New Media

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Mobile Technologies and the Digital Divide

As you may remember from Hulu, Netflix, and Displacement Effects, I have a bit of an obsession with the ability of online video to displace traditional television viewing. The question of whether or not new media will replace traditional media is one that has been under discussion for some time now, however, the answer still eludes us. As planned, I further developed this line of thought into a research proposal for my Theories of Mass Communication course last semester. Considering that watching television online is a relatively new act, I didn’t expect to find much research in this area and, unfortunately, my expectations were met. Long story short, the paper ended up not being as exciting as I had hoped. On the bright side, my extensive research ended up giving rise to an equally interesting yet completely different inquiry – the behavior of mobile communities.

But, how did I go from displacement effects of new media to uses and gratifications of mobile technologies? It was pretty simple really. The amount of research available on new media is still pretty limited, so there is a lot of overlap. Whether you’re interested in uses and gratifications for television viewers or Internet users, mobile technologies can play a role in both.

At any rate, the research I found on mobile communities ended up being more intriguing than any of the recent research on displacement effects. Specifically, my research led me to study after study confirming that minorities are the dominant users of advanced mobile functions including accessing the Internet, sharing videos, using social media and so on. This was surprising news to me – and apparently many others in my program – considering the costs that come along with smart phone ownership.

So, it got me thinking. How can mobile technologies be used to narrow the digital divide? Or, better yet, are they already being used? Specifically, my research proposal set out to establish the mobile phone as a significant source of information-seeking online for persons of lower socioeconomic status (SES). In other words, are people with low SES using their mobile phones only for entertainment-seeking? Or do they use their mobile device as a means for knowledge growth and information acquisition?

Though currently just a research proposal and not a research study, I believe my inquiry is important for any future policy development and regulation that is placed on the mobile community – specifically any future legislation that develops over the debate for net neutrality. As I concluded in my paper:

“Advanced mobile technologies have become as prevalent among minorities and persons of low socioeconomic status as television has, which is certainly evidence of their influence – although arguably a better portal for information-seeking, the computer cannot say the same. This being the case, it is important to fully consider the implications of future policy decisions on persons of varying cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds in an attempt to improve the existing digital divide and knowledge gap in America.”

As someone who comes from a family of lower socioeconomic status, this is an issue that is quite close to my heart. I have witnessed the perpetuation of the digital divide for as long as I can remember and I think it’s about time that we become accountable for the decisions that contribute to it.

Any thoughts?

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Hulu, Netflix, & Displacement Effects

My new favorite theory: Displacement effects.  For those of you not familiar with displacement effects theory, it’s really rather simple. The general assumption is that new media, e.g. the Internet, cannibalize time spent on traditional media, e.g. television.

So, what’s so interesting about this? Seems logical enough to assume that new technologies can cause displacement effects on old technologies, right?  It does seem logical, you say? Okay, prove it.

The existing literature on displacement effects of new media on traditional  media, namely the computer on television, currently contains mixed conclusions. Some scholars argue that computers do not take time away from traditional media, whereas other scholars argue just the opposite. This is an important topic especially in the marketing and advertising industries where budgets are relatively fixed from year to year. In an effort to spend advertising dollars most effectively, these industries need to be aware of which media are garnering the most attention and, more importantly if certain media are losing market share.

Though many recent studies would suggest that the Internet does not cause displacement effects on television, it could be argued that recent technological advances in streaming video online, e.g. HULU and Netflix, would make a huge impact on displacement effects research moving forward.

With this in mind, I bring you to my research proposal topic (and possible study) for this semester. For me personally, both HULU and Netflix have played huge roles in causing displacement effects on my television viewing behavior, and who’s to say that I’m alone? Currently, I can view Netflix via my computer, Roku, Playstation 3, Wii, and now my iPhone, whereas just a couple of years ago my best option was to wait for the mailman. Does this mean that I now watch more television as an effect of this increased technology? As someone with a full-time job, freelance gig, and graduate studies, I can honestly say, “No.” I’m watching the same amount of television, but on different devices, which fits perfectly within the displacement theory framework and the idea of time cannibalization.

So, getting back to the question: Am I alone? I doubt it.

There are many ways in which I am unique, however, my use of online technologies to conveniently watch television isn’t one of them. There are thousands and probably millions of people who can attest to this very television viewing habit. This being said, I have yet to come across any displacement effects studies that have taken advanced streaming video into consideration. It’s possible that these studies exist, but have yet to be published, however, I still think it’s worth taking a look at.

In any case, expect a follow-up post on this by the end of the semester. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for further areas of analysis or if you just want to provide some insight on the concept discussed above, leave me a comment or get in touch!

Friday, September 10th, 2010

Net Neutrality and the General Public

The Internet is all abuzz regarding the long-time issue of net neutrality and recent events, namely the joint proposal between Google and Verizon on an open Internet, have only exacerbated the hype.

As a heavy consumer and frequent builder of the web, it is only logical that this be an issue that I find of concern; however, the more I research both sides of the debate the more I find myself asking, “How does the general public feel? Are they even aware of the issue at all?”

The issue itself is extremely complex and it’s quite possible that even the experts in this area are confused, so how could the general public understand? Or, even better, why should they care?

At the moment, the debate over net neutrality is plagued by ambiguities and saturated with policy jargon, thus making it difficult for any laymen to understand. Further, although it has been a long-time issue, the debate has seen very little procedural action. We are still addressing the question of, “Should the government be allowed to enforce Internet regulation?” and are only beginning to address the question of, “How?”

I, like you, am still trying to grasp the complexity of the situation and what it means for me not only as a consumer of the Internet, but also as an equal rights proponent. By breaking down and stifling the utopian culture of the web, could we affect its entrepreneurial spirit? Moreover, how could this issue affect our right to Freedom of Speech?

Because of the inquiries mentioned above, my current stance is neutral. Both sides of the debate are compelling and I will likely not choose a side until the question of “how to enforce regulation” is further addressed (or perhaps not, only time will tell).

In the meantime, I am hoping that the general concept of the issue itself is making its way towards mainstream society. Considering that this is an issue that could potentially affect the availability of content on the web, as well as a consumer’s right to fair access, it should certainly be an issue that people are at least aware of, even if we don’t quite understand it yet.

Additional Reading:
General Overview – NY Times Topics: Net Neutrality

Google and Verizon Joint Submission on the Open Internet

Google defends their Net Neutrality Proposal

For your Entertainment:
During my information search, I have come across a handful of entertaining comics and videos. Content/message aside, I found the following cartoon to be especially entertaining.

Jon Stewart on Google’s Opposition to Net Neutrality (What can I say? He’s hilarious!)

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