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Chapter 3: Approaches to New Media

A chapter about media theory is not going to have as many YouTube clips as something on technology and history, but you’ll be surprised how many pundits, analysts, theorists, and critics have their own web sites, TED Talks, blogs, Twitter handles, or Hashtags. And, thanks to the “preview” feature of Amazon, as well as the many electronic books in a modern university library, it is possible to gain access to their thoughts quickly and easily.

This chapter opens with a reference to “cyberspace” and a list of some of the future thinkers who have influenced our views on new media and the Internet. Many of these people have significant online presences.

I leave it as an exercise for you to find online presences of other people mentioned in the chapter.

The chapter refers to WIRED magazine, now available as an e-book/magazine as well as a paper magazine and website.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is also mentioned, and it is just one example of numerous lobby, activist, and social pressure groups that use online platforms to further their cause. You can find Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Oxfam, the Red Cross, and political parties all online.

Luddite (and neo-luddite) views are well represented online. Martin Ryder from the University of Colorado at Denver collected up a number of sources in one place. You can also find a 1995 interview with Kirkpatrick Sale (when WIRED,/i> magazine was only three years old), in which he more or less defines neo-luddism.

Since much of the remainder of the chapter includes a broad range of scholarship on new media and theory, this is probably a good place to introduce some of the web sites for the journals in which these scholars publish. While I will link directly to the journals’ home pages, it is usually a better idea to visit these journals through your university library’s web page. This way you can take advantage of your institution’s electronic subscription.

There are many more, of course, and you should definitely reach out to your professor and TA for additional suggestions.

Technological determinism is not just a theoretical perspective but a dominant mode of thinking about technology in the trade press for digital and media technologies. You can find dozens of examples of this by perusing the offerings of industry and trade magazines and web sites for news sites like Gizmodo, Information Week, PC Week, and so on.

The chapter introduces the theory of social shaping of technology. You can read more about the theory from the people who formulated this approach by searching for that term in Google Scholar. One of things you’ll find there are “eprints”—chapters from books and articles provided by scholars on their own web sites. Donald MacKenzie and Judy Wajcman have done just that with a free chapter from their book about social shaping.

Scholarship is often described as an ongoing conversation, with journal articles and books merely providing placeholders for that conversation as it evolves. When scholars, such as Andrew Feenberg, contribute to these discussions, they sometimes even host the papers of their critics alongside their own response. Here is an example of that back and forth, on the topic of “Technical Codes,” from Andrew Feenberg’s own website.

Some scholars, such as Marshall McLuhan, have enjoyed popular media attention (he appeared in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall), but more practically have embraced new media as a way to tell their stories and theories. McLuhan lived in a largely pre-digital era but embraced a form of storytelling we would now recognize as a “mashup”. He published books that scandalized his colleagues for their informal use of popular media and images. Nowadays it isn’t so unusual to find a scholar who takes to the Internet to tell his story, or makes use of programming and databases to analyze culture. A great example of this is a recent article on the implications of the Netflix category system, by Alexis Madrigal and Ian Bogost.

Some concepts, such as McLuhan’s tetrad, seem to lend themselves naturally to a hypertextual way of writing. See Anthony Hemphell’s site.