New Media is primarily a way for users to expand upon their real-life identities or even construct entirely new identities. There are numerous ways to do this through complex ways such as computer programming, to far more simple means such as engaging in social media. Additionally, everything we create using new media, everything that we are allowed to share with the rest of the world, serves as a reflection of our identity. Rather than being controlled by our constructed identity; however, we need to learn to control it.
In “Personal Dynamic Media” (1977) Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg discuss computer literacy, external media and the connections between different forms of new media. The article begins by addressing that in order to truly own one’s computer, its user must be able to both read and write to become literate and gain mastery (p. 1).
Computers, otherwise known as external media, expand upon thinking because “although thinking goes on in one’s head, external media serve to materialize thoughts and, through feedback, to augment the actual paths the thinking follows” (Kay, 1977, p. 3).
While it can often be difficult to express our thoughts so that they make sense to others, external media allows us to creatively and more accurately share our unique views of the world and in the process, even shift our thinking to newer, perhaps undiscovered areas; thus, shaping our identity. As Kay and Goldberg also point out, mastering one form of medium inevitably leads to thinking about another form of media in a different way (Kay, 1977, p. 3).
“The essence of a medium is very much dependent on the way messages are embedded, changed and viewed” (Kay, 1977, p. 3).
In other words, new media mediums allow its creator to choose how these mediums are shared with the world, to allow others to take them in and understand them as they see fit, and also to permit others to alter them or add to them to reflect their own similar or contrasting views.
Old media, in contrast, is somewhat static in that its creator has already chosen the only means with which it can be viewed, and has failed to give others the ability to see the content in different ways, to alter the content or even add their own thoughts. A printed book, for example, must be read in that exact format, and it cannot be added to or conveniently shared with others.
So what exactly is Identity?
Tony Chalkley (2012) describes identity well: “the (ongoing) construction of one’s sense of self is not concrete or static, but fluid, multiple and constantly changing” (p. 44).
While it can be good that we are so easily able to alter our identity, this also means that it can be easily manipulated by external, societal factors.
Object communication involves how we externally communicate with the world around us, such as the clothing we wear and the associations we give certain objects (Chalkley, 2012, p. 43); for example, a Coach handbag screams status and wealth far more than a generic one. More importantly, object communication is used primarily to achieve a sense of belonging in a group (Chalkley, 2012, p. 43), creating group identity and further further forging our individual identity.
Yet what creates the reasoning behind object communication? One must analyze mass culture in order to discover the myths underlying it.
Myths are much more than mere ways of thinking; however, they “define our perception of certain events, objects or ideas” (Chalkley, 2012, p. 78).
While the qualities associated with that Coach handbag are aspects of object communication, the construction and existence of those qualities themselves is due to myths, cultural and societal ones. Acquiring or not acquiring that handbag shapes other aspects of our lives, not just other purchases.
While external media allows us to control our sense of identity, advertising and marketing both target and mold our sense of identity by selling us objects of communication, and showing us what we cannot live without, or what will add to our sense of self. If we’re not careful, we will find ourselves easily controlled by our own carefully or carelessly crafted identity.
Chalkley helpfully points out the difference between advertising and marketing. Advertising is a broad marketing strategy primarily used by corporations, and uses forms of new media that are able to reach the masses. Marketing is more honed down to reflect strategies used by smaller companies, and targets a specific group rather than the masses (Chalkley, 2012, p. 71).
Chalkley (2012) discusses the below image of a 2006 Lee Jeans advertisement campaign in Australia (p. 95), this particular piece titled “Lolita 9,” to illustrate how advertising and marketing can be used provocatively to arouse interest and controversy, and even result in object communication.
Visit Duet G. on flickr to see the rest of the advertising campaign.
It’s important to keep in mind that new media isn’t for mere purposes of entertainment, though that certainly is a huge part of it. Or even just for acquiring knowledge, another large part of it. Unlike old media, new media allows us to mold our identity however we see fit. We can be anything and everything, far more perhaps than what real life allows us.
While there are downfalls to the fluidity of our identity, such as falling prey to marketing techniques or jumping on the bandwagon and adopting objects of communication, can we truly complain in the long run while we’re shaping who we want ourselves to be?
So let’s perpetuate the myth to keep our identity ever-evolving, to never settle for becoming stagnant, to learn and to change and to grow.
Let us plow ahead and forge our identities, using new media as our guide.
Chalkley, T., et al. (2012). Communication, new media, and everyday life. South Melbourne: Oxford.
Kay, A. and A. Goldberg. (1977). Personal Dynamic Media. IEEE Computer.