Who are the New Media Users?
Introduction How does a society become new-media literate? In this feature, Friedrich Krotz from the Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research in Hamburg considers the different paths the diffusion of new media has taken across Europe. He argues that the manner in which children and young people acquaint themselves with new media technologies--whether it be through institutions or through the family, for work or for play--has important implications for the development of civil society.
Whenever media technologies begin to diffuse throughout society, they are referred to as new media. Accordingly, there has to be a concept of old media which might be displaced or at least change its former social function. Thinking in terms of old and new media is a familiar aspect of media-related discourse and as a rule this kind of discourse also includes the concept of new media users. Implicit in the concept of new media users, is the idea that new media are not used simply as another, more comfortable means of serving certain functions in everyday life, but that they are linked to new functions, to new patterns of social and cultural behavior, and finally, to new identities.
So, who are
the new media users, how can we identify them and in what direction
is the development of new media in society progressing? These questions
are ultimately of great importance for the political and social strategies
designed to deal with the development and impact of new media technologies
The diffusion of new media
Traditional communications research has understood the rise of new media as the diffusion of an innovation. The argument goes as follows: personal computers and computer mediated communications can be understood as innovations. After the invention of such technical innovations, a process of diffusion takes place and they eventually become part of the fabric of culture and society. This process occurs in phases and depends on the technical features of the innovation and the needs of the particular society. Understood like this, differences between different countries are only differences in time and in speed. If, for example, in Sweden PCs and CMCs are much more common than in Germany, it is assumed that Germany will catch up some months or years later. But social and cultural development is not as simple as this.
Different paths of diffusion and development Media must be understood as phenomena that are part of a specific culture and society and that depend on this specific culture and society. This is even true if we speak about media that exist in all countries, such as books or television. Thus the diffusion of the new digital media must be seen in terms of a process of cultural and social change, which takes place through the integration of PCs and CMCs into people's everyday lives and relations. If people use a new medium to develop their expectations, wishes, dreams and habits, then what is merely a technical possibility may become a social and cultural reality, part of leisure and working life, of consuming and communicating and so forth. Seen like this, we may understand the results of this study as a snapshot of the media environments of European children. This snapshot shows different stages of new media evolution in different cultures. These stages are dependent on the different economic, social and cultural conditions of the respective countries.
Firstly, we can differentiate between societies that have chosen a more institutional path to introducing PCs and CMCs and those which have developed a more private path. Children may come into contact with PCs and CMCs in the context of institutions such as schools and public libraries, or through their parents at home or in other private arenas. Obviously, the private path makes children more dependent on the social and educational level of their parents.
Secondly, we can differentiate between a work and a play perspective on using PCs and CMCs: they may be used for leisure and entertainment or as a machine for writing, working and learning. From this we can conclude that different concepts of media literacy may exist, which are to be realised in school and education.
can differentiate between the "intrinsically" and the "extrinsically"
motivated users of PCs and CMCs in public arenas. Apart from those users
with low to medium motivation, who often have no experience and no access
to the digital media, the intrinsically motivated users of our study
are interested to express and develop themselves personally with PCs
and CMCs, whereas the extrinsically motivated are more interested in
becoming successful by using PCs and CMCs, mainly on an economic level.