The Pace of New Media
March 16, 2007, 2:58 am
Filed under: Articles


I’ve been thinking about “new media” (blogs, RSS, online video, etc.) quite a bit lately, and trying to conceive of how this relates to the evolution of society at large. How does one influence the other? More specifically, I’ve been thinking on how our modern information distribution mechanisms are now so instant and pervasive (I’m thinking of the immediacy of RSS and/or the availability at our fingertips via mobile phone/laptop).

I for one, find it difficult (as my frustrated girlfriend will attest to) to maintain very grounded in “real life” when I immerse myself in the clutches of online media consumption — there is just too much to read, and learn, always. The Twitter (an app I refuse to approach for I feel it crosses a line of over-invasiveness) craze is just the latest manifestation in our continued drive towards always-on, always-connected read/write voyeurism that began with the launch of the web itself some time ago. As the fruits of our own labour (i.e. Humankind begat Twitter) demonstrate, there is no limit to how far we will try to push ourselves in terms of inter- (and I might say in this case, over-) connectedness.

I guess this has been referred to in the past as “information overload” or “access management” but what I’m getting at here is how this affects us socially, rather than simply the troubles we experience at the individual level. It’s important to keep in mind that thought in this area is not new. Marshall McLuhan was swimming around in these topics back in the 60s, quite undeniably decades ahead of his time. He immediately perceived the dangers and possibilities of the “electrification” of media, and wrote at length on the subject for most of his life. As I read his Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, I’m constantly asking myself – what would this man think of the technologies we’ve created today? Would he be awe-struck at the brilliance and simplicity of RSS, or would he be frightened by its power? But I digress — I will have more to say about Marshall once I’ve finished reading his book, and had more time to digest the many kernels of thought.

Returning to the topic at hand, social adaptation to the pace of new media, Margaret Meade, in a Time Magazine piece from September 1954 (yes, 1954) said:

“There are too many complaints about society having to move too fast to keep up with the machine. There is great advantage to moving fast if you move completely, if social, educational and recreational changes keep pace. You must change the whole pattern at once and the whole group together — and the people themselves must decide to move.” (I’ve taken the quote from McLuhan’s book, incidentally)

Amazing that these thoughts are from over 50 years hence! Applying Margaret’s thought to the current media landscape makes me wonder if all our social institutions are moving at the same pace as the Web? It seems impossible to expect so, given the sheer size and bureaucratic weight of something like the education system. And thus, if the rest of society cannot keep up with the web (and its associated new media) my question is: what dangers are we exposing ourselves to? Will we raise a generation that is ill-equipped to reconcile past and present forms of knowledge and learning? What will this mean? Can we learn to recreate (as in, have fun) online in ways that we all accept and respect? We will find it all fulfilling?

If Meade is right, we must either accelerate the adaptation of our social institutions to “Internet time” or slow the rate of change of the Net itself to let society catch up, lest we have to deal with some heavy fallout from the myriad questions raised by the gap unreconciled.


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