Arthur N. Rupe Professor in the Social Effects of Mass Communication and Co-Director of the Center for Film, Television and New Media, UC Santa Barbara
Research Sample: Excerpt from “What’s New about New Media? Artifacts and Paradoxes,” New Media and Society 1999, 1(1): 24-32:
I group some possible implications of new media and telecommunications networks for media effects paradigms and research into four areas: Artifacts, Freedoms and Paradoxes, and Inquiries. The general argument consists of two primary propositions: (1) many of the comparisons involving new media implicitly refer to some idealized notion of interpersonal communication; and (2) we would do far better by studying paradoxes raised by new media and multimedia systems—in all domains of new media, including effects—than by emphasizing unidirectional outcomes. As many other have emphasized, what appears to us as a communication medium is not fully determined by technology. Media are of course imbued with the social conventions, expectations, practices, constraints and other influences of their technological, historic, economic, social and cultural times. This is most obvious during the initial development and diffusion of new media, when people try to fit new media into old conventions, or develop new ones. So, for instance, discussions of electronic mail will often be concerned with the development of new norms of address and style.
I would extend this point to include media that are somehow less apparently vulnerable to critics of new media—for example the book. We can note that one major form of urban communication during the middle ages was the cathedral facade and stained glass window, which were forms of public communication campaigns designed to inform, entertain and control the illiterate masses. Note however that literacy was not necessarily the goal of such communication: indeed, one of the points of the Reformation was to distribute the Bible in common English to allow ordinary people access to the content of the Bible and religious teachings without control by the Church in the form of the otherwise inaccessible Latin text. A more recent example is our notion of how books are displayed and accessed, both by themselves and in libraries. Because the content (words and pictures) are conveyed on the physical marker (pages), both reading a book and finding it in library stacks are sequential access procedures. Even browsing the stacks biases how books are associated, by the nature of the sequential cataloging system used to shelve books (Rice, McCreadie & Chang, 2001).* There are, in fact, very few retrieval/access points to both books and their content until they are managed in electronic form (note that traditional video or television programs suffer from the same, perhaps worse, retrieval inaccessibility). Further, books are, after all, also technologies.
Thus, much of what we feel is natural about media is in fact an artifact of a wide variety of components, such as material production, access mechanisms, social conventions, etc.
- Rice, R. E., McCreadie, M., & Chang, S-J. (2001). Accessing and browsing information and communication. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.