While digital media allows me to access TV shows, music, movies and more, making it almost effortless to enjoy art and culture, the technology itself is limited. It can describe and summarize the programming, store it, recall it, play it, label it, categorize or genre cast it, and even make suggestions to me based on preferences I’ve expressed, but it can’t interpret, evaluate or engage in the media. Digitized media is still just that—a binary format comprised of decoded and recoded ones and zeros—without an opinion.
Early experiences with media, (watching our favorite cartoons and movies, listening to our favorite songs, and playing interactive games) begin shaping communication, media literacy and cultural preferences before we are even aware that the exposure is helping us develop preferences at a young age.
I remember being Sandy in our class production of the play Grease in seventh grade and the impact the experience had on me opening me up to musicals and performance art. I remember the Sweet Valley High books I was addicted to reading and how the comfortable feeling of reading led me to love picking up books. I remember the songs that were the soundtrack to my youth like “We Got The Beat” by The Go Go’s and how they both empowered and drew me to the power in music.
Today, I can reach back and enjoy all of these childhood favorites at the push of a button as a result of the Digital Age and media convergence. I can pull up videos of The Go Go’s performing live on any device with Internet access. I can find Sweet Valley High books online via Amazon, order them overnight or instantly download them onto a Kindle or any eBook device. I can watch Danny and the entire gang singing “We Go Together” on demand on any digital device with a screen and sing along.
However, digital media as a form of communication ends at the point of delivery. For instance, without vocal intonation, texts can lack context and be misinterpreted. Humor can be missed or anger can be misconstrued. Without a professor on hand to explain, textbooks can be perplexing. Without a band’s instruments, sweat and facial expressions present in live performances, music can sound over produced and meaningless.
Digital media has many advantages but it can’t interpret itself, evaluate its societal impact, or engage in meaningful discourse. It can put shows, music, information, news, facts, figures, access, and communication a keystroke away, but it can’t make sense of them. For example, a breaking news release would sit unread in the email cue if no producer were on hand to approve and run the story.
Some argue that the digitization of communication has alienated society, but in reality the converse is true. Digital media not only still relies on pre-existing forms of communication (oral, written, print, and electronic) to meaningfully deliver information, it relies on me. For those binary zeros and ones to be reproduced effectively, I must participate in the process by interpreting, evaluating and engaging in it.
It’s the old “if a tree falls in the forest” analogy. If a movie exists in cyberspace but no one ever watches it, creates a hashtag for it, tweets about it, or instagrams a screenshot of their favorite scene, does it really exist? In short, digital media still relies on people to bring media to life. Throughout the history of communication and convergence of media formats, the audience has always been and will always be a key component. Digital media needs viewers to watch, share, rate, recommend, understand, digest, integrate, engage in, and correlate it to society for the format to succeed at shaping media literacy and cultural preferences.
By Nicole Hanratty (pictured above)
You can follow Nicole Hanratty on Twitter here: http://www.twitter.com/nicolehanratty2
This post is for education purposes only for Syracuse University Newhouse School of Journalism.