New media are (currently) new to the extent that they combine (1) computing (which allows processing of content, such as retrieval through associations of words or other indices, and structuring of communication, such as conversational threads in newsgroups), (2) telecommunication networks (which allow access and connectibility to diverse and otherwise distant other people and content), and (3) digitization of content (which allows transference across distribution networks, reprocessibility of the content as data, and integration and presentation of multiple modes such as text, audio and video). These components alter the possible combinations of four basic dimensions of attributes associated with any medium, including face-to-face and traditional media: constraints, bandwidth, interactivity, and network architectures (Rice, 1987). My general argument here consists of two primary propositions:
Although all media are to some extent social constructions, many of the comparisons involving new media implicitly refer to artifactual or idealized notions of interpersonal communication. By ‘artifact’ I mean the second definition of the word in Webster’s dictionary, a product of artificial character due to extraneous (as human) agency – here, a particular form of social construction.
We would do far better by studying attributes of media in general, and paradoxes raised by new and familiar media, than by confounding each medium with different sets of specific attributes, and therefore with unidirectionally positive or negative uses and outcomes, ignoring potential paradoxes. By ‘confounding’, I mean it as used in traditional research design: not controlling for two or more distinct influences, so that analysis will misleadingly attribute all differences to one or the other influence, instead of separating out their unique influences.