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The Impact of Web 2.0
If there really is such a phenomenon as Web 2.0, what does it actually mean and how will it change the concepts which underpin your Film or Media course? Nick Lacey argues that we’re not quite there but watch this space. The current A Level exam specs were first developed for Curriculum 2000 and it’s a testament to the speed of technological progress this century that they are already considerably out of date. The biggest change so far this millennium has been the ability of audiences (you and me) to produce our own media texts (be they MySpace pages, YouTube videos or blogs), be able to distribute them via the internet and, potentially, get an audience of thousands or even millions. The growth of broadband connections has made the internet a multimedia portal that allows us to consume and create. It is no longer the established companies of Big Media that dictate what texts we can see; we can choose what we want to watch, or listen to, when we want to, and even decide if we want to pay for it or choose illegal file sharing. We can decide not to watch BBC programmes (though the new iPlayer makes this a seductive online freebie) or Hollywood movies (coming to iTunes soon) and spend our time social messaging, emailing or trying to find things our parents wouldn’t want us to see. The question is whether the blogs, podcasts, RSS, social networking, tagging and wikis of Web 2.0 has altered the media landscape. Hopefully by now, you’re all familiar with the Key Concepts, which have underpinned the subject for more than 20 years. But are concepts such as audience and institution good enough to make sense of ‘we media’ – or do we need to upgrade the subject to something different, perhaps called Media Studies 2.0?

Media language
New media technologies are underpinned by the switch from analogue to digital coding. Analogue tends toward the linear; you can’t skip chunks of film when watching a videotape. But digital allows non-linear consumption and production. And, because everything – be it video, audio or print – is reduced to (binary – 01) bits, digital coding allows for convergence – the bringing together of different processes within a single application or device. For example, mobile phones also function as MP3 players, cameras, web browsers and so on. Digitisation has also made the production prices both cheaper and quicker. However, whether this has helped create a new media language in, say audiovisual texts, is highly debateable. Analysing the codes and conventions of videos on YouTube is not really so very different from analysis of new movies; although the YouTube productions are likely to be far simpler in construction. (It is worth looking at The Machine is Us/ing Us on http://pl.YouTube.com/watch?v=6gmP4nk0EOE for a clever rendering of what Web 2.0 means.) However, just as programmes made for television are likely to be visually less spectacular than those made for film, because the small screen won’t show the image off to such good effect, texts made for the web are adapted to the even smaller screen size: Shooting for digital [distribution platforms] requires a different approach for framing shots, and avoidance of production techniques like camera pans or zooming in. (Carter, 2008, p. 2a) This may not necessarily imply a new media language but it does suggest that the codes and conventions of digital media are different from television.

Representation
One of the important aspects of representation is questions about who is doing the representing. In the days of Old Media, it was always them – ‘the media producers’. Now we ourselves can readily find an audience for our own representations of the world. An interesting exercise is to take a well-known stereotype and see what the photo website Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/) comes up with. Flickr uses tagging to link images, and this allows us, as ‘readers’, to question the extent to which we feel the tag to be relevant to the image; does it offer sufficient anchorage or does it question our assumptions about stereotyping? For example, the first result of a search for ‘dumb blonde’ yielded a large sheet of paper, on an easel, with the legend ‘I am not a dumb blonde’ written several times as if done as ‘lines’ given by a teacher. What undoubtedly has changed is the ability to access alternative voices. Take, for example,

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lang_comp_trans Undercurrents which is:

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an award winning production company specialising in producing and distributing VHS/DVD compilations reflecting the UK & global counter-culture. (http://www.undercurrents.org) Before the advent of the World Wide Web, Undercurrents’ distribution of alternative views and current affairs footage was limited to relatively expensive VHS video; now anyone with a browser can access their views which are generally in opposition to ‘Big Business’ which used to control virtually all the media.

Narrative
Although it may appear that media language hasn’t significantly evolved in Web 2.0, it could be argued that narratives have already changed as a result of new media gaming. Although many games can be readily analysed using Todorov’s situation-disruption-resolution pattern, games added the element of levels where, in effect, the narrative starts again but with bigger problems/obstacles. In a sense game narratives use the structure of serials but without being contained by a text. The growth of broadband has encouraged web-only narratives, and new developments in mobile phones have led to narratives being compressed into mobisodes; presumably because audiences don’t want to watch small screens for too long and/or the shorter they are, the cheaper watching them becomes. One of the most successful web based narratives is Kate Modern (http://www.bebo.com/Profile.jsp?MemberId= 4332884856) which, at the time of writing, is in its second series having picked up a number of blue chip sponsors.

Audience
The belief that Web 2.0 is an expression of ‘we media’ suggests that this key concept is most likely to have evolved. In breaking down the institutional barriers between producers and audiences Web 2.0 has democratised the media. The theorist Jurgen Habermas argued that democracy is served by a ‘public sphere’ where people can exchange views and so influence political debate (see http://en.wikipedia.org /wiki/Public_sphere). Habermas contended that in the 19th century the discussion would take place in coffee houses; in the 21st century anyone online can join in the discussion. There have been a number of examples where consumer power has been wielded via the net; last year HSBC bank abandoned plans to end interest-free accounts for students after a campaign on the social networking site Facebook. It could be that in the future the power of the masses might lead to political change. For example, groups such as Indymedia UK (http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/) use the internet to contact like-minded individuals for collective action.

Institution
We’ve already noted that the internet has challenged Big Media’s monopoly; however we should also note that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation owns MySpace. There is some change: the biggest media company in the world is now Google, an offspring of new media technologies. The web has changed the economics of popular culture. In his book The Long Tail, Chris Anderson (2007) shows how, because virtual shops like Amazon and iTunes, can stock everything, the tyranny of the bestseller is over. Whilst bestsellers are still financially important for shops, online retailers make most of their money from the ‘long tail’ – products that sell very few items but cumulatively are extremely profitable because there are hundreds of thousands of products in the tail. This may mean that our idea of popular culture, a few products that many people buy, may be replaced by niche culture, many products that only a few people buy.

Conclusion
Has Web 2.0 changed everything? Not yet but it probably will. Are the Key Concepts up to dealing with it? At the moment, yes; but we should watch that space because Media Studies 2.0 will be needed soon and you, the new media pioneers, are the people who should define it.
Nick Lacey is Head of Media at Benton Park School and Technology College, Rawdon, Leeds, and the author of several Media Studies textbooks. First published in MediaMagazine 24, April 2008.

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