Media platforms have been playing a significant role in the life of the society since time immemorial. By means of media, audience can adequately be informed about the current affairs in the world and also get entertained or educated on a number of topics useful in life. Through media people can be forewarned about the possibility of some looming disaster and the ways of how to confront it among other functions. Without media, the society would be in total darkness as it will lose touch with the reality of the dynamic world. It is worth noting that media has undergone a series of transformations as a result of rapid advancement in scientific and technological spheres. This has brought about what is contemporarily referred to as new media. New media technologies are regarded as any type of application through which information can be transferred with the help of computerised systems. It can also be summarily called digital techniques or data networks which in the past were largely associated with the transfer of data or information in a manipulative manner. According to the standards of the new media technology, modern platforms have a number of common features. The geographic distance between the producers and media consumers has been lessened drastically in modern times because technology is ostensibly available in almost all corners of the world. Access to various means of production, level of communication as well as the speed; have been augmented with the help of the internet. Due to these characteristics, this essay discusses how new media have blurred the lines between media consumers and producers. It also describes the challenges of participatory culture in media as well as describing a remedial design for enhancing a healthy participatory culture.
How New Media Have Blurred the Lines between Consumers and Producers
To fully become cognizant of the fact that new media have caused serious blurring of the lines between the consumers and producers, one must first acknowledge the difference existing between the old and new media. Old media mostly consists of newsprints, television, radio, and movies. It is worth noting that the presence of these types of media was restricted to a limited number of places. For instance, television and radio were invented way back and used to be the main technological means in the residential areas. Movies could only be enjoyed in theatres and cinema halls, until the time when DVD players and VCRs were invented and the movies could be watched in the comfort of people’s homes.
Transportable mass media mainly refers to the practice of reading a newspaper or a book on a picnic or on the way home from work. This however had its own limits especially regarding the time spent on reading. On the basis of the usual argument that many people are challenged by a limited amount of time to spend on enjoying different types of media; the displacement theory argues that the readership of a particular outlet such as a newspaper or magazine often leads to severe reduction in the amount of time that one spends on some other forms of media.
The introduction of new media, which includes using the internet, has led to the reduction of the amount of time spent by the individuals on the existing old media, which would eventually result in the extinction of such traditional outdated media. Nonetheless, the new media can be considered being more social, as many people can have easy access to the means of production as compared to the old media which had innumerable inconsistencies. New media plays the role of concomitantly connecting and separating all media consumers. Summarily, it can be said that a paradigm shift from analogue technology to digital technology refers to the new media. Terminologies such as online media, social media, digital media, and personal media are also associated with new media.
Following the robust spread of new media including online sites such as Flickr, YouTube and Wikipedia among others, the already weak connection between producers and consumers has perpetually been narrowed. This narrow margin is caused by the ease by which media consumers can now contribute to the generation of content (UGC). In fact a bigger percentage of the content read on Wikipedia and YouTube is typically generated by consumers themselves. This is because new media contains numerous wider conduits for interactions with the professional producers unlike the case with the old (analogue) media. This has cultivated a participatory culture in which private people act as media consumers as well as amateur producers; a neology which is referred to as prosumers.
The current advancement in technology, which is characterised by the availability of personal computers, has enabled private persons to create and publish different types of media through the internet. The participatory culture of UGC also known as ‘Web 2.0’ enables people to respond to a plethora of electronic signals and cultural commodities in ways which are typically astonishing to the makers. They find meaning and identities that have never existed, thus defying simple nostrums that bewail the manipulation or passivity of consumers. The increased access to the internet has orchestrated some kind of re-feudalism where people are obliged to work collaboratively not only in terms of generating and disseminating news but also using ideas and creative work as well as connecting affinity groups who would share similar goals and interests. It offers some kind of informal mentorship whereby the most professionals can generously share their expertise with the amateurs who will eventually feel that their contribution also matters.
Challenges Encountered In Participatory Cultures
The neology of participatory culture in the new media has created a scenario of presumption; where media users are lured into being consumers as well as active contributors concurrently with no apparent branding of their services and activities in which they are actively and creatively engaged in. This has eventually resulted in some people being obliged to strive to become active contributors of media content although they might be invisible labour. This has nearly created a mentality where everybody is believed to be in possession of general intellect to do everything by themselves. In fact humans are rapidly getting empowered to accomplish innumerable tasks that previously required the expertise of specific professionals workers who would bridge the gap between producers and consumers. The best example is the banking sector where customers are now free to conduct transactions whenever it is convenient to them especially with the help of automated teller machines (ATMs), or in the location of their choice with the use of the web. Though this shift may provide power, control and freedom of consumers, it is coupled with consequences that are less desirable.
Several people have been obliged to adopt a number of the aforementioned tasks as personally meaningless and therefore become permanently complacent with their consumer role. This means that the very consumers will have little or no experience at all concerning the tasks requiring feeble learning efforts and hence may be permanently dependent on mediation from professionals who would strive to attain and sustain their experience through perpetual use of the relevant technological systems coupled with expansive contextual knowhow that is required for the effective accomplishment of the tasks. This is also referred to as crowdsourcing.
Similarly, consumers have assumed a substantial burden in undertaking and mastering the function of tools for wealth distribution such as travel reservations, banking, shopping in supermarkets, and buying airline tickets among others; these are essential technologies intended for professionals. It is apparent that crowdsourcing will compromise the effectiveness that the tasks demand to raise spectacular results. Similarly, as various entities adopt participatory resources and practices in promotion of their products, beneficiaries will have the utmost interest to work in compliance with the participatory media, as opposed to their counterparts who have no interest in them. In the process, the latter will find it difficult to value the prevalent leverage that is associated with engaging in corporate activities as prosumers.
In regard to the education, there is a huge participation gap or digital divide in ensuring that all learners access the relevant technologies. Though there have been significant efforts of bridging the gap by introducing computer technology in learning institutions, still many students and teachers hitherto have limited access to the required technological tools which still remains a big challenge. The participation gap has further been widened by the on-going efforts of various governments to pass legislations that are geared towards obstructing the adoption of software for social networking in learning institutions. The difficulty experienced in closing the gap has stripped the youth with advanced media literacy regarding the technologies that would enhance their learning techniques to help them uniformly share experience with others during classroom activities. In the same breath, the majority of the youth that are not exposed to new forms of participatory culture in media outside the school setup will grapple with negative influence on the part of their peers; which is totally detrimental to their behaviour formation.
In addition to that, the breach that exists in media participation has left many students alongside their teachers striving to fully utilise the necessary technology which is incorporated into their respective curricula. Up to this point, it is observed that many learning institutions lack financial capacity preventing them from establishing full-fledged computer laboratories that would facilitate the updated curriculum. The cost of computers and other accessories like cameras and technological tools which are meant to make learning interactive is exorbitant and therefore left only for wealthier schools. Some of the teachers also find it difficult to enrol in refresher courses on computer to fulfil the requirements of the curriculum. More so, many adults who have long graduated from school equally lack time to teach themselves or even enhance computer knowledge by enrolling in middle level colleges. This situation has caused a bid discord in participatory culture as there have emerged two huge antagonistic groups; computer compliance and computer illiteracy.
The latter shortcoming deals with the issue of privacy. Since a wide range of content is nowadays put on the internet, the issue of privacy has been severely compromised. For instance, the plain exposure of private personal matters on social media has brought about many integrity issues. Many users of such media have also demonstrated discourteous practices by spreading inflammatory and defamatory content. This has made the media lose its essence but instead become a conduit of vulgar and slanderous messages.
These challenges have highly affected the individuals using the dynamic media. The distinction between new media users and the incapacitated lot has practically left low-income adults and their families at an unadorned disadvantage that will automatically affect them some time in future. For instance, those who have limited or no access to the means of production cannot accomplish technological tasks such as research, home assignments and project works. This means they may eventually perform dismally in their final examinations. This situation will obviously result in their frustration with academic life or make them work at mediocre jobs with meagre earnings, development of aberrant behaviour, insufficient job skills as well as decreased chances of getting enrolled for tertiary education. The list of disadvantages can be continued.
A Remedial Design for Enhancing a Healthy Participatory Culture
To support a fully participatory culture a meta-design is recommended. It represents an emerging conceptual framework that aims at creating and defining social and technical infrastructures through which participatory cultures as well as new forms of collaborative design can comfortably take place. This calls for the development of a proper system that will allow users to become co-developers and co-designers. Since it is basically assumed that future use of technology and associated problems cannot be absolutely foreseen at the time of design, when a media system is finally developed, users are allowed to discover incongruities between their individual preferences and the support that the existing system provides for them.
The meta-design entails making changes that are convincing and seem possible to lure consumers into active participation. Furthermore, these changes should be feasible slowing possibilities and mechanisms for extension. The benefits must also be perceived by the consumers in a sense that the returns justify the investments they are made besides engaging in supportive environments. Finally the design should have low barriers to sharing changes.
The increased technological innovations have had a huge impact on the new media to an extent that roles of producers and consumers have interchangeably been practiced. It is hard to determine the bona fide creators of the media content hence the question of appraisal is also critical. Currently, conceptualisation of the type of audience that is engaged in the media industry is shifting from the approach that used to be focused on old stereotypes to the approach that is gradually exploring other dimensions that are related to the positive experience of the audience. Nowadays, the majority of the new media forms are extremely interactive and contain data design which is compressed and can be accessed from different market platforms. Prevalent forms of new media technology which comprise of internet-based concepts for such means of media as websites, CD-ROMs, DVDs among others, prove to blur the lines between producers and consumers. It is seen that the increase in audience fragmentation and audience autonomy is basically imposed by the new media technology that has undermined the model of exposure of the old media.