We can ask ourselves: what is / are “new media?”
A perfectly adequate substitute question would be: what is / are “old media?”
And we can problematize the matter by asking: “what makes new media different from old media?”
And contrarily, we ask: ” what is essential to both new and old media?”
Is there something timeless and permanent in the act of writing that transcends genre and mode? Or do we make it anew with every passing generation?
If writing is timeless and permanent, why even bother with the designation “new media?” If we constantly reinvent writing, when do we declare a media old? Or dead? And what has any new media to do with writing?
These are not idle philosophical or theoretical questions. Understanding how media and writing overlap, intersect, and diverge over time and space helps us as writers to adapt.
At the core of this course is an important conceit: By the time you are starting out, I’ll be mid-career. By the time you are mid-career, I’ll be retired. By the time you’re retiring, I’ll be dead. This is a macabre way of saying that I don’t know what new media means to you.
Do we say that new media is necessarily computer-based? Perhaps today it is, but our computers today are different than our computers even 10 years ago. Our platforms are different (hit me up on MySpace if you remember LiveJournal). As a result, our language, styles, and thinking are different.
My goal is in part to help you understand where media is, where it is going, and how and why it moves at all.
If I ask you to tell me about “old media,” you’re likely going to tell me about newspapers and magazines – I know this because I’ve asked this question of other classes, and these two genres are invariably the first two suggestions.
But if those are old, why not include radio and television? They’re frankly not much younger, and arguably in 2021 they too are being rapidly eclipsed by internet technologies.
How about books? I mean these things have been around for hundreds of years, right?
The first thing to understand is that “old media” does not mean “dead media.” Although newspapers, magazines, books, TV, and radio all have digital descendants, they haven’t vanished – and if anything, these formats are adapting and integrating to a web-based reality.
The second thing to understand is that for purposes of our study, even our old media aren’t that old. Not even papyrus scrolls and cuneiform clay tablets are all that old. Clay jugs and stone monoliths are not that old. The cave paintings at Lascaux are 20,000 years old, give or take…and human beings have walked this earth for hundreds of thousands of years.
What were we doing with all that time?
We were making media.
“Media” implies “middle.’ Something between two or more other things…but here’s the thing:
Media is the thing.
Media is that through which we know the world.
We are all of us living in media all the time.
By the time you read the word “now,” now is over. By the time your brain can wrap itself around the idea of now, by the time your eyes perceive the light from your screen or bouncing off a piece of paper to etch the word “now” into your rods and cones, by the time the appropriate axons can fire to send signals across synaptic gaps to the appropriate dendrites thus forming the thought of “now” to you, the conscious human being, the moment has passed. Now is now in the past. You have never, will never, and can never know now. You must reconstruct now from memory – you must re-present that present to yourself in the pasts’ future.
You must make and read media in order to live.
Your entire reality is made of media, and in fact:
You are media.
And once you understand that, you’re going to want to tell someone about it. And how do we do that?
With more media.
We, human beings, are media mediating with other media. What we use to do that mediation, whether it’s our voices, our clothing, a book, or a tiktok video, are just extensions of our own internalized projections turned outward.
A human being’s first medium is the body. (Links to an external site.) First, our body interacts with the world (and with itself) so that we understand it – always in representation. We do not see the thing: we experience the light that reflects off of it. We do not hear things, we translate vibrations affecting the workings of our ear. Nothing has properties in and of itself – there is only perception by others, which we call “properties.”
Our first medium of communication is the body: we use hands to guide, fingers to point, we dance out pantomime, and then we add a soundtrack:
Lugg the caveman growls at Ugg, fingers mimicking bared fangs: a saber-toothed tiger! Ugg is scared – the memory has been re-presented through the media of body and voice.
Ugg, foregoing the fake fangs, growls at Mugg – Mugg understands the sound – the first word is uttered: (Ti)-GRRRRRR!
Words and pictures – hundreds of thousands of years ago, mankind and media are born.
And now for something less “meta”…
Managing Your Coursework
Here are some very important things to keep track of.
- Stay up on your reading. Start your reading early. Skim, read, and skim again. I recommend trying to get your reading done by Wednesday each week so that you have a good understanding of the reading before you attempt your written work.
- Complete assignments early – but not too early. While the hard-coded deadline is Sunday each week, you should imagine that the deadline is Friday so that you have plenty of time to get your work into shape. On the other hand, make sure you have a decent understanding of your reading before diving into your work.
- Get ready to write. This is an upper-division English class. The workload includes quite a bit of reading, thinking, and writing.
- Don’t go it alone. Mid-Term and Final projects must be peer reviewed. For an online class, that means reaching out via email or a discussion board to get another set of eyes on your work. I will make groups as soon as this class starts, but it wouldn’t hurt to reach out to others with common interests and comparable abilities.
- Ask questions. I am happy to talk about writing and new media just about any time, but I can’t answer questions that you don’t ask. Stay involved!
New Media Best Practices
As the semester moves along, you’ll be expected to demonstrate good online communication practices. You’ll be asked to complete your foundational exercises in accordance with well-established web usability writing standards (Links to an external site.).
Furthermore, you have a significant degree of genre freedom. Beyond alphanumeric written documents, you may also find yourself composing videos (Links to an external site.), presentations (Links to an external site.), and websites (Links to an external site.). But: you will be expected to demonstrate a degree of skill and care when using alternative genres and media just as you would be held to task when writing a college essay.
Just as we challenge what it means to write in new media, we can also push back on what it means to edit and revise.