Winter 2004-2005

Book Review
The Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and Consequences of ICTs
by Nettrice Gaskins

Handbook of New Media book review
Edited By: Leah A. Lievrouw and Sonia Livingstone
Hardcover: 564 pages
Publisher: SAGE Publications Inc.
© 2002
ISBN: 0 7619 6510 6
Order online

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been around since the early 1970s and social research in this sector has entered a new phase led by the emergence of “new media” – the current technology and cultural industry. Digital convergence or the merging of broadcasting, multimedia or digital media, information systems and computing has had a big impact on new media research in the early part of the 21 st century. The cultural and social implications of recent developments such as broadband/Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) still remain to be seen but scholars and social researchers from all over the world are exploring and examining these new information and communication technologies and their social contexts .

The Handbook of New Media creates a framework for new media or ICTs both internationally and across several disciplines. The book provides a timely report on the current "state of the art" of the field . Here, new media is defined as “information and communication technologies and their associated social contexts, incorporating:

•  The artifacts or devices that enable and extend our ability to communicate;

•  The communication activities or practices we engage in to develop and use these devices; and

•  The social arrangements or organizations that form around the devices and practices.”

The movement to expand the field of new media includes research, definitions, characteristics, and new developments. Rather than focus on specific areas researchers are looking at a broad, not always inclusive, range of contexts, including education, technology design and development, organizing, information systems, policies, and culture.

For example, Douglas Kellner highlights “multiple literacies that are evolving and shifting in response to change and recent developments of ICTs. Along with reading and writing, practitioners and educators need to develop new forms of computer, media and multimedia literacies, including curriculum and training programs. These “multiliteracies” will require new skills and competencies to effectively address the issues and challenges of our contemporary society. Leah Lievrouw explores new media technologies that “develop in dynamic environments where users, designers, manufacturers, investors, regulators, distributors and others work out their interrelated and competing interests…”

What interested me most about The Handbook of New Media was the mixing of technological topics with cultural contexts and issues of social change. I liked that the authors identify the traits or features of new media such as interactivity, time shifting, virtuality, and anonymity and how it is becoming more difficult to distinguish and regulate new media, or ICTs compared to traditional forms. It continues to be a challenge for community technology and media centers to carve out a place in this emerging sector. Practitioners and educators must engage across multiple areas, look across programs and services and levels of expertise to insure that their communities participate fully in an ever more changing and complex world.

Nettrice R. Gaskins teaches at the College of Public and Community Service at UMass Boston, in the Community Media and Technology program.  Nettrice is Secretary of the CTCNet Board of Directors.

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