Trade-Offs and New Media

As new media begin to be used widely, it is helpful for us to consider the views of people who feel that new media will change the world for the better, and those who feel that it will change the world for the worse. Here is one quote, for example, from someone who is bullish on the effects of new media:

“ is something that, once learned, will make people wiser and will improve their memory; I have discovered a potion for memory and for wisdom.” [1]

and another:

“This medium changes the relationship between companies and customers from master and servant, to peer to peer.” [2]

Here is a quote from someone who is not so bullish on the effects of new media:

“In fact, it will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in the medium, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own … Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will imagine that they have come to know much while for the most part they will know nothing. And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.” [3]

..and here is another:

“When it has once been put into this medium, every discourse rolls about everywhere, reaching indiscriminately those with understanding no less than those who have no business with it, and it doesn’t know to whom it should speak and to whom it should not.” [3]

..and one more:

“media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the medium seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.” [4]

What can we take away from this? Before we consider, I have a confession to make: when i used the word “new media” above, i really meant “new to the time.” So while quotes [2] and [4] were written in the last few years about digital new media, quotes [1] and [3] were written somewhere around 360 B.C.E. by Plato, about the written language. In all of the quotes, i removed any reference to a specific language.

Why? Because i think it is important to remind ourselves that the trade-offs between the use of face-to-face communications, the written word, the radio, the television, etc. have been debated in the past, and that the addition of today’s new media is just another part of these ongoing debates about the trade-offs.

[1] Plato, Phaedrus 275 A, B (Plato telling the story of Thamus and his reaction to Theuth’s promotion of the benefits of the written language)
[2] Social media strategy consultant and public speaker Jay Baer. Retrieved February 14, 2011.
[3] Plato, Phaedrus 275 C, D
[4] Writer Nick Carr, The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved February 14, 2011.

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2 Responses to Trade-Offs and New Media

  1. Great stuff!!! New media is indeed a squishy term. Love these posts!

  2. christian says:

    Thanks, Erika. Glad you enjoy them. I am hoping that they are also useful to professionals who are feeling anxious about the shifts in media as if these have never happened before. I also find that we can learn a great deal from studying other media transitions.

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