Leadership in New Media (2011)


Taiwan2012MobilePhone.jpg

Miah, A. (2011) New Media, in Bainbridge, W.S.J. (Ed) Leadership in Science and Technology. SAGE Reference, 264-271  

" The proliferation of social media may bring into question the significance of the term new media. Yet, the concept of “the new media” requires addressing in such as way as to acknowledge the various forms in which innovation has occurred around media platforms generally and their cultural integration specifically. This involves taking into account the role of dominant media organizations, as well as considering prominent new organizations. Indeed, when trying to assess future directions in new media, these various elements are essential to take into account, so as to not naively embrace the cyber-libertarianism of the 1990s.

However, it also crucial to acknowledge, so as to understand the important ways in which new media artifacts have transformed society to various degrees, a great deal remains uncertain about new media culture For instance, if one were to characterize an ideal online population, then there are some limiting factors that one must acknowledge. For instance, consider Robin Dunbar’s (1992) claim that people can, at best, maintain meaningful human relations with perhaps no more than 150 people, beyond which it becomes harder to claim that the relationship has any significance in the person’s life. Dunbar’s claim is simply that people do not have enough neurons in the brain or hours in the day to dedicate to many more people. Thus, within platforms like Facebook, where some users build so-called “friend” connections with over 5,000 people, Dunbar’s number would question the legitimacy of the concept of “friend” here. 

Equally, there may be an ideal ratio of consumer to producer of content that must be acknowledged, in order to optimize the functionality of communities. For instance, if all Twitter users produced vast amounts of tweets each day, there may be limited capacity for any single user to digest this information or to utilize it in any meaningful way. To this end, it is necessary to identify the different roles of an online population, but also to continually scrutinize the way that information is made sense of by user groups. To assist here, we may employ language from gaming environments. Crucially, this recognition disrupts the concept of leadership considerably, since it is no longer the role of one individual to take initiative. Consider the #cablegate example, which relies heavily on numerous individuals sharing information to permit people to follow what was taking place online. In short, within a platform like Twitter, the person who re-tweets content, may be as much of a leader as the originator of a tweet. Indeed, these two people may be leaders in different sectors completely.

Yet, the development of new media ought not be seen as simply a matter of technical innovation. Rather, there is an important cultural shift that must take place, in order for new media to have meaning for people. This shift entails having access to technology and thus, bridging the digital divide. However, as this gap closes, it then requires addressing the digital literacy divide, which is unlikely to reduce with time. In fact, it may continue to expand, as the pace of change online increases and new platforms – along with knowledge about how to use established platforms in more sophisticated ways – grows.  

In turn, leadership in this area requires investment into both aspects at a macro level – in terms of the development of the industry – but also at the micro level – in terms of personal contributions from individual leaders. Indeed, there is an intimate relationship between the two, as the process towards technical innovation requires immersion within the digital cultures of early adoption that permits incremental development. This simple observation – that one should build community rather than technology – draws attention to a more complex proposition that what distinguishes virtual worlds is their amplification of the social world.

Thus, virtual worlds must be seen as a parameter of social interaction in physical worlds and the task of developing virtual realities is of creating seamless experiences, where the most effective virtual experiences are those that most closely approximate the level of intimacy that can be achieve among people in physical worlds.  Thus, the story of new media is not wholly of technological progress, or even user demands for better, more dynamic experiences. Rather, there is a considerable amount of nostalgia that now forms part of virtual world experiences. Generations of people that grew up playing computer games now seek to relive these periods, in the same way that they may watch old films or re-read books. Consequently, although the technology of virtual worlds is improving and, as a result, is offering new and alternative ways for us to connect online, the existing platforms do not always vanish with their predecessors. Instead, they appeal to the similar goals of promoting interaction between users and online identity representation.  

Looking ahead, Mainzer’s second computer age was drawing to a close, as discussions about Web 3.0 and the semantic web grew. With the advent of improved mobile technology, from wireless internet (wifi), “smart” mobile phones with stronger phone signals which carry data (3G) and small laptops (netbooks), the ways in which people are interacting with the Internet shifted once again. Tools such as global positioning systems (GPS), which allow the user to add the details of their location while they share information, open up possibilities for locative media to emerge. Furthermore, the ease in which people can participate in multimedia dialogue using mobile devices, allows for networks of communities to continuously engage with the virtual worlds in which they inhabit, without being bound to the restraints of a desktop computer terminal. 

The close links between geography focused communication tools – locative technology - and the increased imposition of the digital world onto the physical one, has lead to the creation of devices that create layers of information and a seamless correspondence between the offline and online world. At the forefront of this development is augmented reality (AR), a protocol that utilizes a mobile phone’s camera lens to display details about the world. When AR is enabled on a mobile device, the user can point their phone’s camera at a place in the physical world and be shown layers of information that are relevant to that location. For example, if a tourist is visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris, she could point her mobile phone at the tower and, on the screen of the phone, would appear information about the Tower’s history and so on. This relatively new technology uses mapping software, which the phone has associated with its geographical position (via GPS) to provide real-time guides to real-world places. The range of uses to which this may be put are just beginning to emerge, but range from providing information about local amenities, travel information, or to other people, who are using similar services. Social media platforms such as Twitter and photo sharing website, Flickr, added GPS details (metadata) to the content that people create, so that AR could “mash-up” data for use across a range of populated locations.  

Additionally, there is still a long way to go before the convergence of digital systems that was discussed in the 1990s is complete. While we may certainly recognize that media organizations are much more aligned, there is still scope for development across different sectors. In November 2010, founder of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee told journalist Charles Arthus of The Guardian that the future of journalism is in analyzing data. Yet, the device through which this process engages user may require much more creative work. One version of future leadership in journalism may involve news media organizations becoming architects of sophisticated data gathering games, reliant heavily on the contributions of citizen journalists who will develop their own sense of ownership of and engagement with the story through their active participation in its development.  

Equally, there remains an ever-expanding lack of knowledge about user experiences of the same platform, or, indeed how use evolves over time. For example, Twitter had a range of software, which assists users in filtering and displaying information, such as Tweetdeck. This software permits users to embed images – thus no longer requiring a user to move from Tweetdeck to another platform, such as Flickr, or YouTube. For all intents and purposes, this removes the role of the Web browser completely and, perhaps signals the end of the World Wide Web as an interface. These elements all point to the need for further knowledge about new media experiences, both to understand how use may change over time, but also to come to terms with which forms of leadership will be most fruitful to adopt.