>Here’s a quick excerpt […]

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