What is New Media? Three Bubbles and the Emergence of the New

Holy Trinity of New Media (modification of Negroponte 1995)
Holy Trinity of New Media (modification of Negroponte 1995)

The roots of the concept “new media” can be located to the late 1980’s and early 1990’s emergence of digital and computerized media products, such as CD-ROMs and WWW-sites. The reason to call these products “new media” was to distinct them from such “old” media products as television and radio programs, feature films, recorded music, news papers, magazines, printed books etc. The new digital technology made it possible to explore new forms of media that are interactive, networked, social and also able to emulate and remix all existing media formats and technologies.

In his book Being Digital Nicholas Negroponte (1995) describes how we are entering to the era of convergence. He describes how the traditional printing, telecommunication and computer industries will converge. A book publishers must take in use new computing technologies to distribute their products for readers through communication networks, the operators of telecommunication networks must think about content and computing, and the computer industry should look to the direction of content and telecommunication industries.

I have called the convergence of the three and the emergence of the new the “Holly Trinity of New Media”. In my version of the picture (above) in the crossing point, in the middle, there is the “core” of new media. The printing, telecommunication and computing I have named to be simply “media”, “networked communication” and “computing”. The reason for this is to have focus rather to the essence of the phenomena and less to the industries merging in and from them.

Negroponte was right. Since late 1990’s the old media has worked hard to get to the middle. What Negroponte didn’t see very clear was the emergence of the new formats, services, project and companies right in the core of the new media. The companies found in the middle — today many of them huge corporations -— have from large part spoiled some parts of the traditional businesses operating in the old bubbles or in the crossing points of them. New media companies and projects, such as Google, Amazon, PayPal, Yahoo, Craigslist, Wikipedia, Facebook and thousands of smaller “new media” companies and projects have shown that there really is something new in the “new media”. These companies and projects are not looking for convergence, but rather emergence. They have shown that moving to the center is difficult. Easier is to be born in there. Interesting is also to see how the “new media” are today expanding from the center to the three “old” areas and especially in the crossing points of them. Google is working hard to get a bite of mobile phone business, Amazon is producing e-book readers, Wikipedia offers printed version of its articles and so on.

An interesting trend in new media in 2010 is that everything that finally got to be bites (digital) will start to become atoms (physical) again. The physical computing and tangible interfaces is a good example of this trend. Services offering physical replicates of digital models are another examples of the bites becoming atoms. Several avant-garde Media Art pieces have predict this development already a decade ago. For instance, the Mixed Reality Pong by Kiia Kallio (2001) is an example of the first one and the Dump your Trash ! by Blank & Jeron (1999) where one can order any web site sculpted on marble or granite, is an example of the later.

The title of my professorship is “new media design and learning”. For more than 15 years I have practiced new media design with specialization to collaborative learning tools that could be today called social software or social media tools and services. For me new media has always been social media – a process of collaborative meaning making in a peer- and use production.

Still, daily “new media” keep on surprising me. The new forms and practices of new media designed and emerging in different areas of human life from family to work, from leisure to consuming, from children to elder people, from activism to politics keep us busy. We ain’t seen nothing yet.

One reply on “What is New Media? Three Bubbles and the Emergence of the New”

Hi Teemu,

Thanks, I really like your clear presentation of what is new media. I am so tired to explain people that new media _is not_ Flash banners. Now I will simply send them a link 🙂 Tim


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