Digital Media

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Evolution and Trends in Digital Media

Media Technology and Society
A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet
Brian Winston

Introduction: A storm from paradise: Technological innovation, diffusion and suppression

Not only must prototypes of new technology be effective or functional to be accepted, but they must also fulfill a need in society. Brian Winston calls this need the supervening social necessity.
This necessity will propel prototypes of accepted inventions.

A recent example of a technology that filled this social necessity is the flash or USB drive. Numerous inventions have tried to replace the floppy disk as an electronic storage space. Zip disks held much more, but were expensive and somewhat balky. CDs can hold a large amount of data and are inexpensive, but not everyone has the technology to burn CDs. Another drawback of CDs is that most cannot be reused. The durable flash drive uses a USB port, which all computers now come with, and can hold 1, 2 or even more gigs of data. Flash drives seem to be catching on quickly for their economical and technological value.

Social forces have propelled most newspapers to adopt new technology and expand their online offerings. They have been more reactive than other types of media that do not rely as much on the printed word. The role of print newspapers is a good example, I think, of what Winston calls the law of suppression of radical potential. Many newspapers tried to reject the Web as a publishing medium at first, likely seeing the Web as something that would not flourish or without potential for newspapers. Perhaps they thought circulation and ad revenues would drop with the addition of online (which they have).

The law of suppression takes into account that many of these new technologies can be expensive. If technology changes too fast, companies won’t have the means financially to keep up. Many businesses take a decade or more before they will consider updating outdated technology. In my experience, changing technologies is a time-consuming, stressful and expensive process in the workplace — no wonder companies put the brakes on technology.

Newspapers have now realized that there is no stopping the increasing popularity and necessity of the Internet for society and have begun to embrace the Internet as a way to reach a generation that does not necessarily read a printed newspaper daily or go through the Sunday ads and classified. They are exploring the potential for replacing decreasing print revenue with online revenue as online circulation grows by leaps and bounds, though no one has yet found a way to replace all the revenue lost by the decrease in print circulation.

In Social Aspects of New Media Technologies (Williams, Strover, Grant) this process of diffusion is explained in four steps: Knowledge, Persuasion, Decision and Confirmation. Many newspapers made an initial decision to reject the innovation of the Internet. In later re-evaluation, however, these same newspapers made a decision to adopt the innovation.

I thought Williams, Strover and Grant were extremely insightful when they talked about cable TV and personal computers creating nongeographically based communities as part of the uses and gratification theory. is the first example of a nongeographical community that pops into my head. Cyber communities are increasingly taking the place of geographic communities. People chat with users around the country and around the world. Online dating has become increasingly popular and it is not unusual for online acquaintances to decide to meet in person. In television, viewers form a relationship of sorts to serial programs, and the diffusion of reality TV depends on viewers becoming emotionally involved with the show. When viewers invest that much emotion into a show, they seem to form an attachment with other viewers of the same show.

Also interesting was the precedent that the United States Congress set by allowing the privatization of telegraphy. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution assures the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. Though freedom of the press is not usually what companies are thinking about when they are trying to make a profit, newspapers were regular users of telegraphy and the technical innovations that came later.

How the Internet killed the phone business
The Economist

This article predicts that "voice over Internet protocol" will one day make traditional phone companies obsolete. In the decade since this article was published, VOIP has advanced, however, not nearly as much as the article assumes. I don’t think the supervening social necessity for this technology exists yet. I think a more disruptive technology for traditional phone companies is the rapid escalation of cell phones.

For example, the article makes the assumption that VOIP is cheaper than other options available. However, when cell phone users sign contracts, they are usually paying for the convenience to call anywhere they want (usually within the United States) without paying extra fees. With the advances and diffusion of cell phones, phone lines and VOIP become unnecessary.
While VOIP is probably an attractive option for larger families that don’t want to buy a cell phone for everyone in the household, I think cell phones hold the upper hand in potential. Advances will make cell phones easier to use for connecting to the Internet (VOIP’s advantage), and cell phones have the big advantage of mobility.

The article does make a correct assumption when it speaks of a "bundle of services as an incentive to buy other things such as broadband access or pay-TV services." Internet providers, cable companies and cell phone providers have all started to bundle products together in an effort to entice buyers.


  • I think you articulated Winston's emphasis on need as a predeterminer for success well and came up with some great analogies for successful innovation vs. innovation that was unreceived by the market.

    Technology is much like economy; the market is determined by how demand is met by supply. But there is also something to be said for institutions, as you point out, such as print media that have been hesitant to the inevitable digital tide. I think you emphasize well that keeping an 'open mind' is a matter of industrial survival, in lieu of formats and media that are essentially in flux.

    Your post captured the social and industrial forces at work in communication technological development very, very well.

    By Blogger luken77, at 10/10/2006 2:47 PM  

  • I like your example in USB port very much! It really change our hobities in storing. Moreover, as a new technology, USB ports are not only spin-off, but leaded computers, especially laptops into a new age.

    By Blogger belle, at 10/10/2006 5:40 PM  

<< Home