Digital Media: Friend or Foe?

Posted on March 5, 2011

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Behind the glamour the iPad and despite its status as a groundbreaking technology, the iPad is a closed device controlled solely by Apple.

Who would have thought that changes in publishing—the process of production and dissemination—could have such a colossal effect on society, culture and the media landscape? Before I began studying media and communications I would have thought that content was more important than the medium used to communicate it. At the moment however it has become clear to me that the medium is definitely the message. With the rise of new media the scope of publishing is ever expanding with nifty innovations occurring almost on a daily basis (the iPad and Kindle are exemplary of such contraptions). Modes of publishing are  constantly revolutionising with more and more content transgressing into digital realms. The magazine and newspaper applications available on the iPad are an indication of this. Indeed, if it hasn’t already, digital media is becoming a force for the publishing industry to reckon with.

While these changes are new and exciting to tech savvy individuals like myself there are a few important points to consider. Firstly, this week’s readings made it clear that technology like the iPad may be a step in the wrong direction for the democratization of media. The iPad for instance is a restricted device. Translation: you can’t use an iPad the same way you can use an open computer like a Mac. Apple has ultimate control over the iPad deciding what type of applications get created and distributed. Also, the iPad can only be connected to iTunes making Apple the sole mediator between iPad users and everyone/thing else in cyberspace! This scenario is eerily reminiscent of the days when traditional media corporations monopolized a one-way flow of information to the public.

On the other hand mobile technology is opening up new and exciting possibilities for  the publishing industry. Consider the upcoming mobile application, Social Books. I myself enjoy discussing good novel with my peers but unfortunately not all of them are as interested in books as I am. With Social Books I could discuss books with people who actually care thus enriching my reading experience.

It has also been speculated that tablet devices will save the magazine and newspaper industry. Digitalizing print publications is,however, a messy business. Take The Age’s iPad application for instance, it is basically a boring PDF version of the print publication. John Naughton points out in his article that simply converting physical text into digital text will not be enough to save the print industry. In this case, I happen to agree. Applications, particularly newspaper applications, need to be tailored to suit digital devices and audiences. Nonetheless, I am inclined to disagree (to an extent anyhow) with Naughton’s assertion that e-books must become interactive or fail in their endeavours. I’m sure there is room in the land of e-books for both innovative digital books and more traditional books. Books, novels in particular, do not necessarily need to be “tooled up” in order become popular.  Think about it this way. The works of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen are as popular today, or even more so, than they were a hundred years ago. Societies and cultures have changed immensely since the initial distribution of these works and yet they still manage to remain relevant. These books then and many others then will stand the test of digital media.

Check this video out, it is funny and I am pretty sure it is a spoof but some of the points it makes are definitely true:

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