Monday, 20 April 2009

When will New Media be old?

I often wonder at what point New Media will become old? A quick glance at communications technologies from the time of the telegraph to telephone, television and radio reveals long periods of stability punctuated by rapid change as each new technology was adopted by consumers.

However, New Media never seems to settle down. I have been using the net since 1994. I cannot recall a single period of stability in 15 years. At an IBM presentation for the Queensland Industry Development Corporation in 1999, the presenter mentioned how software updates were being released every 6 months. This was likely to be reduced to 3 months (during 1999) with industry commentators suggesting the release time would be reduced to just 6 weeks by 2000. I remember being impressed at the time.

Now, software updates occur in real-time and download automatically without us really noticing. But the 'killer app' remains elusive. Over the last two years, I have noticed how discrete communities developed around particular applications. For example, MySpace was more popular for musicians and in certain parts of Sydney, whereas Canberrans tended to be more active on Facebook. But this stability has remained short-lived.

Twitter and other networking sites have brought about a truly global reach (at least to those who have broadband access). The change in terminology from 'Friend' to 'Follower' is significant: psychologically, it is easier to 'follow' someone you don't really know rather than be their 'friend'.

Since the Internet became available for public use, not only has the timeframe for software upgrades become irrelevant, but the number of applications available for communicating is increasing so rapidly it is difficult to keep up. A few weeks ago, a student suggested that a site which links all the different applications would be a useful tool. Tonight, I stumbled upon unhub which claims to do just that.

The point is that New Media (as we know it now) is disrupting what seemed to be the period of stability promised by broadband networks. The time taken for technological advances to be adopted by consumers is decreasing, while the availability of applications is increasing. Industry structures and the delivery of services by businesses and governments throughout the world is changing rapidly.

This brings me to the original question: when will New Media be old? It seems that the term is useful for now, as each application becomes, in turn, a new medium. It will take a significant paradigm shift for the current period of instability to end. With businesses, governments and even individuals entering the flurry of Net activity, there seems to be no end in sight. 'Change' has taken a place beside 'death' and 'taxes' as the major constants. And how we should deal with these changes has become one of the most pressing questions of our time.

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