This document is designed to sketch the major theories and critical issues surrounding digital media as a field of study within the larger field of Cultural Studies. Digital media theory examines the interplay between media, culture, and technology within their historical, economic, social, and political frameworks. This field has been described as a “history of newness”1 and is often taught under the heading New Media. Though new media and digital media are used almost interchangeably in the current literature, it is my intention to focus on the digital aspects of media to give a concentrated analysis on those parts of media that are digitally produced and distributed. Whereas a new media field requires an in-depth historical analysis of mass communication technology from the past 500 years covering the printing press, photography, film and other technologies, I have sought to narrow the focus to the past three decades surrounding the emergence of personal computers and networked communication platforms. Therefore, this document treats digital media as a subset of new media, simply the latest of many new media. David Silver places the start of a digital media field in 1995 when anthologies and readers covering communications technology and new media begin to be published on the academic market. He points to the early work of Manuel Castells, William Gibson, Donna Haraway, Kate Hayles, Lisa Nakamura, Howard Rheingold, Sherry Turkle and others in shaping early discussions on digital media.2 Though technology is irrevocably connected to media, critical digital media is not solely defined by technology, but as Martin Lister et al. explain in the introduction to their New Media: A Critical Introduction, “the emergence of ‘new media’ as some kind of epoch-making phenomena, was, and still is, seen as part of a much larger landscape of social, technological and cultural change; in short, as part of a new technoculture.”3 Otherwise the genesis for this field might be technological breakthrough such as the Gutenberg press, or the Daguerreotype, or even Babbage’s Analytical Engine as an entry point into this field… Download to read more
1. Martin Lister, New Media: A Critical Introduction, 2nd ed (Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, N.Y: Routledge, 2009), 3.
2. David Silver, “Internet/Cyberculture/ Digital Culture/New Media/ Fill-in-the-Blank Studies,” New Media & Society 6, no. 1 (February 1, 2004): 55–64, doi:10.1177/1461444804039915.
3. Lister, New Media: A Critical Introduction, 11.