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Book Review: New New Media by Paul Levinson

In his book New New Media, Paul Levinson examines the next stage in the ever-evolving communications landscape, providing examples of how even the “new media” that challenged the long reign of “old media” are now being usurped by even newer, more dynamic forms.

I remember one of my university professors showing us Prodigy or one of the other early Internet Service Providers and a bunch of my classmates scratching their heads wondering why anyone would waste their time on such a thing. As we now know, the World Wide Web has revolutionized how people everywhere communicate with each other and share information. The rise of “New Media” in a short span of time has impacted everything from commerce, entertainment, politics, education, social behavior, and on and on down the list through almost every corner of life.

Levinson brings his unique perspective to the topic, not just as a Professor of Communications and Media Studies from my alma mater Fordham University, but more importantly as a practitioner of the online tools he discusses. While some books I’ve seen on the subject involve editors compiling the work of others or writers drawing conclusions from the perceived trends of the public, one of the major strengths of New New Media is that Levinson writes from his own experience, shares his own anecdotes, and delivers his theories based on his own first-hand evidence in a voice that is equal parts scholarly and conversational. He builds on ideas he explored in his previous books, Human Replay: A Theory of the Evolution of Media and The Soft Edge.

In a world that is rapidly changing, where (as he mentions in his preface) students are often outpacing the communications and media curricula at even the most esteemed institutions of higher learning, the only way for instructors to stay relevant and forward thinking is to engage in the same environment that young people have so readily embraced. Levinson has done that, becoming a proficient blogger, social networker, podcaster, and more. New New Media is a fascinating chronicle of what he has discovered in his labyrinthine journey through cyberspace. The prime methodology for his research is “learning by doing” and it should be an exemplar for other communications and media professionals, some of whom, I dare say, are still stuck in their antiquated ways and outdated business models.

The best way to use the book is as a series of case studies of Levinson’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Second Life, and other interactive media. The author provides thought-provoking observations on how the so-called “New New Media” (Levinson’s attempt to name the latest stage compared to “Web 2.0” and other flawed monikers) have radically altered how people generate, consume, share, distribute, and find content of all types.

It would have been helpful if Levinson began his book with a chapter on the key differences between Traditional Media such as print, radio, television, film, etc., and New Media such as Web sites and e-mail. Then his exploration of how the current iteration of “New New Media” takes everything to the next level would have had even more resonance. I would have been interested in reading Levinson’s thoughts on “first generation” New Media like message boards, instant messaging, and chat rooms and how they set the stage and evolved into the “New New Media” of social media, text messaging, and Webcam communication. Nevertheless, Levinson manages to explain how the new tools have enabled average people to regain control of the messages. No longer are the traditional media acting as sole gatekeepers of one-way communication. Now, “New New Media” allow average citizens to become their own publishers, producers, and promoters.

Levinson tackles the positive, groundbreaking advancements that the new technology has to offer but he does not shy away from addressing the big questions that have also arisen regarding copyright infringement, first amendment protection for bloggers compared to old-school journalists, cyber stalking, and more.

As I mentioned before, the book is best viewed as a collection of case studies. Levinson looks at specific brands, like Wikipedia, Facebook, and MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, Second Life, the iPhone, and it is a useful exercise in analyzing their pioneering roles in the “New New Media” marketplace, but it might have made the book a better textbook and primer if he focused a little more on the broader categories into which those brands fit: wikis, social networks, micro-blogs, online digital video sharing sites, virtual reality avatar systems, and smart phones, respectively.

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