December 2007

New media dreams

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New media is a term, that is now seen to represent a group of digital technologies, and the re-organisation of traditional forms of media in their wake. They also bring in their wake a large dose of optimism. Recently Professor William Dutton, in his inaugural lecture, at the Oxford Internet Institute, heralded the emergence of what he calls, the 'Fifth Estate'. He speaks about the coming into being of a realm, which is an alternative to the fourth estate. Citizen journalists, bloggers, researchers, and organisations, are providing an alternative source of  information and reportage.

There has been a growing appreciation of individual attempts to provide texts of social, journalistic, and analytical merit. The recent unfolding of events in Burma is an indication of the power of new media to challenge the hold of major media conglomerates over news-making. The open net initiative report, suggests the extent to which new media can circumvent policing of the media by the government. However, it also suggests the power of surveillance that the state can use to target citizens.

New media also finds extensive application in Education, also allowing for the envisioning a new culture of life-long learning. There are potentialities within new media that can be exploited to make education more inclusive. Accordingly the governments should take cognizance and make sure that the rote is not followed where the benefits of new technologies accrue to a small minority, while the populace in general languishes behind, as has been the case historically. Immediate attention is warranted to the government making available these technologies, and more importantly, the progressive ideas that could steer these to a positive future, from within the state institutions and organisations spread across the country.

Knowledge generated around the world in leading universities, hopefully, would soon be available as free resources. In fact, many leading universities, including recently, The University of California, Berkeley, have already made available, for free, lectures as Podcasts and Webcasts. Public resource platforms are proliferating on the internet. New arrangements like 'shared infrastructure' are mandated to ensure immediate access to a world of opportunities.

New media therefore has implications for politics, democratic practice, intellectual property, censorship, surveillance, freedom of textual production, media critique, and community and individual expression. These are all integral to the project of a more functional democracy. As Gerard Raiti, suggests in his article, included in his issue, ICT4D research needs to take heed of the multidisciplinary aspects of ICTs, including a focus on, and drawing from, the experiences of everyday life, in their complex socio-historical contexts.

It is yet to be seen how the normative predictions on the implications of new media, translate into empirical results on the terra firma.

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