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What is New Media?

Vin Crosbie, 1998 (revised to include world usage figures and Napster example, 2002

Only its simplicity makes its difficult to understand.

To work successfully in New Media, you must understand what the New Media are.

There is a saying about Einstein's Theory of Relativity — that what makes it difficult for some people to comprehend is its simplicity. That you don't need to acquire more information to understand it, but that you must instead discard preconceived notions to understand it.

The New Media are a lot like that.

What generally stand in the way of people's understanding of New Media are the very terms media and medium. As commonly used, those terms are misnomers that block understanding.

Simply don't confuse a Medium with its VehiclesVery few people understand the New Media simply because what most people think are media are actually vehicles within a medium.

• Magazines aren't media nor is a magazine a medium.
• Television isn't a medium nor is radio nor are television stations media. • A personal computer connected to the Internet isn't a medium and the many computers that comprise the Internet aren't media. • Neither is the World Wide Web a medium nor is e-mail a medium nor is the Internet itself a medium. •

Newspapers, magazines, television, radio, telephones, billboards, personal computers, the Internet, the World Wide Web, and e-mail all are vehicles for conveying information within a medium or media. They aren't the media or a medium in which they operate.

To understand the difference between a communications vehicle and a communications medium, you merely need to understand how the terms medium, media, and vehicles are correctly used when discussing transportation.

Indeed, you will then also understand that only three communications media exist, what those three are, and how to use them.

The Analogy Between Communication and Transportation Media

Here is the analogy between communications media and transportation media. Take a minute to read it.

Only three transportation media exist.

• Land was the aboriginal transportation medium; it was the first transportation medium. Humans have has walked on it since time immemorial. We still do. But we've also built vehicles to help convey us in this medium: carts, chariots, carriages, bicycles, trains, automobiles, trucks and lorries, etc. • Water is the second transportation medium. Its use as a transportation medium is almost as old as humanity's use of land, dating from whenever the first human attempted to ride a floating log or to swim across a stream, river, or lake. We've since created vehicles to convey use in this medium: rafts, canoes, barges, sailboats, ships, submarines, etc.

Before we list the third transportation medium, note some characteristics of these two transportation media, because you'll find that these characteristics have analogues in communication media:

Note first that humans' use of those two ancient transportation media predated technology. The vehicles that human technology created have merely extended our speed and carrying capacities in those media.

Also note that humanity's uses of these two media aren't necessarily dependent upon technology; most of us can walk and swim without any technology.

And note that each of the vehicles for these media are limited by its medium. Trains don't operate on water nor do steamships operate on land. Indeed, land and water have mutually exclusive transportation characteristics and reaches, mutually exclusive advantages and disadvantages.

A person who needing transportation had to pick one or the other of these media based upon where that medium reached or upon that medium's carrying capacity. For examples, water vehicles have almost global reach but not to landlocked cities. Land vehicles can deliver door-to-door, a capability that water vehicle can't provide. But many water vehicles have...
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