Past, Present and Future of the Third Media Revolution


Me the Media

Authors: Jaap Bloem, Menno van Doorn, Sander Duivestein

Creative Commons (CC) 2008 VINT - Vision / Inspiration / Navigation / Trends
VINT is Sogeti Group's New Technology Research Institute, founded in 1994 as the VerkenningsInstituut Nieuwe Technologie

All media revolutions are sensational revaluations of the individual and a correspondingly revised form of socialization, but the third one is extra-special. In principle, the new web media enable every literate internet user to escape anonymity. In the meantime, the penetration of the internet and mobile telephony has developed exponentially and the two have become fused together. Rupert Murdoch, the archetypical media tycoon whose enterprises range from Fox television and the Wall Street Journal to MySpace, compares the impact of the third media revolution to the first one, that of the printing press: "To find something comparable, you have to go back 500 years to the printing press, the birth of mass media - which, incidentally, is what really destroyed the old world of kings and aristocracies. Technology is shifting power away from the editors, the publishers, the establishment, the media elite. Now it's the people who are taking control."

From "His Space", Wired Magazine, July 2006

Chapter 1 - Three Great Media Revolutions

Media play a central role in our lives, an observation that, according to the definition of the word, is also literally true. Traditionally, a ‘medium’ is found in the space between sender and receiver. Since there are various ways of communicating across this space (one-to-many, one-to-one, many-to-many, visual, auditive, textual and via their associated devices), it is possible to distinguish different types of ‘media’.

As a result of the internet, the pre-existing media of radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, telephone, etc. are all gathered into a single multimedia environment that is personal and social at the same time. This trend is greatly troublesome to traditional mass media and the organizations that tend to support communications, primarily in such mass-media forms. In the ‘digital Middle Ages’, every medium had its own typical impact, but these distinguishing features have now become fully interwoven on the multimedia internet, forming what has now become a single media mass.

Due to the emergence of this personal and social multimedia internet, experiences of the brand and identity have gained enormously in importance. Phrases such as ‘service at your fingertips’ and ‘the customer is always right’ can now be given new meaning. The first examples of this new development are discernible in the ways that (some) companies engage critical bloggers to help them maintain a competitive edge, while others are involving online customers in innovation and marketing. A similar observation about consumer empowerment was made by the Business 2.0 American innovation magazine and later by Time magazine when it placed ‘You’ at the top spot at the middle and end of 2006.

We shall now briefly consider each of the three great media revolutions in our history, the most epoch-making media events that have occurred since the development of writing 5000 years ago.

The First Media Revolution: type letters and printing press
The newspaper was the final development of the personal media revolution. This revolution resulted from the introduction of type letters and the printing press in Europe and subsequently around the world. Modern printing makes it possible for everyone to be kept informed about the latest developments. In the Wild West, posters clearly indicated the magnitude of the reward for a captured outlaw, for example.

The Second Media Revolution: electronic mass media
In addition to the explosion of newspapers and magazines, radio and television are the major innovations of the mass media age. This second media revolution exposed us to multimedia broadcasts over the airwaves. The resulting forms of communication and socialization combined with print media in a fruitful cross-fertilization.

The Third Media Revolution: web media
Internet, the PC and mobile telephone with camera are characteristic of the present phase of the third media revolution. We are currently living through the transition from the traditional mass media to a single massive (multi)medium in which everyone can personally participate as a ‘prosumer’. For we are now all able to both consume and produce texts, images and audio, using such devices as our mobile telephones, which have developed along with the PC into the most prominent forms of internet hardware. This third media revolution means: even more communication and socialization, as individuals can become personally involved at any moment that they wish. They can also organize themselves into non-traditional associations such as ‘the Best Buy customer’, ‘the housewife’, ‘the New York Times subscriber’, ‘the jazz lover’ or the ‘liberal’.

From Conversations to Metaverse
Weblogs and Wikis were the first successes of the third media revolution, with techniques of conversing accessible everywhere. Thanks to these contemporary web tools, organizations, employees, customers and partners can deal with one another in remote yet much more intimate ways.

We have now grown used to the availability of such tools. At the present moment, the spotlight is much more strongly focused on developments such as Facebook, MySpace and Second Life, all of which generate virtual identities and social structures. In addition to weblogs and wikis, the current experience of the third media revolution primarily revolves around digital contact in social networks and the avatars that ‘physically’ shape our identities in virtual worlds.

In the near future, virtuality will acquire an even higher profile, having an impact even at street level. Our planet will be mapped out three-dimensionally (Virtual Earth) and location-related multimedia information will be available everywhere (Augmented Reality) on mobile phones and on prostheses such as digital glasses. The possibility of our physical reality, the universe around us, soon being part of the new virtu-real metaverse still sounds an awful lot like science fiction, but a transformation like this will simply provide useful supplements to our daily activities.

‘Me’ Means Multiple Identities
The ‘Me’ in ‘Me the Media’ refers to each interactive role-playing media identity used to adorn individuals, brands, organizations, etc., and also the media presences used by other entities such as national museums in responding to information requests made from mobile phones, for example. As a consequence, the notion of identity will become increasingly important in the coming decades. Of course, this is partly an offshoot of concerns about security and authentication but, more importantly, it also results from our physical identity being extended by avatars and self-learning agents (bits of program code that perform certain tasks). This Me-Media development is a logical consequence of the profiles and preferences with which we are already familiar at present.

The coming decades will see a complete mediatization of the world around us. For instance, affordable care for a steadily aging population will be an important driver for the introduction of ‘ambient intelligence’. If necessary, we may be placed under constant wireless observation day and night by means of a control system that we carry both on and in ourselves. A system like this would accelerate the interweaving of IT, nanotechnology, biotechnology and neurotechnology, while raising the integration of media, individuals and identities to a higher level.

Any such development would be rather earth-shaking. The self-defining virtual media space that kept sender and receiver at a respectable distance half a century ago, when the media landscape was dominated by newspapers, magazines, radio and TV, will soon be overpopulated with individuals. Bit by bit, residents will literally begin to ‘live’ in their (multi)media activity, as media interaction comes to define the content of their identity.

We can view this as a consistently implemented variant of the age-old uni-media adage: ‘the writer lives on in his work’. Attaching identity to (intelligent) media productions and, in this way, remaining alive to or at least remembered by future generations is an endeavour that has been practised throughout the centuries. But the impact of media-mass developments will be incomparably much greater. Given unlimited storage and processing capacity in which perceivable software identities will act and interact, the following scenario is not inconceivable.

‘Intelligence from the past will be deliberately retained longer than its mortal originator. It will continue to develop in a sort of hyper-brain. On the one hand, it will be a collective good and, on the other, it will belong to the person or community who deemed it valuable to maintain the intelligence in question, to upgrade it, to link it to and to integrate it with other intelligences, or whatever else that may be the case.’

The scenario fires the imagination and undoubtedly raises a few eyebrows, but one thing is for certain: science-fiction is increasingly becoming reality. The virtu-real hyper-reality of an intelligent metaverse may assume other metamorphoses, as it is unlikely that the future will be limited to what we can imagine today. Still, in the current phase of the third media revolution, it is already possible for us to survey the various directions that the future may take. In that context, it is more than ever the case that ‘The Future Is Now’.

Chapter 2 - Me-Media and ICTainment

The second chapter explains how individuals, brands, organizations, politics, etc. are using web media to represent themselves better and more flamboyantly than ever before. The internet is the site for this great explosion of Me-Media. The web is the third media revolution, following the printing press and the mass media of radio and TV. Previously, we communicated by letter or telephone, and we could reach more people through written epistles or by operating a ham radio set. But the use of mass media has always been restricted to the few: the press, politicians, brands and organizations. Thanks to the web revolution that Me-Media is now undergoing, everyone can make themselves heard through a professional and multimedia vehicle on one large media mass of which the mass media are, to their great dismay, only one element. Modern ICT makes this possible. ICT is currently growing from ICTechnology into ICTainment, the latter now becoming the centre of attention. The combination of web media and ICTainment makes communication so intense and dominant that we, the actors, individuals, brands, organizations, etc. can justifiably be called ‘hyper-egos’. We are hyperlinked and going superactive in a media-fusion reaction that will have far-reaching consequences for the dynamics of our world.

Chapter 3 - Web Media: Business Heart Attack or Pacemaker?

Presenting various examples, Chapter 3 discusses the business impact of the new Me-Media. Transparency and heavy two-way traffic are its common denominators. They turn the traditional relationships involving brands, organizations, politics and public upside down. Open conversations with a human face are now the norm for the media mass on the internet. The anonymous public has come out of the closet, and brands, organizations and politicians must now play the tune in the same key. Ultimately, everyone can profit from the frequent and intimate multimedia contact that Me-Media make possible. Without doubt, the media mass can sometimes cause organizational hearts to palpitate and even drive organizations crazy. But it is a reliable pacemaker for anyone who knows how to communicate on the right wavelength.

Chapter 4 - An Economy of New Conversations

Our economy has always consisted of conversations, but they usually only contained a few wasted words. There was the striking of a bargain, supply and demand, later supplemented by after-sales, customer support, and the helpdesk. Chapter 4 demonstrates that multimedia web conversations propel the traditional economy into a new phase that, in so many words, may be called the ‘conversation economy’. This development was already foreseeable a few years ago, but now something is really being made out of it. Reactive and proactive web conversations not only ensure that clients are more satisfied but that adequate products, services and even laws can be more quickly produced.

Chapter 5 - Electronic Mass Media

Life was completely transformed in the first half of the previous century. Trams and cars gave cities a modern countenance. Trains began to transport us back and forth over large distances. Tanks and aircraft appeared on the battlefield. Radio and TV broadcast news and entertainment, propaganda and advertising, narcissism and conversations. We were dealing with media for the first time, and its impact was enormous. Economics became life itself! The electronic mass media led and shaped the transformation in combination with newspapers and magazines. Segmentation and individualization became a common experience once and for all. In our new ‘global village’, we traded the close ties of the past for hectic multi-tasking and ‘quality time’. On this basis, a digital dematerialization of being began its emergence about 10 years ago. This phenomenon expanded into the mediatization of ourselves, as we ourselves began to be progressively more virtual.

Chapter 6 - Hyper-Egos in Their Social Networking Environment

The scope in which hyper-egos act (hyper-egos being hyperlinked individuals and organizations such as those appearing on Facebook) is so large that it would be impossible to discuss it fully here. We have therefore made a representative selection of such activities, ones that are familiar to everyone. For the sake of historical understanding, however, we begin by focusing on the first mass medium by means of which identity was ‘broadcast’. The figureheads on old Roman coins made it clear to everyone in the Empire who the boss was. Social web networks have made us very familiar with similar ‘mug shots’, at least in a metaphorical sense. They also give shape to our identity and have come to represent a certain value: $15 billion in the case of Facebook. Is such a comparison an over-exaggeration? Then consider that, in terms of ‘residents’, MySpace was the 11th largest country in the world when it was taken over by News Corporation in 2005. At the beginning of 2008, MySpace moved up to fourth place in terms of world population.

The takeover of the MySpace social network by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation touched off an explosion in the development and use of this sort of ego display cases. Not only shared-friends lists but also content-oriented websites such as Digg and are prospering as never before. The popularity of all these social web initiatives has created a greater need for one central location where users can register themselves and combine the possibilities of various social structures. The practice of establishing all types of social digital islands is no longer acceptable. Hyper-egos want to be able to make the best possible use of the infrastructure that, it should be noted, they have themselves built into social networks.

Chapter 7 - The Metaverse: Our New Virtual Universe

Of course, social networks do not exist by themselves. They are an important ingredient of what can be elegantly termed the ‘metaverse’: the digital fulfilment of the physical ‘universe’ in which we live. The qualification ‘meta’ indicates that ‘the metaverse’ is an add-on to ‘the universe’. On the way to a new metaverse, we discover completely new worlds. Consider, for example, a virtual world such as Second Life, along with the mirrored world of Google Earth. The purpose of the metaverse is to digitally expand our physical reality, creating a new virtu-reality that adds socio-economic value to individuals and organizations. Constructors such as Google, IBM, Microsoft, Nokia and many other companies on the user side regard the metaverse as a very serious opportunity. A great deal of money is being poured into it.

Chapter 8 - Disrupted Industries and a Thematic Disruption

It is not surprising that the web multimedia of the third media revolution are disrupting the traditional mass media. To begin with, this is especially the case for newspapers. Because everything is becoming digital, some people predict that printed newspapers will disappear in just a few years. Whatever truth in such prophecy, there is a discernible fusion of newspapers with television, web sites and social networks on the internet. A great deal of news is already freely available on the web. New free local newspapers are managing to stay afloat but are no longer independent. They are part of the pluriform palette of multimedia companies, telecom organizations and publishing conglomerates.
After the newspaper, this chapter will examine the attack of free web initiatives on the bastion of television. This trend seems unstoppable. The YouTube onslaught is what contemporary consumers want and are receiving. The focus then shifts to the music industry. Originally, it looked as if Napster and Kazaa could be successfully beaten off, but peer-to-peer networks are perniciously popping up everywhere. Not just the music business but artists, too, are seeking new ways of directly contacting their fans and distributing their music over the internet.
Attention is then paid to the disruption in the telecom industry. An examination is made of the initiatives that Skype, Apple and Google are parading as technology that will bring down the existing telecom giants. To conclude our survey of the disruptions in various economic sectors brought about by web media, we take stock of the financial sector, in which increasingly more peer-to-peer markets are announcing themselves, placing the margins earned by banks on money markets under growing pressure. The final ‘disruption’ that we discuss here does not involve the upheaval of an economic sector but rather the thematic cultural disruption of organizations by new forms of collaboration and knowledge-sharing enabled by web media such as blogs and wikis.

Chapter 9 - The Development of Virtu-Real Media

The century between 1965 and 2065 is replete with coding, modelling, programming and recombining. This development slowly got off the ground in the 1960s and, after a period of assimilation of the Web 2.0 lifestyle, eventually took flight. Coding, modelling and recombining are now beginning to cross-over into the elements of virtuality that enrich our reality, making it more effective and efficient. At the same time, the future fusion of ICTech and ICTainment with emerging nanotechnology, biotechnology and neurotechnology is visible on the horizon. In the future, consciousness and cognition will no longer have to be contained in mortal shells. The virtual worlds that will ultimately come into existence will not completely coincide with environments such as Second Life. Instead, (multi)mediatization, the new 2.0 lifestyle, and artificial intelligence by means of agents and avatars will create a new personal hyper-reality within the next ten years. In this domain, virtual elements that have been in the pipeline and under preparation for a while will enrich the manner in which we deal with and do business with each other.
Undoubtedly, America and Europe will soon differ in this respect, and these will differ even more from Asia and Africa, which form the two endpoints in the dissemination and acceptance of digital applications. Geocultural, subcultural and also personal differences are and will remain great. This will always be the case.

Chapter 10 - Is Science Fiction Becoming Reality?

Ultimately and, according to experts, much sooner than we think, hyper-individualization will achieve its true fulfilment through the convergence of digital and analogue. This change will be brought about by the fusion of such notions as ‘my physical individual’, ‘media’ and ‘content’. In the present Me-Media age, things are still perhaps being done in a somewhat outmoded manner. All the mediating Me's ? all the ‘I's’ communicating a message, no matter if they are individuals, companies, brands or things ? all are still publicly oriented. In terms of their objectives, the contemporary Me-Media are mostly just fragmented imitations of mass media. The technology of web media just enables them to a reach a public much more easily. At the same time, the new web environment encourages us to be unbelievably fickle.
Web media clearly has a socializing and emancipating effect, but the ultimate consequence of the ‘ubiquitous web’ would seem to be still far away. Towards the end of the next decade, however, we may be looking back at the present as digital prehistory, as developments are happening with amazing speed.
Besides beginning what may be the last pure ICT era, the integration of ICTech and ICTainment with nanotech, biotech and cognition is very close at hand (NBIC).