Sunday, January 31, 2016

New Media vs. Old Media, or Welcome to the Digital (Middle) Age(s)

Old media is dying today. Newspapers are closing. TV news stations fear they are next. Journalists everywhere are losing their jobs.
In its place we have new media—digital. Facebook, Instagram, Vine, etc.
Out with the old, in with the new! Sorry for all those lost jobs, but there’s no stopping progress.
We are going boldly forward into the future.
Or are we?
Maybe what we are actually doing is going backward to a much older time. Instead of the digital age, what we might be experiencing, when it comes to communications and media, is the middle ages.
That’s the idea suggested by British historian Andrew Pettegree in his book, The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself.
In the book, Pettegree makes the point that what we see today as old media (newspapers) is relatively new in human history—newspapers, and journalism itself as we know it today, only goes back about 200 years.
Before that, few people would have had access to news from far away. Almost all news was local—you would know what was going on in your town, and maybe in towns one or two over.
And how did they get information? It was delivered personally, by friends and neighbours.
Reviewing Pettegree’s book in The New Statesman magazine, veteran newspaper editor Peter Wilby wrote: 
“In the medieval world, news was usually exchanged amid the babble of the marketplace or the tavern, where truth competed with rumour, mishearing and misunderstanding.
“In some respects, it is to that world that we seem to be returning.”
I think Wilby is on to something.

These days, fewer and fewer people are reading newspapers or watching TV news. It’s not that they don’t want information. They just want to get it from other sources.

And what is one of the fastest-growing sources of information? Facebook, or other social media.

And who provides that information? Friends.

Or, to put it another way, Facebook today is the equivalent of that old middle ages tavern or marketplace.

It’s the place where people gather with their friends to exchange information about what’s happening in their “town.”

It's a place of conversation, where information is deemed more trustworthy because you know the people who are sharing it.

The difference today is that these new "towns" are not defined by physical geography, but by relationships or shared interests.

Facebook as the new local tavern. It sounds like back to the future, to me.

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