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How new media objects change old media

Media-theorist McLuhan wrote about the horseless carriage syndrome. This is about how we initially use new media the way we use old media. This transition period is necessary for us to invent and adapt to new media.

We start building something new by taking objects from old media to new media. The horseless carriage was the first car. Not designed from the perspective of a car, but from the perspective of replacing horses with an engine.

The funny thing about this – natural – transition is that after some time new media takes it own shape and develops its own objects. These objects are often taken over by old media.

I have taken some examples from newspapers that show the use of ‘new media objects’ in previous media. Since this is the business I work in, I’m confronted with the class of old and new media objects every day ;)

Old Volkskrant May 5 1945
This is what de Volkskrant looked like on May 5, 1945. The end of the Second World War. A War where (mass)media played a very important role. What you see is a collage of articles that just fit the frontpage.

Long columns in de Volkskrant
This is last tuesdays newspaper, the right column looks a bit like a blog, don’t you think? It shows article introductions and tries to convince you to open the newspaper and continue reading the article.

Volkskrant ankeiler frontpage
It even uses hyperlinks to help you jump to the article.

Article in the free Dutch newspaper DAG using highlights
The newspaper DAG uses a different approach to highlight parts of the text. This html-like lay-out makes it very easy to scan words in a text and see if this article is about something you might like.

It’s a reading/scanning habit known from the web transferred to a newspaper. Some people will like it, others will hate it. I think looking at ways to make your newspaper easy to scan is good.

Scan reading to control information overload is something we learn from new media and transfer to old media. Old media just needs to experiment and find the objects that make scanning of a text possible for example by breaking it up or highlighting parts.

DAG using television subtitles
DAG uses text on photos the way we know from television subtitles. There is no reason – other than an aesthetic one – not to layer information. Text on visuals. We do this in television all the time and feel comfortable with it.

Rating used in de Volkskrant
De Volkskrant uses a rating. This isn’t probably an object originated on the web, but it did get popular and common because of the web.

Since the web this star rating stands for interactivity and democracy. The collective of what readers think… instead of what the editors think… Will this new meaning eventually change the way we can use this object in old media?

de Volkskrant using previous
The back button. Would we have known the meaning of this object without the web or VCR? It would most likely indicate ‘go left’ instead of ‘previous’.

I like it when these kind of things happen. And especially when designers and art-directors aren’t afraid to experiment with it. It can transfer an object used in certain media into an universal object that can be used in other media.

For example the play button we know from cassettes and VCR. It is just a sideways triangle that is so strongly connected to the action [play/continue] that it’s impossible to indicate anything else with it, no matter what kind of media you use.

Will hyperlinks – the most popular object on the web – move to paper?
What are the objects popular on the web that could transfer back to previous media like a newspaper? Sharing is a strong object on the web. The web is about sharing, saving, sending, publishing and tagging. This is how we control our information overload. We trust systems and people to sort information that is valuable to us.

If we would like to transfer the object of sharing to old media we have to adapt the system. For example how can you share an article you’re reading in a newspaper? You could photograph it, scan it or even cut it out and mail it. You have to save it in order to send it. You’re not sending a reference to the article, you’re sending (a copy of) the article.

To save a physical object (printed text) in a virtual world (hypertext) you need an anchor (hyperlink). To share a physical object you need a virtual reference to it.

I don’t think it’s such a crazy thought that in the future we might give references to everything we print, the way we give different hyperlinks to everything online. Because in the future something printed will always coexist online, there is no reason not to. Print is package.

So a future object could be some kind of hyperlink that tags printed information in a way we can virtually share its representation.

Do you know other objects – maybe visual – that might transfer to previous media? Or do you know good examples of items known from radio, television or the web that already moved to previous media?

4 replies on “How new media objects change old media”

Wilbert, smart piece. But my guess is that you’re wrong where you say that star ratings got popular on the web. I think they are older. Rather superb though is the line where you say that the star system now reflects the view of the audience, not the editors. Shit, I thought, I missed that one, but he must be right.

I’m most fascinated by the undo and redo buttons. They don’t transfer, as you say, to previous media, but they’re a great metafor for all things changed.

Interesting food for thought. It is Bolter and Grusin’s remediation working both ways. Even though I love tag clouds I am not too keen on them appearing in “old” media.

@Henk I think I was a bit too enthusiastic with the stars, thanks for noticing. Later I thought about how hotels use stars to indicate quality. I’m probably wrong with more of the examples, since it doesn’t change in a moment. It’s the shifting of meaning that changes over time. Especially for symbols. Signs and symbols used to be culturally defined, mass media is changing this into universally defined.

Your example of the undo and redo button is a very good one. We never had the option to ‘undo’ something before the introduction of computers. We could hide and redo, but we would always have waste. We couldn’t undo something as if it never happened.

Interface designers never came up with a strong symbol for the function ‘undo’ and used an arrow to indicate it, which also indicates previous (page). Maybe we should indicate ‘undo’ as ‘mistake’. If we have an icon/object that means mistake we can probably transfer it back to previous media. Maybe they should have used the eraser icon. If this icon is common for mistakes you can use this in a newspaper to indicate the corrections part.

The undo button and edit options (think wikipedia) are changing the way we think about mistakes. Is a mistake still wrong? Or is it something that isn’t finished? The way we think about mistakes is something that is already influencing previous media. Newspapers for example never discussed the mistakes they have made so openly as they are doing right now.

In new media much of your credibility has to do with acknowledging the mistakes you make. Everyone makes mistakes, not everyone acknowledges it. Although this is a difficult discussion since we only want truth.

@Anne the popularity of tag clouds is amazing. A lot of people don’t understand it, but like it. I don’t think it’s a great navigator. What I think it can do very well is set the atmosphere of a website. By looking at a tag cloud you know what the website is about and how important those topics are.

I’m not saying a tag cloud should be printed but maybe a derivation could be a very smart indicator for the contents of a magazine or newspaper.

Thanks for reminding (re)mediation. I have read it a few years ago, I liked it but somehow I thought the topic was too difficult or abstract and I got stuck on the immediacy part. I think I will (re)read it :)

The video indicator
YouTube bar
I found another indicator. The bar we know from youtube and every other audio and videoplayer that indicates the duration of something and where you are right now. I have seen it being used on television and I think it works great on television as well.

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