What we can do with media and media itself have evolved over the past century as culture and technology have grown and changed. While communication and digital technologies have transformed at astonishing rates, so has the ways we consume and contribute, and even perceive and think about media. Expanding from traditional platforms of broadcast and publication, the introduction of technologies enabling the internet and the web have allowed for huge audiences to be reached with greater ease and smaller monetary cost than ever before. This is the rise of new media. ‘New’ media represents the rise of online and digital media, although it is not limited to these aspects. It focuses on the dynamism of change and infers this media is constantly evolving (Siapera, 2012). Looking at the history of online media and the way we currently view websites and the internet, it can be broken down into two main stages: web 1.0 and web 2.0. Hinton and Hjorth (2013) describe web 1.0 as the beginning of the monetisation of the internet through the 1990s, when the everyday user had little ability for personalisation or creation without a high level of technical knowledge. Web 2.0 began after, this stage is high in user-generated content, through easy to use interfaces. Platforms such as blogging, microblogging, social networking sites (SNSs) give users huge options to create, author and distribute content, but companies also log and record all user activity, and use this as a business model for commercialisation and profit.
Throughout my own exploration of what we can do with online media, I documented my personal use over a seven day period and blogged the process daily through a WordPress site. I recorded the websites I visited, the online apps I used, the processes involved in publishing and distributing media online, and why I did these things. Majority of my usage was consuming media; looking at posts by people I both know and don’t know, reading articles, watching videos, checking information. This is evident through my documentation on day three, where I recorded that I accessed and viewed media on Twitter and Instagram almost 30 times each over a 24 hour period. However, I also authored content online; videos to my Instagram story, ‘tweets’ to Twitter, posts on Facebook, comments on posts and photos. I recorded in detail the process of how I upload content to Instagram, which I found to be generally impersonal, constructed and edited images that can reach an audience of over 12 thousand followers, different to how I post on Facebook and Twitter, which I use on private networks with fewer followers and friends connected. I also commonly used online media for more mundane acts that have become essential to my everyday life. For instance, using the Apple Weather app each morning, checking train times through the PTV website and even accessing class information through the RMIT intranet portal were all documented each day. This process of blogging my usage in itself is an example of the easy personable interface that is the basis of web 2.0, similar to that of using other SNSs mentioned, where I have to enter my details and create and an account, and in return, internet companies receive my information, log all of my activity for analysis, and commercialise and monetise it through advertising.
Throughout this process I learned there is a clear difference between what I publish online for a wide public audience, and what I publish for a smaller private network of people I know. I thought it was interesting that my Instagram posts for a wide public audience was more constructed compared with Twitter, most of my posts or ‘tweets’ were personal anecdotes from my day, often with humorous and even self-deprecating tones, and direct communication with people I know. This could be due to the limitations imposed on Twitter, the 140 character limit for example, or not wanting to share personal information with thousands of people on Instagram, or a desire to present my online image or persona a certain way, particularly for people I don’t know. This idea of privacy, not giving out your personal information on the internet, has been drilled into me since my childhood in the 90s. That mantra is still clear, evident through what I don’t share on my Instagram, but definitely less so in general with how normal it is to meet people off the internet (Tinder users, for example). However, what is interesting is the way that SNSs actually work. As users, in order to have personal freedom on the internet – being able to create whatever we would like, reach large audiences, post, interact and even access some information, we must submit our personal information to create accounts. Hinton and Hjorth (2013) suggest this idea of freedom on the internet comes with limitations of control, and at the cost of our own privacy for the profit of online businesses, as they store all of our information and track all activity. They suggest this dichotomy of control was a paradox, and that our own perception of freedom may merely be another control.
The first feeling of surprise I experienced through this process was at the realisation of just how much I use and access SNSs. As mentioned through my evidence, the sheer frequency at which I check sites such as Twitter and Instagram, suggests a level of dependency or addiction. Sometimes it was difficult to answer why I was constantly needing to check these feeds of images, news and information, was it a fear of missing out? Was it wanting to communicate with others? Was it merely habit? Boredom? I’d check Instagram after being inactive for a mere couple of minutes, was this short attention span created by the fast nature of online media itself? That sense of connection was always there, present in the background or on my phone even when I was not actively using it, providing what Hinton and Hjorth (2013, p. 21) describe as ‘ambient intimacy’. From this exercise, I would like to become less dependent on social media.
I enjoyed documenting and learning more about the processes of publishing and consuming. While everything I posted was original, the study of copyright in the tutorials, influenced me to think carefully about what I was able to publish. For example, a video to Instagram: if it has music playing in the background is that then a breach of copyright, even if the post or the account is not for profit? It made me steer clear of anything I was unsure about, and reflect on my own practices in the past, when I used sites such as Tumblr which were riddled with images reposted with no credit. I’ve had my own images used on Instagram to advertise products by businesses with no permission and no credit given. This lesson was a strength as it influenced how I approach publishing my own content. I also enjoyed thinking critically about my personal usage, as even the term ‘consuming’ media has huge implications about the way online media is used. It’s as if it is something to be devoured; a never-ending stream of information, both meaningful and shallow. Ethan Zuckerman (2008, para. 4) refers to this shallowness, that web 2.0 (SNSs and online media as it is today) ‘was created to allow people to share pictures of cute cats’, inferring that most people prefer to use the web for mundane acts, which was evident in my own usage. This exercise brought me to question the relationship I have with online media, whether what I do on a daily basis is influenced by the presence of SNSs such as Instagram and snapchat, like posting photos of my food on Instagram, or ‘checking in’ on Facebook when I go anywhere. Or if it is the reverse, that social media has evolved in reaction to its users’ habits. Gauntlett (2015) proposed that media should be seen as ‘triggers for experience and for making things happen’ (p. 7), supporting the former, while Murphie and Potts (2003, p. 28), suggested ‘we know the world differently through different technologies, and different technologies themselves are… a response to knowing the world differently’. I’m inclined to agree with the latter, perhaps the exact cause and effect between culture and technology or media cannot be pinpointed, perhaps they correlate and influence each other simultaneously.
Maintaining a blog over the past six weeks has been a learning experience, one that was filled with moments of surprise, revelation, and even exasperation. This process and reflection could potentially be developed further by extending documentation of usage. My personal usage over a single week did not have much breadth, and by gathering more personal evidence more ideas could be explored. I felt that my own usage did not necessarily relate to the ideas that I wanted to express and the way that I view online media. It did not come close to answering the pivotal question, what can we do with online media, because there is just so much that can be done. While I am not a media student, implications for my own practice in the future from this process could relate to maintaining a blog and using social media for business purposes; in the past I have partnered with businesses to promote products. This could be furthered, with increased understanding of how businesses work through media.
Gauntlett, D 2015, Making media studies: the creativity turn in media and communications studies, Peter Lang, New York.
Hinton, S & Hjorth, L 2013, Understanding Social Media. Sage Publications, London.
Murphie, S & Potts, J 2003, Culture and Technology. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
Siapera, E 2012, Understanding New Media. London, Sage Publications, London.
Zuckerman, E 2008, ‘The cute cate theory talk at ETech’, … My Heart’s in Accra, blog post, 8 March, viewed 6 April 2017, < http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/2008/03/08/the-cute-cat-theory-talk-at-etech/>.