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Book Review: New New Media by Paul Levinson

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As an experienced media ecologist and communication scholar, Paul Levinson brings to his new book, New New Media, a keen insight into the effects of computer-based communication forms. Levinson documents his encounters with various contemporary forms including blogging, wikis, podcasts, and social networks like Facebook and MySpace. Along with a multitude of examples from actual web experience, Levinson compares and contrasts the “new new” media with traditional media and suggests how widespread adoption of these new forms will affect existing social institutions and attitudes.

Levinson sets the phenomenon of blogging in both an historical and a media ecological context. To properly understand what is happening on the web today, it is necessary to understand the way differing media have influenced information transmittal over human history. Thus the nature of blogging is comprehensible if we understand the pluses and minuses of oral, print, and mass media communication and the impact the various stages of communication development have had on social mores and cultural and political movements.

Levinson distinguishes the “new new” media from previous forms (including the “old” new media) by the relative ease of entry for non-professional content producers and the absence of gatekeepers. Anyone with a keyboard, a monitor, and a web connection can become a movie mogul, a music megastar, a political pundit, an investigative journalist, or a widely-read novelist. If Levinson is right, the various internet based media are dramatically altering our notions of professionalism, consumerism, artistry, and performance.

Expertly conversant on the mechanics of blogging, Levinson presents not just a scholarly survey, but also a how-to for aspiring bloggers. He discusses individual and group blogging, the influence (or lack thereof) of blogging gatekeepers, and the monetization of blogging content. In comparing blogs to books, Levinson provides an easy reference point to which both Millennials and Baby-boomers can relate.

Blogging’s influence on our social institutions is still in the state of becoming. For example, as the traditional print and mass media news outlets decline, the potential of blog-based investigative journalists to fill in the void remains to be seen. Levinson’s discussion of bloggers’ First Amendment rights is on target, and I’m sure would inspire some interesting online discussions.

This very immediacy may be the only shortcoming of Levinson’s book. The relevance of many of Levinson’s examples, while appropriate for this current edition, may quickly pass out of the public sphere, and therefore out of contextual significance. While we may still be talking about the “Obama Girl” during the next election cycle, other references may not be familiar to readers in 2012. This is both a strength and weakness of Levinson’s use of hyper-current examples. The references illustrate his points well, but their possible fleeting nature may be a hindrance in the long term. Things change so fast that each new edition of the book may require significant rewriting, or perhaps a migration from the printed page to a hypertext online wiki edition. This may be unavoidable given the nature of the topic.

Today’s twenty-somethings and younger, members of the so-called “Millennial Generation,” inhabit the world depicted by New New Media. They live in a world where texting, tweeting, blogging, Facebook and MySpace, and a myriad of other social media are taken for granted and become the tools used for their interactions with their peers and the outside world. As a member of the “Baby Boomer” generation, I found myself continually checking out Levinson's references to these various social media on my computer. Levinson is deeply involved in many actual aspects of the “new new” media and documents this in his book. So I have viewed his blog pages, his tweets, listened to some of his podcasts, etc. Though this may seem to non-millenials as an introduction to a disorienting brave new world, Levinson’s down-to-earth discussion of the “new new” media is an effective introduction to the impact of cyberspace structures and institutions on our current media environment.

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  • http://nickleshi.blogspot.com Nick

    Thanks for the review, Robert. I’m reading NEW NEW MEDIA now and will post my own thoughts, but I enjoyed reading your reaction.