DECADE IN MEDIA
Most of us can’t get through our days now without being reminded of technology we didn’t have or didn’t use in 1999.
But as we Tweet via our BlackBerrys or watch the latest viral video from the YouTube application on our iPhones, we may be taking for granted just how much media developments have affected our culture and transformed our lives in the past decade.
"What has happened between the beginning of the 21st century and now I think is the most profound part of the new media revolution," says Paul Levinson, a professor of communication and media studies and Fordham University and the author of "New New Media."
“In particular, what makes these newer media so important is that it turns the consumers into producers.”
Developments like Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and Twitter have allowed audiences to participate in producing content that can easily be distributed to others.
Before, that kind of power was reserved mainly for big companies.
"In previous times, no matter what, someone was deciding what you were going to hear and see and watch and listen to," notes Ken Hudson, a digital media consultant in Toronto.
"But now there are also individuals that produce content.
And so if the story is worth telling or if it’s worth hearing, it’s going to be heard."
The ability to distribute content we produce has also led to a new age in the news media.
We now give the credibility and regard to some bloggers that was once reserved for those employed by a major newspaper, wire service or television network, says Hudson, who thinks the 21st century has seen the rise of what he calls the
"democratization of media."
We can see and hear all of this user-produced content from almost anywhere nowadays.
The convenience of the laptop computer developed into smart phones that help us become content producers from where ever we happen to be at the time.
With so much information from so many sources at our fingertips at all times, there has been talk that it’s bad for interpersonal connections. But the media experts seem to disagree.
"Social media is letting people create much, much bigger communities than they ever have before," says Barna Donovan, chair of the communication department at Saint Peter’s College.
Websites like Facebook allow people to reclaim any part of their lives at any time, Levinson says.
Developments like Twitter allow us to be in touch with people we’re close to – or people we’re not even close to – throughout the day without ever having to pick up a phone.
And Skype, which provides video chats for anyone with an Internet connection, lets us see and hear people who might be halfway across the world – for free.
"That’s like the revolutionary thing that’s happening right now," Levinson points out.
"The idea that you can talk to someone and see their face and have a video conversation with them that doesn’t cost anything – that would have been science fiction 10 years ago."
In addition to challenging the authorities’ rule with user-produced content, audiences are also having a powerful impact on society through technologies like Hulu, which allows free television viewing online.
By flocking to what we want to see, instead of what the networks want us to see or the Federal Communications Commission permits us to see, we are creating a loophole in censorship, says Donovan, who is writing a book called "Violence is Good: How Anti-Media Paranoia Threatens Free Speech and Democracy."
"We are able to see just what kind of values the culture really lives by and what kind of things they believe in," he says.
"It’s going to be difficult to impossible to censor and keep audiences from explicit content."
But, as significant as the "democratization of media" has been, Hudson says he thinks more significant developments are on the way.
"I think we’ve just seen the beginning of it.
I don’t think we really understand how it’s going to revolutionize our society," he said, noting that, appropriately,
"I think we’re in charge of where it’s going to take us, which is also revolutionary."
– Laura E. Davis