The Contemporary Media Environment: An Essay

              I once thought information existed only between the official covers of encyclopedias. But since I completed year 12 in 2001, I have witnessed a lava-like eruption of information in the world, instigated by the emergence of the Internet. This fluid information is not neatly arranged between the covers of books by the privileged few, because it runs all over the place in a wayward manner and is accessible to many. Due to this information revolution, everyday people are able to organise information according to their own tastes and dispositions (Douglas 2000), and they do this through the use of hypertext. This means that pieces of information do not always end up in the same place, and are not inherently part of a traditional framework such as a narrative containing a beginning, middle and end.
              In order to make sense of the contemporary information environment we need to deepen our understanding of it, so it becomes as natural as our understanding of books and encyclopaedias (Miles, 2007). This means recognising that canonical sources of information no longer exist, and that information can be organised in a variety of ways by an assortment of actors (Miles, 2007). This skill is known as network literacy, and according to Miles (2007, p. 203), its definition is ‘being able to participate as a peer within the emerging knowledge networks that are now the product of the Internet’.
              In attempting to characterise the contemporary information environment I will highlight an important consideration for me as a future media maker, which is a certain loss of control over the information I produce.

              Once upon a time, information was regarded as only that which came from books, written, edited and published by those qualified to deliver it. Today, information is everywhere, and although more ‘official’ sources of information still exist – although more as a souvenir from the past – everyday citizens create the continuous flow of information we interact with in modern times.
              Applications accessible via the Internet, such as blogs, ‘allow participation within contemporary information ecologies as creators, rather than being limited to being passive consumers’ (Miles 2006, p. 189). Every time we post something to a blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed, online forum and so forth, we are contributing bits of information to the intertwined, messy online information network. Weinberger (2002, p. 143) suggests that ‘what pulls us on [to the Internet] is the sound of voices… we migrate towards those who are interesting and we move away from the spouters of facts’. Miles (2007) says this tendency to subscribe to voices we feel are genuine and rational is what underpins the current model of knowledge production. Consequently, this is not a linear process whereby information moves obediently from one receiver to the next in an organised fashion. According to Weinberger (2002, p. 8-9), ‘the Web… has no geography, no landscape. It has no distance. It has nothing natural in it. It has few rules of behaviour and fewer lines of authority. Common sense doesn’t hold here, and uncommon sense hasn’t yet emerged’.
              I have always imagined the contemporary information environment as a network similar to the London Tube. This is a system I have explicit knowledge of, whereby information moves from one receiver to the next, sometimes connecting to others but never overlapping because if it did, it wouldn’t operate.

Picture: Courtesy of Tom Wigley via Flikr
Picture: Courtesy of Tom Wigley via Flikr

              As a future media maker, I can see the need to move away from this analogy in order to understand a new information network, one where many participants will share, interpret, link and alter information produced by me, and nothing I create can be gospel. Moreover, the media I produce will become part of the intangible, nonlinear environment as highlighted by Weinberger above. This realisation forces me to imagine a disorganised, overlapping and chaotic information environment.

Picture: Courtsy of Yan Feng via Flickr
Picture: Courtsy of Yan Feng via Flickr

              Only when I feel comfortable with this de-centralised system of information, will I be able to produce media that is appropriate for the contemporary environment.

              Before I expand on the shape of the contemporary information environment, I would like to highlight one particular tool used for navigating this space known as hypertext. The following video outlines the ideas and concepts behind hypertext.

Video: Courtesy of Mundaneum via YouTube

              Hypertext is an important concept for me as a future media maker, as it enables the media I produce to be linked to others, thus becoming part of the contemporary media environment. Bolter (1991, p. 40) suggests, ‘the needed skills [of the media maker] go beyond the mechanical ones of holding a pen and turning the pages. The writer must learn how to structure and locate text in the visual space provided, just as the reader must learn how to make sense of texts in that space’. Furthermore, information containing hypertext is fluid rather than fixed, which allows for readers to imagine different scenarios (Douglas 2000).
              Take my Networked Media blog for example, according to Landow (2006, p. 78) ‘blogging… has major importance for anyone interested in hypertext because one form of it provides the first widely available means on the Web of allowing the active reader-author’. Firstly, in making strategic decisions as to where I link a blog post, I am allowing readers to piece together the main points of my post without having to explain every detail to them (McNeill, cited in Landow 2006). Secondly, and importantly, when readers have the ability to comment on blog posts by clicking the hypertext word ‘comment’, they are linking themselves to my blog and inviting more comments from other participants (Landow 2006). Hence, the information I originally produced becomes the subject of scrutiny and opinion, and can be interpreted to mean something very different to what I originally intended.
              This differs greatly to traditional frameworks for information sharing, such as books, as Douglas (2000, p. 17) says, ‘while authors of print narratives can never be certain exactly how readers will interpret their work, authors of interactive narratives [hypertexts] can sometimes be surprised at the permutations and combinations of narrative segments that readers encounter’. A reader of hypertexts may assume the author is dead altogether (Douglas 2000), but as a creator of information I still exist, just in a less obvious way.
              The idea that anyone can contribute to the production of meaning seems somewhat more egalitarian. However, Bush (1945) came up with a rebuttal to this idea saying researchers found it exceedingly difficult to keep up with the number of conclusions being drawn by an increasing number of specialists, leading to important information being overlooked. If this was the case in 1945, we have an even bigger issue in contemporary times, as the many who generate meaning on the Web are not specialists – not official specialists in any case. With this in mind, how are we to determine what information is genuine and what is not?

              If we are to participate in an information environment whereby media is organised according to the likes or dislikes of everyday citizens, we will probably not experience the familiar, resolute endings we are familiar with (Douglas 2000). Information in its contemporary environment doesn’t stop at one particular point; it continues to be linked to other parts of the media network. According to Douglas (2000, p. 23), ‘since hypertext fiction does not have the fixed tangible beginnings and endings of print stories and books, readers decide where their experience of the text ends’. Therefore, the contemporary information environment suggests an abandonment of traditional conventions, such as narratives where we start at the beginning, develop through the middle and finish at the end. What is an end in the modern media world? There is no end, like there is no distance and no hierarchy.
              I found this idea uncomfortable at first, as it seemed unnatural. However, narrative is far from natural having taken 4,000 years to mature (Landow 2006). In creating our own beginnings, middles and ends we are creators of new meaning, having broken free of the traditional conventions of information sharing. Nelson (1987, p. 0/11) submits that ‘education, now pressing in new and uncertain directions, can leap forward into new curricular structures that eliminate sequence and promote initiative and understanding’. If we continue to develop within traditional conventions we can only learn that ‘life is a coherent, fathomable whole that concludes in neatly wrapped up revelation’ (Shields 2010, p. 110), which is simply not the case. Therefore, through understanding a new media environment that abandons narrative, society may start to develop more realistic expectations of life.
              As a future media maker I must think less about taking people on a journey, and instead allow readers to use my media to create a journey for themselves. I must fully comprehend what Nelson (1987, p. 0/11) means when he says, ‘we stand at the brink of a new age, a new time, when the handling of the written word will change very deeply, and civilization will change accordingly’, and I must be prepared for an ephemeral information environment.

              In considering the contemporary media environment as an intangible, nonlinear environment and recognising that many ‘unofficial’ citizens can create information, I can better understand how the media I produce in future might be used to create new meaning. I may then implement technology such as hypertext, in my productions to allow for information to be used interactively. One of the most challenging aspects for me in adopting an immaterial information environment is abandoning traditional conventions of text, such as a beginning, middle and end. However, in doing so I am allowing readers to come to their own conclusions about the information they consume. In becoming network literate and relinquishing control over the media I produce, I feel I will be able to create the type of media that will be successful in the contemporary media environment.


Bolter, J 1991, Writing space, Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, N.J.

Bush, V 1945, ‘As we may think’, The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 176, no. 1, pp. 101-108.

Douglas, J 2000, The End of Books – Or Books Without End?, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

Landow, G 2006, Hypertext 3.0., Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Miles, A 2007, ‘Network Literacy: A New Path To Knowledge’, Screen Education Autumn, vol. 45, pp. 24-30.

Miles, A 2006, ‘Blogs In Media Education: A Beginning’, Australian Screen Education, vol. 41, pp.66-69.

Nelson, T 1987, Literary Machines, Theodor H. Nelson, Swarthmore, PA.

Shields, D 2010, Reality Hunger, Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Weinberger, D 2002, Small Pieces Loosely Joined, Perseus, Cambridge, MA.

One For The Road

Photo: Diego Saldiva via Flickr
Photo: Diego Saldiva via Flickr

Here’s one last look at what my fellow Networked Media students have been blogging about this semester:

Courtney discusses whether form or content are more important in a book. She argues content is more important but I would disagree. For me, the order of events seems to be integral to a good book. I feel even if you have the juiciest content, if it’s not organised correctly it can end up being a whole lot of mumble jumble. Structure is everything, but after completing the Networked Media course I’m more open to the loosening of structure.

I seriously love Tilly’s post about the cafe Combi! I’m craving that delicious bowl of goodness right now and it’s the middle of the night! I’ll be making a trip down to Elwood to feed my temple soon.

Rebecca’s post about the Week Eleven readings fleshes out the idea that all things are connected to something else. This ties in well with discussions of neutrality that took place several weeks ago in the Symposium. Rebecca also hints at notions of technological determinism and whether or not technology is the main driver of cultural change.

To wrap up my last post for the semester, I’d like to say thanks for everyone’s contributions this semester. My brain has been strained at times but I’ve learnt a lot.

Enjoy the rest of your journey and have a great summer.

The End Of History As We Know It


In this week’s reading Gitelman discusses what we see as ‘new media’ in comparison to what we see as ‘old media’. Importantly, he highlights that all media was once new and therefore ‘new media’ is simply a modified version of something else. He warns against imagining ‘new media’ such as the World Wide Web, as a tool for fixing all the problems of the world, as it allows for the same control possessed by ‘old media’.

Gitelman also questions how much technological conditions determine meaning. In thinking of ‘older’ media such as books, it’s easier to see how a writer may have been the main designer of meaning, even if a reader interprets this meaning differently to what is intended. However, technology – the Internet – obscures this and makes it harder to identify who has agency over a message. Gitelman suggests that it’s this obscurity that tricks us into thinking the World Wide Web, as a ‘new medium’, is neutral.

There is so much thought around the Internet and its effect on social conditions. However, I think it’s important to think of it as any other medium, one which has the power to create culture, values and beliefs in society.

A Not So Happy Ending

Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes via Flickr
Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes via Flickr

Right. I know I should have been doing homework all evening, but it was Tight Arse Tuesday at Village Cinemas and I’ve been dying to check out Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl all month. I read the novel at the end of last summer, and I have to say I was quite disappointed. I’m not sure why, I think I expected something different, something more satisfying, a happy ending maybe? Gone Girl definitely didn’t leave me feeling happy, but rather erked.

I thought it was worth mentioning Gone Girl in this blog as I found its unconventional narrative somewhat in-line with discussions we’ve had about narratives this semester.

Narrative is something worth thinking about when considering the contemporary media environment, and the idea that conventional narratives found in traditional stories and films underpin many an expectation for life, is something that’s stuck with me this semester.

For me, Gone Girl is a new kind of story that forces us to reposition narrative, with the only alternative being to resist this process. Perhaps my initial resistance to unconventional narratives is what motivated my dislike of the story to begin with? Perhaps not, but something I’ve noticed about myself after this semester’s talk on narrative is that it’s okay to accept new and different structures. After all, this is the environment we’re living in.

If you haven’t seen Gone Girl I would highly reccommend it. You can see the trailer here. It’s a little freaky (and you’ll probably be thinking “WTF?” at the end), but its’ definitely a story made for the cinema.

As for happy endings… well that’s for you to decide.

What’s Up?

Picture: Kent Clark via Flickr
Picture: Kent Clark via Flickr

Alright, so let’s take a quick look at what everyone’s been talking about this week. Yes I know, it’s week 12 and I’m struggling to keep up too but there have to be a few stragglers…

Jane writes about the Galloway reading and how the idea of ‘protocols’ in networked media somewhat mirrors that of human social relations. It definitely makes things more relatable.

Laura’s discussion on king hitting is an important one, and one that we need to think more carefully about when making choices about drinking environments. It’s not just young women who need to take caution when walking alone at night. However, essentially we need to start ‘rethinking drinking’ in order to make positive changes.

Finally, Nethaniel (ye old faithful) offers some further clarification on the concept of ‘protocols’ by pulling out a juicy quote from the Galloway reading. I often think of networked media as a busy network of wiring, like a brain! A road map is also a good analogy.

Thanks everyone for your thoughts and contributions, and hang tight, we’re nearly there!

Technological Determinism?

Photo: Alekso Aaltonen via Flickr
Photo: Alekso Aaltonen via Flickr

The Potts and Murphie reading from Week 8 discussed technological determinism ; the idea that technology drives social change, and therefore determines what we do and essentially, the choices we make. However, I disagree with this argument.

I believe technology is an important factor in social development. In considering more simple, ‘old fashioned’ technologies we might imagine how books and writing have allowed us to absorb knowledge, which in turn has led to the making of many opinions and decisions. But books themselves didn’t determine what we did, instead we used books – technology – to create change.

When thinking about modern-day technologies such as the Internet, the same principal can be applied. We use the Internet to do many different things, all of which contribute to social change. Importantly however, it is us who decide how we use this technology to create cultures that lead to social change. A good example of this can be read here.

The Potts and Murphie reading has raised my awareness to the dangers of thinking technology controls us, because in doing so we leave everything up to technology and ignore the important human factors that have always been present in social development and change.

Is Anything Neutral?

Photo: Alba Soler via Flickr
Photo: Alba Soler via Flickr

During the Week Eight lecture Adrian pondered the question of whether technology, namely the Internet, is neutral. This is an interesting question because in order to develop an answer for you it you have to first decide what neutral means.

Whenever I think of the word neutral I think about those psychometric tests I’ve done for different things in my life. Whether it be a job, study etc., these tests always present totally random questions that are so hard to answer that you’re forced to respond by ticking the neutral box instead of strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree. Therefore, to say you are neutral means you have no feelings about the question at all, and you somehow sit unmoved and in-affective.

I don’t think the Internet is like this. Perhaps for those people who’ve never seen a computer before, the Internet may seem a completely useless thing. However, that doesn’t mean it’s neutral. It’s not neutral because the fact that a person may not be able to navigate the Internet does not mean to say the Internet has no affect on that person. Feelings of contempt for Westernisation, lack of education or intimidation may be brought on by a person’s lack of know-how when it comes to using the Internet.

Hence, the relationships between people and the Internet are more complicated that we think. The Internet is not simply coercive to some and neutral to others, it actually has a different relationship with different people that is constantly changing according to various factors.

With this in mind it’s hard to imagine anything at all that is truly neutral. To be truly neutral would be to have never had any contact with anything else in the world, ever. To me, existing alone, with no relationship to anything else seems impossible.

By the same token, things that don’t affect other things always have a connection – effect – on something else. Everything around us is connected to something else. The Internet, the floor, the TV, the hairbrush, event dust!

Nothing exists independently. Nothing is neutral.

I’m Back!

Photo: Vancouver Public Library via Flickr
Photo: Vancouver Public Library via Flickr

Okay so it’s been a while, but I’m back.

I’ve been really swamped with work, homework, my birthday celebrations and if I’m completely honest I’ve had my head partially buried in the sand. So, in order to jump back on the Networked Media bandwagon I thought I’d check out what others have been ranting/thinking/deliberating about.

Nethaniel discusses the 80/20 rule whereby the idea that 20 percent of people – a smaller amount of people – make 80 percent of profits – the majority of the gain. I also found the 80/20 rule interesting in the sense that it unveils a whole new set of principals when it comes to sales. The concept of ‘the store’ is being slowly but surely forced out the door as the Internet has a limitless (okay, that is perhaps a question for another day) capacity for storage, as opposed to a store, which keeps only certain things that are in high demand by the majority. The cumulative total purchases of less popular items bought by the minority online, can now outweigh those purchases of the majority, and all because of the Internet. The graph Nethaniel presents in his most is most helpful in visualising Pareto’s 80/20 theory.

David writes an interesting post about how the media incites fear in people, thus forcing them to believe things are more of a threat than they really are? He offers a different way of viewing ideas of terrorism. I think a lot of people are afraid of thinking this way (it’s easier to stick with the flock), so good on you David for being fearless.

Ashleigh talks about the question of neutrality, and how we might consider things to be neutral until we think about how they are connected to other things. I don’t know about you Ashleigh, but I found this a mind boggling idea, one that is never ending because it seems to me that everything is connected to something else.

The Weakest Link

Picture: Guian Bolisay via Flickr
Picture: Guian Bolisay via Flickr

The Week Eight readings reminded me of something my friend told me this week.

My friend is a beautiful girl who really wants to meet a beautiful guy. I have to take my hat of to her because she’s extremely proactive in her pursuit of love. The other day she told me she’d met a new guy who was really great, but unfortunately he’s a good friend of one of her ex-boyfriends.

“Not again!” I said.

Yes, that’s right. This isn’t the first guy she’s dated who is friends with that particular ex-boyfriend.

My friend then said to me: “Maybe I’m stuck in the same circle, but how to I break free?”

I think I may have an answer for her.

Barabasi (2002) says ‘the weak ties, or acquaintances [in social grous], are our bridge to the outside world, since by frequenting different places they obtain their information from different sources than our immediate friends’ (p. 43).

Barabasi discusses how social networks can be quite generic, whereby a network of friends in which many people know each other makes it hard to break out into other networks. This is what Watts (2003) attributes to a ‘small world’. He says ‘the more your friends know each other, the less use they are to you in getting a message to someone you don’t know (p. 41). However, each person in a network will have acquaintances (weak ties) that don’t know each other, but have close social networks of their own, and this is a useful discovery in attempting to break free of your usual circle of friends (and also a way to stop dating your ex-boyfriend’s mates).

This is an interesting way to look at networking (and great advice for my soul mate seeking friend) in the contemporary media environment (the Internet), in particular when it comes to gaining employment, marketing a business, selling a product and so on. Although social networks are clusters of stronger links, the weak links that exist from these clusters to other clusters can connect very distant people, very easily. The Internet facilitates the practice of employing weaker links (Facebook, LinkedIn etc.) making the ability to connect with others easier than ever before.

Getting In Early

Picture: Playing Futures: Applied ... via Flickr
Picture: Playing Futures: Applied … via Flickr

I have a stack of homework to do this weekend so I thought I’d get most of my posting done before the weekend actually starts.

I’ll get the ball rolling this week by having a sticky beak at what my fellow classmates have been writing about. I seem to be linking to the same (reliable) bloggers all the time, so this time I’m going to pick names at random. Here goes…

Carlie appears to have done a similar thing to me (great minds think alike) in checking out what others are writing about. I’m glad I looked at your blog though Carly, because I love your theme!

Moving on, Kenton offers a cool approach to Technological Determinism. It’s like a breath of fresh air. I too get mind boggled over theories such as this. To add to Kenton’s point about Technological Determinism being independent from other sociological factors, Betty highlighted in my tutorial this week the idea that without technology (think the simple things, writing, reading, music, books) certain social factors may not exist. In that sense, perhaps technology is somewhat of a catalyst in social trends that lead to cultural change? Right, thats about enough of that on a Friday evening.

Next, Elly raises an interesting discussion about the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ that’s recently plagued social media. I’m rarely one to get involved in this sort of activity, quite honestly it annoys me. However, I feel this challenge has been affective in raising awareness for a very unknown and devastating disease. Coming from a family affected by Motor Neurone Disease, I’m pleased to see that more people know what it is, and even better is that they’re wanting to create change. Sure, there are many who just want people to laugh at them chucking buckets of water over their heads, but I feel they are the reason for this campaign’s success. Quite clever really.

I’ll finish up there, but keep posting food for thought people.