Mass Communications college students have occasionally asked for my views on what is called the new media. The most recent request came from an Ateneo de Manila University student. That’s understandable. You cannot appreciate mass communications without studying the new media.
For us to be all on the same page, let’s abide by the PC.com definition of the new media, as follows:
1. The forms of communicating in the digital world, which includes publishing on CDs, DVDs and, most significantly, over the Internet. It implies that the user obtains the material via desktop and laptop computers, smartphones and tablets. Every company in the developed world is involved with new media.
2. The concept that new methods of communicating in the digital world allow smaller groups of people to congregate online and share, sell and swap goods and information. It also allows more people to have a voice in their community and in the world in general.
With the Internet and emails now available on mobile phones, access to the new media has truly been democratized. We have also seen how in many repressed countries, like those in turmoil in the Middle East, people were able to conduct their struggles for democratic space via the new media. It is to be expected that traditional media in repressed societies are government controlled. The new media provided them the mechanism to circumvent that problem.
Among the most popular these days of the new media are Twitter and Facebook. Even the president of the US has recognized the need to touch base with the new media audience via Twitter. It has to be seriously doubted though if President Barack Obama is indeed personally operating his Twitter account. It’s unimaginable how a US president can find the time to do that.
Empowering people with access to the new media has to be seen as a good development for the world, a country, a society and a community. However, with empowerment, the new media participants must also be conscious that they must utilize the communications tool responsibly. It’s a sad commentary when we see so many conflicts emanate from the irresponsible use or abuse of the new media. Sadder still is the recent use of the new media to propagate the London riots, the reason why it spread way beyond where a public disturbance would normally be geographically confined.
Because of the fast pace with which the new media have evolved over the last 20 years, there are hardly any set rules or guidelines that were clearly disseminated and established for its users. Thus, we now see the many abuses of the new media. People without any inkling of media ethics suddenly became power drunk with the new communications tool that needs only their fingertips to operate. In Facebook and the online reactions section of traditional media websites, there are at least safeguards against abuse - the editors. With cellphone text messages, that is open territory for terrorism and aggravation, especially from someone who does not like you and maintains a pre-paid SIM card that you cannot trace.
People must appreciate new media with the same perspective to appreciating nuclear energy. Nuclear energy can power communities and countries but used in another form - as a nuclear missile - it can also obliterate the community and country. In like manner, we can use the new media to expand our knowledge, foster brotherhood, promote dialogue, spread goodwill, enhance national unity or further deepen our divisions as a people.
It’s said that Alfred Nobel, the Swede who invented dynamite, had meant to improve people’s lives. However, inventors and manufacturers cannot always control nor prescribe how consumers would prefer to use their product. Instead of becoming a boon to the construction industry, dynamite became a means for escalating the killing and maiming in conflicts.
Like Nobel’s dynamite, we can utilize the new media to improve our lives and enrich our relationships. It’s very heartwarming to see the exchanges among my college batch mates on Facebook. Before Facebook was made available, we settled for those reunions that we could only organize once or twice a year. Email was an option but it did not carry the many attractive features of Facebook. Facebook has allowed us the next best thing to a face-to-face reunion and with unlimited frequency.
It would have been hoped that with the new media, the less privileged in society would have a faster, greater access to information. We need to bridge the Information Gap, along with the Education, Opportunity and Wealth Gaps, if we are to eradicate poverty and move forward. However, this does not happen even if the new media are readily available. The addiction to entertainment, scandal stories, games and gossip use up most of the time spent on the new media. It is not just here but worldwide where it is now noted that young people are developing a counterproductive addiction to the new media where they get immersed in all the wrong things they least need in life.
We go back to a question of values. The better-educated members of society who have a better appreciation of the value of information and education are the ones that utilize the new media better. The less fortunate members of society who desperately need to boost their information and education levels are hardly inclined to utilize the new media to improve their lot. This is no longer poverty that is caused by upper class exploitation but a case of optional poverty. Given the means to improve their lot, the poor are distracted towards spending more time on the things they least need.
Perhaps the government can conduct an information campaign that will encourage the more needy of our society to maximize their access to the new media by focusing on things that promote self-improvement. That is for the more immediate need. However, the root of this problem is that lack of education had also limited the awareness of the lesser privileged of the means for self-improvement that new technologies have provided them.
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