New media & culture

Too early to judge

New media alter the way in which people experience their lives. Some see this as an improvement, others as a regression. In fact there are no clear arguments on the matter.
Judgement on new media is generally quickly passed. Internet addiction leads to poor social contact, even within individual families. Violent video games make the young people who play them aggressive. Being perpetually in contact or online makes people’s lives constantly stressful. Nevertheless, if new media were exclusively a curse they would not have had such an impact on our lives. They are therefore also a blessing.
image“Just take the way in which in this digital age of ours people maintain their friendships” Professor Philip Brey comments. “Thanks to Facebook, sms networks and everything else they now have wider networks than people of the past. What people really miss with such contacts is the intimacy and the pleasure of doing something together which is the hallmark of true friendship. In that respect Facebook friends are not proper friends. If such networks start to substitute real-life contact with others then that may be termed an impoverishment but such networks can serve to augment existing circles of friends.”
Brey observes that society still lacks a language for the adequate exchanging of arguments of substance. There are comments to be made about digital circles of friends: what is the true significance of this in people’s lives? Proper confusion abounds, for instance between children and adults. According to Brey: “Children are digital natives, they have been raised with internet. From research it emerges that they experience digital media in radically different ways from parents and teachers who are therefore not always certain how to deal with matters. Cyber stalking, cyber bullying, online suicide pacts and the circulating of nude images via mobile telephones require responsible adult guidance but before that can happen parents have to be aware of what their children are being exposed to via these new media phenomena.”
Virtual worlds such as Second Life provide even further digital immersion. “Since, due to technological shortcomings, the observational possibilities are still limited people can only ever build up pseudo relations with beings in the virtual world”, Brey explains. “Yet such contacts can be perceived as extremely valuable.”
Brey applies philosophical, psychological and sociological theories to new media in an endeavour to gain more insight into the significance of all of this. “We at least want to contribute to the public debate by developing a better vocabulary. At the same time we want to help designers “when developing media ” to become better at assessing what kind of an influence their developments will have on the quality of life of users. In concrete terms: we work together with American colleagues on games where collaboration and creativity are important factors.”
It is not therefore sensible to draw conclusions about the value of new media too quickly for the simple reason that most of the time such people do not really know what they are talking about. We still do not understand enough about how such media influence people’s lives and their quality of life.