The Internet and Change in the Media.

One of my Scholarship Media Studies essays from last year.  As such, dates are relative to 2012.

This year I took an introductory course in sociology, a course on fantasy and science fiction, and an introductory course on social network analysis. I did this all online, on, and the courses were organised by universities such as Princeton. I was one student in a class of quite literally thousands.

Our society is one of constant change – it always has been, but now it is faster than ever. The catalyst to this rapid change is the internet. It has, and is still, making new ways and approaches to doing things – more often than not, for the better. This does come at a price: it requires existing industries to keep up with the changes, something that is difficult to do, and as a result, some industries are losing out.

50 Shades of Grey is a bestseller. You could find it, and its sequels, in any chain bookstore. But it started off as a self-published eBook, sold through Amazon. This is an example of the old and the new working hand in hand – the new and exciting ways of doing things don’t have to destroy the older things that we know and love, the older things simply have to embrace the new.

The music, film, and television industries are another example, but are one of potential failure. With eight years of footage uploaded to YouTube every day, television has competition. TV is commodified and generalised: here, in New Zealand, we select from several channels of what television producers choose to screen. In America and other countries, they choose from hundreds, perhaps thousands of channels. But that is still generalised- – the shows screened have been chosen by a relatively select few. It cannot compete with YouTube, the ultra-diversified and –individualised medium. There is a video – nay, a collection of videos – for every niche. From the curiously popular Nyan Cat, with over 7 billion views (most likely watched purely for the curiosity of it – the fraction of those 7 billion who genuinely enjoy the video is likely a small one) to the still curious, but less popular Hood.wmv, a video of a still image of Steven Hawking’s head slowly spinning and zooming with the rap group DMZ’s Where the Hood At? Playing over the top, which stands, at last count, at 786 views, there is almost literally a video to appeal to every single obscure aesthetic or curiosity. It is this sort of individualised, grassroots culture that television cannot hope to compete with. It can, however, embrace it – and it has. More and more studios are streaming episodes from their websites, or through services such as Netflix or Hulu, and Nielsen, the ratings company, has embraced this change, and is beginning to factor in online viewers into television ratings – something cancelled shows and shows with dubious futures, but with huge online followings (specifically, Firefly and Community) needed years ago.
This embrace of streaming videos is likely to reduce piracy rates, too. Many online surveys, conducted independently, by universities, and by file-sharing hub the Pirate Bay, have returned the apparent popular opinion that many people pirate out of convenience or necessity, due to the show not being screened in their country (either yet or ever), among other factors. Opening up streams of episodes to the worldwide community means viewers would not have to resort to piracy to keep up with their favourite shows – and it is often online viewers that have the most dedication, sharing love and art of social networking sites such as tumblr and Reddit (resulting in “fandoms”, tightly-knit groups of fans that have extremely high show dedication).
It seems the music and film industries are slowly embracing the internet, too (unfortunately whilst trying to control it with overzealous copyright and censorship laws such as SOPA and PIPA, defeated earlier this year with the wider online community’s support) by releasing music through mediums such as iTunes, and streaming it via internet radio such as Spotify and Grooveshark. Films are screened on Netflix and Hulu, while trailers are often released to YouTube. Independent musicians are utilising tools such as Soundcloud and Bandcamp, while indie filmmakers have viable release platforms like YouTube and Vimeo – with the ability to monetize and bring in income. The internet is useful for self-publishing authors, too, with Amazon’s subsidiary print-to-order publishing company CreateSpace, eBook platform Feedbooks, and publicity tools such as Goodreads.

Regular people are embracing life online, too, with the number of Facebook and Twitter users in the billions, and alternative networking sites such as tumblr and LinkedIn, for the more professional types, rapidly gaining in popularity. Social networking is often criticised for reducing the amount of “real” face-to-face contact, but for introverted individuals, it is often easier online. Nonetheless, video and VOIP calling, such as the services offered by Google and Skype perhaps negate the face-to-face argument (Skype having the benefit of being much cheaper than a landline to boot) while the amount and accessibility of contact provided by services such as Facebook surely make it easier to meet with people in person. Perhaps we will see a shift in societal perception over the next few years that gives online communication equal validity to in-person communication – a change that will surely be welcomed by many.

The face of journalism is changing, too, as the availability of alternative news sources enables people to see the flaws and bias in their local or national sources – the difference in content between ONE News and, say, Al Jazeera or Russia Today is absolutely astounding, and not just because of the lack of “New Zealand focus” (a focus which I personally believe to be extremely detrimental). As New Zealand’s choice in alternate news sources shrinks after the needless loss of TVNZ7 (a recent report revealed that the public broadcasting channel was gaining in popularity, being viewed in over 50% of homes with Freeview before it was cut in what was a clearly political move by National – who, to add insult to injury, had the report long before the deadline to change the decision, and instead kept it quiet (a disgusting move in my opinion)) people will either resort to the narrow lens presented by ONE and Three, or receive their news from their choice of sources online (also somewhat narrowed by the phenomenon known as the Daily Me, created by Google’s filter bubbles, but certainly still the better choice).
Citizen journalism is also on the rise, with the spread of smartphones with mobile internet access. The Arab Spring was reported directly and instantly from location, as were the riots in Egypt, and the worldwide Occupy movement used twitter to communicate and coordinate, often “live-tweeting” general assemblies for those who could not make it, and tweeting text, photos, and video of police brutality during the raids on Occupy camps – brutality that was never reported by any major US new sources, nor any here in New Zealand.

More so than ever, our society is one of change and choice. There are new options, new ways of doing things that we have never considered before. These new things do not necessarily outdate the old things – they improve on, they are, to use software terminology, a plugin of sorts – or at least, they could be, if people and industries utilise them properly. If they are simply ignored, however, the old ways of doing things and the old rules will be destroyed, lost and gone without another thought.
It is time to embrace the new. Keep the old in mind, remember it, keep it with you, but adapt. Embrace.