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Medea and the changing mediascape

By Jonas Löwgren

It has been exactly twelve years since we started bringing media studies and interaction design together at Malmö University. Try to remember what the media were like back then. Be honest. If you are like me, you will find your own recollections quite stunning.

In 1997, the idea of finding and watching more or less any broadcast TV clip on your home computer was inconceivable to the general public. (Now: YouTube.)

Watching a feature film involved going to the cinema or renting a VHS cassette. (Now: TiVo and p2p clients.)

Music was acquired through CD purchase or recording radio broadcasting to cassette tapes. (Now: p2p clients.)

Satisfying the desire to communicate to a mass audience involved either hand-crafting HTML web pages which only a few early WWW adopters would find and read, or somehow making your way into the centrally controlled distribution channels of the mass media. (Now: Blogs.)

Keeping in touch with friends and catching up with old acquaintances entailed phone calls, Christmas cards and going to high-school reunions. (Now: Facebook and Twitter.)

Newspapers were doing fine in terms of advertising volumes, reader loyalty and even subscription figures. (Now: Multimedia web news.)

Capturing high-quality images, sound and video involved carrying dedicated and expensive equipment. (Now: Camera phones.)

Distributing the captured material, again, involved access to centrally controlled distribution channels. (Now: 3G upload.)

In a day when everybody in the Western world takes the new media gadgets and services for granted, it is easy to forget how much the mediascape has changed in a relatively short time. To simplify, the computer is now widely regarded as a medium where we meet and socialize; the traditional mass media actors are generally scrambling to find new positions to adopt; the general public find novelty and amusement at »social media« offerings and TV replay services.

What we note, however, is that much of the “new” amounts to reproduction of established structures and concepts.

A key mission for Medea must be to explore the full communicative potentials of the new media, and particularly the interactivity and participation possibilities that they entail.