Interactivity in New Media Theory

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Much has been made of ‘Interactivity’ in New Media Theory. What are some of the problems with the concept of ‘interactivity’ as used in relation to new media threory?

Interactivity has had a long standing presence in the study of media. In its original form interaction in society was on a face-to-face level. With the advancement of communication technologies, whole new forms of interactions have been created thus altering the structure of societies and the way they are analysed in the context of new media. This essay will endeavour to assess the interactivity of the first media age and then establish its position within the second media age addressing the difficulties that have arisen in this context.

To begin with, an interpretation of new media and the reason for the shift of paradigm is necessary. Broadcast media which generally confined itself to broadcast dynamics and mass media production had its heyday during the era where media provided ‘one way, centralized communication.’ (Holmes, 2006, p.9) During the first media age the ability for a person or a television program to defy space and possibly time by reaching the masses was seen as a great leap in communication technologies, and still is. However this form of mass media was homogenized and fragmented, creating inequality. This is in contrast to the second media age which is based on interactivity, ‘participants are seen to retain their individuality.’ (Holmes, 2006, p.10)

‘Where conventional media allows media consumers agency in the way they receive and interpret media messages, digital technologies enable reciprocal, two way communication, with a very fast feedback that promises to change asymmetrical power relation of mass communication’ (O’Shaughnessy & Stadler, 2008, p.113) New media is essentially media communication based upon digital technology and access to the internet. (Abercrombie & Longhurst, 2007, 44) It has added another realm to production consumption and personalisation for the audience. People no longer have to ‘gather around an object at some pre-determined time’ to gain information. (Abercrombie & Longhurst, 2007, p.44) As a result of the ‘rise of the Internet culture and the concomitant demise of broadcast or media culture’ the establishment of the Second Media Age began. (Holmes, 2006 p.7) A significant distinction to be made between the first and the second media ages is that of digital and analogue media. Analogue media, of the broadcast era, encompasses books, photographs, magazines and or information that can be further converted into a signal that can be broadcast to many recipients. Digitisation on the other hand has revolutionised the ways information is mediated, produced distributed and consumed. (O’Shaughnessy & Stadler, 2008, p.112)

In Thompson’s Rise of Mediated Integration (1995) he states that the result of the ‘development of communication media creates new forms of action and interaction and new kinds of social relationships,’ instead of replacing or adapting the old. (Thompson, 1995. p81-82) Rather than examining technologies in terms of how close or distant their techniques of communication are from face-to-face interaction he argues that each has their own qualities and characteristics of action and interaction.

The main issue with interactivity in the new media age is related to reciprocity. Holmes categorizes this in two ways. Firstly, the idea of reciprocity without interaction in the broadcast media.(Holmes, 2006, p.144) Traditionally the one-way communication method of broad cast media would assume that reciprocity would be minimal if not non-existent.

Although the monological character of the broadcast media typically renders it part of the first media age, there is a new element of it’s interactivity that in some respects brings it into the second media age. This is the fact that broadcast media is now layered with the ability for the audience to give instantaneous email feedback as well as the...
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