[-empyre-] new media's name - who cares?

It has been interesting trying to unravel the recent discussion, not only in terms of the ideas but also in terms of the language, which has become rather opaque and arcane to say the least. There have been times when I have felt I had accidentally into a mid-90s hacker forum.

The term "new media" is obviously problematic, but mostly because of its lack of agreed upon meaning than anything else. It has been a collective phrase for all sorts of diverse media, modes and combinations of technologies. Trying to have a sensible conversation about anything in the world without some agreed meanings to words is, to say the least, difficult. New Media is a term more widely used in Europe and the U.S. than in Australia in my experience. I have constantly found difficulties talking about what I do here in Australia, far more so than I have in Europe.

So my question is, does it really matter what new media means as long as everyone has a rough idea what you are saying when you say it?

Using a inexact phrase is still easier than describing the object or work in question in complete detail or saying "you know, that thing over there."

The term will resolve into a set of more discreet terms as time progresses (and of course it already is starting to - we have words such as CD-ROMs, DVDs, and even the Web is beginning to coalesce into "genres" such as Blogs, Search Engines, etc.). The moniker "new" is almost as pointless as "digital", but not quite yet. It is still a useful term for want of anything else to describe something we're trying to describe. Of course, a generation from now it will be redundant for the media that we now consider new. So what's new?

The danger with taking this obsession too far is that we risk arguing about a name whilst the world as moved on. If we were to apply this to cinema, we would be debating the words "film", "projector" or "cinema" whilst standing outside the auditorium and missing the experience inside.



Andy Polaine
Senior Lecturer

School of Media Arts
College of Fine Arts (COFA)
The University of New South Wales
Cnr Oxford Street and Greens Road
Sydney, NSW 2010
T   +61 2 9385 0781
M  +61 413 121 934
F   +61 2 9385 0719

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