Lost Connections: Does “New Media” Give Us What We Really Need?

I didn’t get far into Part III The Medium and the Message of Peter Lunefeld’s, The Digital Dialect when I had some interesting thoughts come into my head. This section of the book was a bit different from what I had expected, but it was indeed a pleasant surprise. Its about this relatively new wave of “new media,” that is, essentially, this digital revolution we have been experiencing and continue to experience. We get our information from electronic devices, connected to the world wide interwebs, an endless supply of information. Information both good and bad, helpful and useless. (Cat photos, anyone?) We are spending more and more time with this new form of media. But the thing that made me really think was this: how is this new wave of media affecting us? How does it affect the way we see things? Or the way we interpret information, the way we interact with people, the way we handle our relationships, the way we live? And what was/is so bad about old media?

I was born as the digital revolution was starting to take hold, so I was exposed to some “media of the past:” newspapers, books, radio, word of mouth. Now just about everything I read comes from the internet on an electronic device. Its very hard to imagine life before these things because we rely so heavily on them these days. I even read books on my iPad now. The shift from print to digital, to me, was seemingly subtle. When you look back, there was never really one specific time period that it occurred, it was more a gradual change. Then bam! Suddenly, it seems, everything is digital. But why? Why is everything so digital-based these days? Is it really better?

While reading, I came across a lot of interesting things, and most of them were pretty similar in that they agreed that new media seems to be taking away that personal connection we have with the tangible medium. There is nothing like opening a brand new book; the smell of the pages, the crackle of the spine. Or even opening up a very old book; that old book smell, and the thought of the history behind the book, from where its been to who has handled it. I remember watching a video about Gutenberg and his printing press; in it, they explained how books were created before the press. Scribes had to hand write each page. Not only that, but a lot of books were hand decorated with beautiful, colorful flourishes. No two books were the same. There is something so personal about that. You can feel and connect with it. If we don’t know the true meaning of life, and will probably never know the meaning of life, then why don’t we experience life as it is? Connect with the things we can connect with. There is something so real about holding something in your hands and experiencing it with all of your senses. We aren’t robots, but I feel like new media is kind of turning us into them. A computer doesn’t have a smell. It doesn’t really have a history, and its so “industrial” looking that you can’t really connect with it. Everything you see on it is two-dimensional, so its harder to interact with than something that is three-dimensional, like a book or a newspaper.

There was an interesting comparison in the reading about having a cup of coffee in Vienna versus having a cup of coffee in L.A. The writer said that in Vienna, when you order a cup of coffee, it comes in an actual cup, with no lid, so that you can see and smell the coffee; really breathe it in and experience it. In L.A. However, you get your coffee in a paper cup with a lid. You can’t see it and you can’t smell it. There is no connection there. I thought this was a great comparison with how people interact with older, more tangible media versus how they interact with newer, less tangible media.

So why the need for new media? Is it better? Does it get the message across more clearly? One view that was brought up in the reading really touched me. “The underlying message of hardware producers has always been one of ultimate salvation. And the problems that were supposed to disappear have always been memory problems: tokens you want to remember but cannot, and tokens you cannot forget. Today, we have a wide range of machines to help us remember, but only a few contraptions that help us forget. Perhaps we need to focus on forgetting.” This is such a powerful statement! It is great to go back and remember what we did so we can learn from our mistakes, but is this preventing us from living our lives and making new mistakes? Life is not perfect. Nor should we even try to make it such. We were not designed to remember everything. If we were, we wouldn’t have this problem! I think a lot of people have a very difficult time forgetting and letting go of things out of their control.

Now, tying in the podcast, Earthbeat: Goodbye, I think it can definitely relate to new and old media. In the podcast, there was a man that purchased a beautiful house, for a miniscule amount of money, that was built on the edge of a cliff that is literally falling into the ocean. He bought it for a great reason. He didn’t buy it to make the news or to be a show-off. He bought it because of what it represented. This big, beautiful piece of artwork, essentially, that is slowly disappearing. One day, it will fall into the ocean and will cease to exist. To make it even more poetic and awesome, the man used this house as his art studio. I think this house can easily be compared to old media. It is slipping out of our fingertips, and there is nothing we can do about it. Or is there?

The house can be saved, if the man is willing to put millions of dollars into it. Old media can be saved as well, but there has to be someone willing to do it. Should we let it go, or is it something worth saving? And is new media really what this world needs? Do we need to remember absolutely everything? New media has changed the way we communicate with people; instead of face to face, we send text messages, chat over the phone, or instant message. Where will this lead us?

I’ll leave you with this last quote, which I absolutely love. “The task of the designer is not to create a better button, but to determine if buttons are required in the first place.”

Just because we can, does it mean we should?

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