New media, old issues

howard beale, protagonista di Network

Howard Beale, protagonist of Network, masterpiece by Sidney Lumet

We’re used to think that first internet and then the social media revolutionized and democratized the entertainment and the information world, making any other previous media obsolete. But that’s not fully correct, because, if the tool is surely way faster and more widespread, dynamics behind its use are basically the same as always.

A first false myth is the supposed internet egalitarianism. It’s true that, potentially, each one of us can make his or her voice heard, create a successful website or blog, reach millions of people and spread viral contents. That’s just an updated American dream, the errand boy becomes a top manager. It’s not impossible, someone fulfilled their goals, but it’s unlikely.

Comparing the web to radio, TV and the press, it’s much easier for an average person to start his or her project almost for free. You don’t necessarily have to rent facilities or pay for expensive equipment. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to possess entrepreneurial skills, keep up to date on the constant progress in this field, study the latest techniques for more views (and money), maintain high standards to not disappear after two weeks.Free social media pigs product

So, it’s not automatic to stand out with interesting, clever, particular things to say, you also have to use the market laws to your advantage. Just like happens with TV, radio, press.

But that goes for the economic aspects, not everyone wants to earn from the internet. Social media as well aren’t the same for each one of us and that’s an easy call. Having millions of followers is different from having 50, 100, 500 or even 3 thousand of them in terms of communication coverage. And again, more followers is not equal as better content.

Other similarities between new and old media concern fake news. One side is worried about the spread of lies through the web, the other side replies that the traditional media were the unreliable ones, subjected to bigger interests. Both sides are right and wrong at the same time, media are just tools (medium in Latin means instrument), propaganda makes the difference between a good and a bad use of them.

Another (partially) false myth is the increasing information thanks to the internet. On the one hand we have a better access to any source, national or foreign, at any time of the day. On the other hand, news aggregators, as well as social media, tend to create bubbles in which we strengthen our opinions instead of questioning them. On the long term that jeopardizes curiosity, the will to explore among topics and opinions we didn’t consider before.

At least it’s all for free. But also radio and some TV channels are for free, those networks earns from the commercials. The audience doesn’t pay actual money but becoming a commodity, a number that adjusts the market. Social media do the same, they are apparently free, it’s our presence that brings ads and money.

citizen kane orson welles

Citizen Kane, the 1941 movie by Orson Welles about the control of media on the public

But there is a slight difference. A TV, a radio, has to broadcast something, a show, a movie, an event, sports. Social media don’t directly produce content, users do. And they don’t take part in redistribution of the profit. Of course social media are for free, no worker pays to enter in the factory (that’s obviously a hyperbole).

Technologies remain an instrument, manipulable by humans who responds the same old logic. Every “new” media has been looked upon with both hope and suspicion and presented the same issues. We’ve been told that many times, just think of movies like Citizen Kane (1941) or Network (1976) to realize how little the situation has changed.


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