New media is intangible
In new media studies, the boundary between old and new media is often conceived alongside the divide between analogue and digital media (Natale, 2016); for which the dividing factor resides in the fact that traditional media exist as material artefacts whereas digital is categorised as things that exist only on a screen (Rubel, 2008). If old media is a book or CD you can hold in your hand, then digital videos and photographs in fact differ as they do not have a physical being. But what, then, is the tangibility of digital media? If the Internet and even more so concepts like the ‘cloud’ exist as abstract and conceptual infinite spaces that we cannot feel or touch in real life, then can we define it as being intangible?
In the graphics above, I have explored this notion of whether new media can be traced in a tangible way by creating a breakdown of the photographic image. In the first column, I have taken scans of polaroid photos, representing the physicality of ‘old’ media. In the second column are screen caps from my phone as I took a digital photo of the polaroids. The next section is filled with the HTML RBG codes of the colours present in the photo, representing the messages relayed through my laptop to light the pixels on my screen certain colours. The last step shows the binary codes for each of the RBG codes, representing the photos in their most basic form, as ultimately everything digital stems from binary codes.
So if a digital photograph, beyond being a collection of coloured pixels on a screen, is traced all the way back to a series of ones and zeros processed by complex mathematical calculations, is it still considered a photo? Does it have a different value to a photograph crafted into permanence on paper, or is there value lost when you can’t hold something as a physical object in your hand?
The main concern, it seems, is to do with authenticity and stability. As human beings, our only real method of connection is through authentic communication (Tardanico, 2012). In the same way that speaking to someone via video call isn’t the same as talking to them in person, there is something special about being able to hold a photo in your hand like a physical representation of a memory. It is an inherently human nature to connect with the physical, to associate emotion and connection with senses like touch and smell. Therefore, one might suggest that there is a difference between the emotions that physical and digital copies may evoke. However, others like Palmer and Eriksen (2000) in their examination of digital verses traditional news outlets suggest that the digital product takes the best of traditional, making them more convenient and accessible.
As new media continues to evolve and perceptions of the digital landscape change, no doubt the issue of tangibility will continue to be a topic of discussion. We will continue to evaluate the value and meaning that changes in the process of converting physical objects into non-tangible bodies of work, steering the future of the virtual medium.
- Natale, S. (2016). ‘There are no old media.’ Journal of Communication, 66, pp.585-603.
- Hindman, E and Thomas, R. (2013). ‘When old and new media collide: the case of Wikileaks’. New Media and Society, 16(4), pp.541-558.
- Rubel, S. (2008). Five years from now, media will be totally intangible. Advertising Age, 79(44), pp. 21.
- Tardanico, S. (2012). Is social media sabotaging real communication?. [online] Forbes.com. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/susantardanico/2012/04/30/is-social-media-sabotaging-real-communication/#47d2ac052b62 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].
- Palmer, J.W. and Eriksen, L.B. (2000). Digital news: Content, delivery, and value propositions for an intangible product. Journal of End User Computing, 12(2), pp. 11-19.