chapter  2
New media as a subject
Pages 9

There are a growing number of digital media titles on the bookshelves and in some important respects there is an overlap between work being described as new media and that defined as digital media. The main problem with the term ‘digital media’ is that it has a tendency to privilege technology itself as the defining aspect of a medium, as if all digital media practice will be first and foremost about, or will reflect, the character of digital technology. In contrast, the term ‘new media’ signals more about the contemporary cultural concepts and contexts of media practices than it does about simply a new set of technologies. It is important and absolutely central to this way of thinking that technologies and cultural and expressive practices are thought of as inseparable. The relationship between technologies and cultural and media practices needs to be understood as linked at every stage, from invention to development and use. While this book has adopted the term new media over that of digital media, it is important to add that new media builds in its own redundancy. It takes little mental effort to reflect that all media must have been new at some point in their history and the question is then quickly begged: when will new media stop being new and become old or just media? The general answer is, of course, that new media will become old media when something else comes along that is significantly different. Superficially, the term ‘new media’

that the new can also indicate a set of more radical and fundamental shifts and changes in the ways in which human affairs are conducted. Hindsight has taught us that the twentieth century contains a catalogue of ‘the new’ in many areas of everyday life as well as in extraordinary scientific and cultural achievement. Indeed, the twentieth century was established on the legacy of progress bequeathed by the industrial revolution. Ideas about the newness of new media and its technological base are deeply rooted in the historical notion of social and scientific progress.