Digital Media

Transformations in Human Communication

by Paul Messaris (Volume editor) Lee Humphreys (Volume editor)
©2017 Textbook XIV, 380 Pages


The age of digital media has given rise to a new social world. It is a world in which the transmission of information from the few to the many is steadily being supplanted by the multi-directional flow of facts, lies, and ideas. It is a world in which hundreds of millions of people are voluntarily depositing large amounts of personal details in publicly accessible databases. It is a world in which interpersonal relationships are increasingly being conducted in the virtual sphere. Above all, this is a world that seems to be veering off in unpredictable ways from the trends of the immediate past. This book is a probing examination of that world, and of the changes that it has ushered into our lives.
In more than thirty essays by a wide range of scholars, this must-have second edition examines the impact of digital media in six areas – information, persuasion, community, gender and sexuality, surveillance and privacy, and cross-cultural communication – and offers an invaluable guide for students and scholars alike. With one exception, all essays are completely new or revised for this volume.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface (Paul Levinson)
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction (Paul Messaris)
  • Outline of Contents
  • References
  • Part 1: Information
  • Chapter 1: Follow the Beat: The Use of Digital Media for Youth-Oriented News in Uganda (Paul Falzone)
  • Introduction: “The Laptop Saved the Day”
  • Uganda: “Follow the Beat”
  • Digital Curation: “That’s How we Pick the News”
  • Digital Audio: “People Started as Small as That”
  • Digital Video: “I’ll Find Out How These Guys Made This”
  • Digital Editing: “Then It’s a Computer!”
  • Digital Divide: “People on the Ground, Like Ghetto People, They Don’t Have Money”
  • Parabroadcast: “So I’ve Seen There Is a Way Forward Now”
  • Conclusion: “You Really Have Magic”
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 2: Eyewitness Images in the News (Mette Mortensen)
  • Image Abundance versus Visual Icons
  • Media Institutional Ambiguity, Opportunities, and Challenges
  • Participation and Documentation
  • Counterimages: Alternative or Exclusive
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 3: Tagging Depression: Social Media and the Segmentation of Mental Health (Anthony McCosker)
  • The Postdemographic Self and the Segmentation of Experience
  • Segmented Participation: #Tagging Depression on Instagram
  • References
  • Chapter 4: The Myth of Visual Literacy and Digital Natives (Eva Brumberger)
  • Visual Literacy in the Age of Digital Media
  • Visual Literacy and the Digital Native
  • From Myth to Reality
  • References
  • Chapter 5: Learning by Design: Good Video Games as Learning Machines (James Paul Gee)
  • Introduction
  • Learning in Good Games
  • I. Empowered Learners
  • 1. Codesign
  • 2. Customize
  • 3. Identity
  • Manipulation and Distributed Knowledge
  • II. Problem-Solving
  • 5. Well-Order Problems
  • 6. Pleasantly Frustrating
  • 7. Cycles of Expertise
  • 8. Information “On Demand” and “Just in Time”
  • 9. Fish tanks
  • 10. Sandboxes
  • 11. Skills as Strategies
  • III. Understanding
  • 12. System Thinking
  • 13. Meaning as Action and Image
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 6: Digital Media, Information Technology, and the Electric Circuit (Lance Strate)
  • References
  • Part 2: Persuasion
  • Chapter 7: The Impact of Digital Media on Advertising: Five Cultural Dilemmas (Matthew P. McAllister / Stephanie Orme)
  • Dilemma One: Digital Media Winners and Losers
  • Dilemma Two: The Big-Data Commodity Audience
  • Dilemma Three: The Blurring of Ads and Non-Ads
  • Dilemma Four: We Are All Advertisers: Sharing, Liking, and UGC
  • Dilemma Five: Contradictions of Digital Advertising Resistance
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 8: The Role of Product Placement in the Digital Transformation of Persuasive Communication (Cristel Antonia Russell)
  • The Growth of Product Placement: Why?
  • The Product Placement Industry: A Brief Historical Overview
  • Integration of Product Placement in the Arsenal of Marketing Communications
  • How Product Placement Affects Audiences
  • Regulatory Issues: The Limits of Voluntary Codes
  • Opportunities for Edutainment (Education-entertainment)
  • The Public’s Attitudes toward Product Placements in Digital Media
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 9: Interactivity and Its Implications for Understanding Children’s Responses to Online Game Advertising (Haiming Hang)
  • Children’s Vulnerability to Different Types of Online Game Advertising
  • Extant Literature on Children and Online Game Advertising
  • Key Variables Focused
  • Key Theories Used
  • The Construct of Interactivity
  • A Mechanical Perspective
  • A Communication Process Perspective
  • A User Perception Perspective
  • The Essence of Interactivity
  • Interactivity and Its Implications for Research on Online Game Advertising and Children
  • Theoretical Implications
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 10: Changing Campaign Tactics in the Age of Digital Media: Reflecting on a Decade of Presidential Campaigning (Jennifer Stromer-Galley)
  • Strategic Environment
  • Organization
  • Polling
  • Campaign Financing
  • Candidate image
  • News Media
  • Interactivity
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 11: How Digital Media Have Influenced the Visual Element in Advertising (Edward F. McQuarrie / Barbara J. Phillips)
  • Digital Production and Reception of Imagery
  • The Effect of Digital Transmission
  • Summary
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 12: The Proteus Effect and Virtual Doppelgängers: Changes in Appearance and Behavior from the Mediated to the Real World (Bireswar Laha / Jeremy N. Bailenson)
  • Introduction
  • Immersive Virtual Reality as a Tool for Psychology Research
  • Avatars and Agents in VR
  • The Proteus Effect
  • Avatar Attractiveness and Offline Persona
  • Effects of Playing with Hypersexualized Avatars
  • Implicit Priming of Racial and Gender Stereotypes by Avatars
  • Getting Older, and Younger
  • Virtual Doppelgängers
  • Learning by Watching, and Getting Involved
  • Promoting Healthy Lifestyle
  • Watching Out, While Watching Doppelgängers!
  • Conclusion and Future Directions
  • Acknowledgments
  • References
  • Part 3: Community
  • Chapter 13: New Communication Technologies and the Future of Community (Keith N. Hampton)
  • Introduction
  • Communication Technology and Change to the Structure of Community
  • Preindustrial Community
  • Urban-Industrial Community
  • Postindustrial Community, a Network Society, and Networked Individualism
  • Persistent and Pervasive Community
  • Persistent Contact
  • Pervasive Awareness
  • Social Life under the Condition of Persistent-Pervasive Community
  • Social Capital
  • Linked Lives
  • The Cost of Caring
  • Collective Action
  • The Spiral of Silence
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 14: The Death and Life of Great Online Subcultures: The Evolution of Body Modification Ezine (Jessa Lingel)
  • Context: Key Features of BME and IAM
  • Early Platform Values for Communities of Alterity
  • IAM in Decline: Design Lessons
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 15: The Intimacies of Technologies in Sharing Practices Online (Jenny Kennedy)
  • Introduction
  • Intimate Interfaces
  • Accessibility
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 16: Social TV and Depictions of Community on Social Media: Instagram and Eurovision Fandom (Tim Highfield)
  • Introduction
  • Social Television
  • The Eurovision Context
  • #sbseurovision: Social Television and Instagram
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 17: Young Citizens and the Social Life of Politics on Facebook (Kjerstin Thorson)
  • Young Citizens and Political Participation
  • What Is a Good Place for Politics?
  • Facebook as a Setting for Political Interaction
  • Of Rants, Drama, and Provocateurs
  • Social Strategies for Managing Politics on Facebook
  • How Much Politics Is on Your Facebook?
  • Life in a Time of Social Media Politics
  • References
  • Chapter 18: Examining the Impact of Flaming, Message Valence, and Strength of Organizational Identity (Troy Elias / Andrew Reid / Mian Asim)
  • Word-of-Mouth Communication
  • Negative WOM and Negativity Bias
  • Accessibility-Diagnosticity Model
  • Social Identity Theory
  • Strength of Ethnic and Social Identity
  • Salience and Accessibility
  • Effects of Flaming on eWOM
  • Methodology
  • Participants
  • Design
  • Procedure
  • Stimuli
  • Manipulation Check
  • Measurement Instrument
  • Results
  • Attitude Toward the Web Site
  • Attitude Toward the App
  • Attitude Toward the Brand
  • Likelihood of Purchasing the App
  • Discussion
  • Implications
  • Limitations
  • References
  • Part 4: Gender and Sexuality
  • Chapter 19: Research and Recreation of the Self: Social Media’s Role in Facilitating Gender Transition (Shane Mannis)
  • What Is Trans*, and What Does It Mean to Transition (or Not)?
  • Using Social Media to Find Information
  • Using Social Media to Find Connection and Community
  • Using Social Media for Identity Work
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Resources
  • Chapter 20: Beyond Sex and Romance: LGBTQ Representation in Games and the Grand Theft Auto Series (Adrienne Shaw)
  • Grand Theft Auto
  • LGBTQ Characters
  • LGBTQ Ambience
  • Conclusion
  • Gameography
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 21: Mobile Dating and Hookup App Culture (Stefanie Duguay / Jean Burgess / Ben Light)
  • Introduction
  • Hooking Up Has Long Been Mediated
  • Digitally Mediated Dating Today
  • Market Position and Vision for Ideal Use
  • Business Model
  • Governance
  • Technological Arrangements
  • Other Sources of Data
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 22: The Impact of Digital Media on Romance and Marriage (Derek R. Blackwell)
  • Relationship Initiation
  • Online Dating Services
  • Mobile Dating Services
  • Other Avenues for Online Relationship Initiation
  • Relationship Maintenance
  • Connected Presence
  • Lateral Surveillance
  • Changing Boundaries, New Tensions
  • Relationship Dissolution
  • Digital Infidelity
  • Breaking Up
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 23: Porn Audiences Online (Clarissa Smith / Feona Attwood / Martin Barker)
  • Researching Online Audiences; The Pornresearch Project
  • Motivations
  • “I First Came to Porn”: Porn Histories and Careers
  • Sources and Sites
  • How Do You Find Porn?
  • References
  • Part 5: Communication Across Cultures
  • Chapter 24: The Digital Transformation of International Entertainment Flows (Paolo Sigismondi)
  • Evolving Technologies of Entertainment in the Global Media Landscape
  • The 21st-Century Digital Impact on Entertainment Flows: From Atoms to Bits
  • The Possibilities of Streaming Digital Entertainment Content
  • The Global Role of Social Media
  • Conclusion: A Contested International Media Landscape Shaped by Flows and Contra-flows of New and Legacy media
  • References
  • Chapter 25: Music Video and Relations Between Nations in the Digital Sphere (Marwan M. Kraidy)
  • Key Insights from the Music Video Literature
  • Making Love and War: Iraq and “America” in the Wa’d ‘Arqoub Music Video
  • Gender and National Identity in Music Video
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 26: Exploring YouTube’s Impact on International Trade and Tourism: A Case of Korean Pop Music on YouTube (Sehwan Oh, Hyunmi Baek / JoongHo Ahn)
  • Literature Review
  • YouTube and Music Consumption
  • Cultural Proximity and International Trade
  • Media-Induced Tourism
  • Research Methodology
  • Data Collection
  • Analysis Model and Results
  • Discussion and Conclusions
  • References
  • Chapter 27: Media-Induced Transnational Mobility between Japan and Korea: From Hallyu to Traveling and Studying Abroad (Atsushi Takeda)
  • Hallyu-induced Transnational Mobility: Traveling
  • Hallyu-Induced Mobility: Studying Abroad
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 28: What Lies Behind Online Intergroup Contact?: Promoting Positive Emotions (Yair Amichai-Hamburger / Shir Etgar)
  • How to Reduce Prejudice?
  • Online Intergroup Contact
  • Contact and Fear-Based Prejudice
  • How Might One Change This Dynamic?
  • The Suggested Platform: Decreasing Fear Using Online Contact
  • Summary
  • References
  • Chapter 29: Video Games for the Promotion of Positive Attitudes toward Cultural Diversity and Social Integration (Vivian Hsueh Hua Chen)
  • Video Games as Simulated Learning Environments
  • Players’ Cognitive Processing
  • Video Games for Promoting Social Inclusion
  • Empowerment of Underprivileged Groups
  • Increase Intergroup Contact
  • Empathy Building Through Role-Play
  • Conclusion and Future Research
  • References
  • Chapter 30: Propaganda and Persuasion Tactics Used in Islamic State’s Social Media (Jennarose Placitella)
  • Introduction
  • Video 1: “Living in the Caliphate”
  • Video 2: “Inside Halab”
  • Video 3: The Beheading of Alan Henning
  • Illustrating Radicalization
  • Significance of Disseminating Videos Over Social Media
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Secondary Sources
  • Primary Sources
  • Part 6: Surveillance and Privacy
  • Chapter 31: The Panoptic Sort: Looking Back; Looking Forward (Oscar H. Gandy, Jr.)
  • Big Data
  • Machine Learning and Autonomous Agents
  • Algorithmic Assessments
  • Algorithmic Segmentation
  • An Inadequate Regulatory Response
  • References
  • Chapter 32: Consumer Surveillance and Distributive Privacy Harms in the Age of Big Data (Mihaela Popescu / Lemi Baruh)
  • A Taxonomy of Privacy Harms
  • Identification Harms: Risks of Identity Theft, Reidentification, and Sensitive Inferences
  • Discrimination Harms: Inequities in the Distribution of Benefits and Risks of Exclusion
  • Exploitation Harms: Personal Data as Commodity and Risks to the Vulnerable
  • Users have Positions Structurally Weaker in the Marketplace
  • Particular Circumstances Put Users at Disadvantage
  • Users are Unable to Play the Game of Advantage
  • Toward a Collective Approach to Privacy Protection
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 33: No Fats, No Femmes, No Privacy? (Yoel Roth)
  • “It’s just a preference”
  • Contested Ethics
  • Enhancing Platform Boundaries
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 34: Platforms Intervene (Tarleton Gillespie)
  • Tumblr and NSFW Porn Blogging
  • The Challenges of the Checkpoint Approach
  • Accidental Porn
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 35: Public Privacy on Social Media (Lee Humphreys)
  • Literature Review
  • Twitter as a Public Space
  • Civil Inattention as Privateness
  • Collective Privacy
  • Receptivity Framework of Privacy
  • Methods
  • Findings
  • Ongoing Collective Management
  • Eavesdropping
  • The Problem of Civil Inattention Online
  • Hearing Public Privacy
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Contributors
  • Index

| xi →


Paul Levinson

The revolution in digital media continues apace—and, actually, has far exceeded where it was in 2006, when the first edition of this anthology was published.

At the beginning of 2006, Twitter and YouTube had not yet come online, and Facebook was limited to educational institutions. My own essay about the cellphone said nothing about the iPhone, because it would not be released until 2007. Unlike the earlier Internet, in which much of the content was created the traditional way—such as recordings put up by record companies on iTunes and books by traditional publishers on Amazon—the new Internet, or what I have called “new new media,” placed production in the hands of everyone with an Internet connection. The consumer suddenly became, in the act of consumption, a producer as well.

The explosion in apps, produced in homes rather than labs, helped propel this process. And apps have in turn further revolutionized the Internet and our lives. To consider just one example, look at what Uber has done: people with that free app can summon a taxi, without a penny in their pockets, and be apprised of how soon to the minute the cab will arrive. The criticism of the digital world that it is divorcing us from the real world has never been more vividly disproven. The fact is that digital media, exemplified by Uber, are enabling us to better navigate our flesh-and-blood existences, and live more effectively in the physical world.

Not all the essays in this volume are as optimistic about digital media and their impact, and that’s in part because digital media are not all equally beneficial. I’ve used the example of pillows and guns to highlight the double-edged sword that all technology, including the digital, certainly is. A pillow is generally benign and helpful, but in the hands of someone bent on murder can be used to suffocate the victim. Guns are designed to kill, but they can be used to defend and procure food. All technology, ← xi | xii → including digital media, are mostly like knives, which can be used to cut food (good) and people (bad, unless we’re talking about a surgeon).

Still, it’s fair to say that, on balance, our species is better off with technology in general, and with digital media in particular. You’ll see that as you read the essays in this book, and at the same time be given a tour and analysis of some of the possible drawbacks of this revolution still very much not only in progress but accelerating almost daily.

| xiii →


The first edition of Digital Media owes its existence to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, who secured the funds for a conference that led to the publication of the book. We will always be grateful to Professor Jameson for her generosity and her inspiring leadership.

For this second edition of our book, we owe a major debt of gratitude to Mary Savigar, Senior Acquisitions Editor at Peter Lang. Without her steadfast encouragement and discerning guidance, this new edition would never have seen the light of day. It is a pleasure to have this opportunity to thank her. Our interactions with Peter Lang were also facilitated by the efficient assistance of Sophie Appel, Stephen Mazur, and our anonymous copyeditor, to all of whom we wish to express our appreciation and many thanks.

A book project that brings together the work of a large number of authors can succeed only if each author’s contribution meets the needs of the whole. We are profoundly grateful to the wonderful group of people whose scholarship resulted in this book, and who contributed such an informative, thoughtful, and vigorously argued collection of essays and studies.

During the course of this book’s development, our task was made much easier by the congenial environments in which both of us are fortunate to be working. Lee Humphreys would like to acknowledge the support of the Department of Communication at Cornell University and her research assistants Yasmin Alameddine, Rachel Churner, and Aidan Page. Paul Messaris would like to thank Michael Delli Carpini, Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at Penn, who has been an astute and effective steward of the school’s resources for digital media research; Annenberg faculty members Joe Cappella and Bob Hornik, for many stimulating conversations over the span of many years; Annenberg staff members Waldo Aguirre, Kelly Fernandez, Rose Halligan, Marcus Mundy, Joanne Murray, and Deb Porter, for their unfailingly helpful attitudes and their good cheer; and Danny Kim, Messaris’s assistant and Research Fellow, who played a vital role in putting this book together. ← xiii | xiv →

Finally, we are most thankful to our respective spouses, Lee’s husband Jeffrey Niederdeppe and Paul’s wife Carla Sarett, for their patience and support.

This book is dedicated to Larry Gross. During his long (and still active) academic career at the two Annenberg Schools, first at the University of Pennsylvania, then at the University of Southern California, Larry Gross has been a visionary administrator, a scholar who has tackled big questions with wisdom and subtlety, and an amazingly generous teacher and mentor. He has also been a powerful force for the application of honest scholarship to the goal of creating a more inclusive, mutually respectful society. We feel fortunate and privileged to have known and worked with him.

| 1 →


Paul Messaris

The term “digital media” encompasses a dazzlingly wide range of devices and applications, including such seemingly unrelated items as e-mail and virtual reality. Is there any meaningful unity in this variety? As George Dyson points out in his panoramic history of computers and what he calls “the digital universe,” the core event that gave rise to all subsequent developments in digital media was the post-World War II design (by John von Neumann and others) of a computing machine that would combine electronic speed and the binary coding of information (Dyson, 2012, p. 5). Among the many consequences of this merger, two stand out from the perspective of present-day developments in media: first, the application of automation to the process of creating and modifying messages; second, the attainment of control over the accuracy of information transmission, on the basis of Claude Shannon’s mathematical theory of communication (Kurzweil, 2012, pp. xv–xvi).

The use of automation in message production has had some spectacular effects. A prime example is the emergence of photorealistic digital animation in visual media. As far back as the 16th century, artists such as Hans Holbein were able to achieve convincing photorealism in a single picture. However, it took the speed and regularity of digital computers to produce similar results in moving images, and to make those images respond in real time to the commands of videogame players (cf. Cubitt, 2014, pp. 244–245). As for the second consequence of the merger between electronic speed and binary coding, the enhanced control of information transmission has resulted in the exponential expansion of communication networks and has enabled the creation of the networked culture that we associate with digital media today.

The distinction between these two features or aspects of digital media—namely, digital production vs. digital transmission of messages—is a useful way to approach the central question of this book: How has human communication been transformed in tandem with the evolution of digital media? The first edition of this book was published 10 years ago. The scholars and commentators who contributed to that edition devoted much of their attention to transformations in digital production. The book contained chapters on synthesized speech; on photo-manipulation and visual special effects; on the use of ← 1 | 2 → computers in the creation of music; on social robots, room-size digital interfaces, and the simulation of touch in virtual environments. Now, a decade later, little of that emphasis remains in the book’s second edition.

This time around, the collective focus of the book’s contributors has shifted very markedly in the direction of the transmission and sharing of digital messages—i.e., toward the world of communication networks and social media. This shift in focus may seem to be a mere reflection of media history. By the mid-2000s, when this book’s first edition was gestating, some of the most prominent tools for the production of digital media were already well-established entities with a substantial history. For example, Adobe Photoshop was launched in 1990, and music-recording software Pro Tools followed a year later. Both remain at the top of their respective fields. By contrast, today’s most popular social media are relative latecomers. Twitter and the universal version of Facebook both made their debut in 2006, while Instagram did not appear until 2010.

The changes between the first and second edition of this book follow the contours of this timeline, and, in that respect, they can be seen as reflections of the trajectory of technological innovation in digital media. However, they are also responses to the evolving interests and practices of the users of digital media. Given a choice between more powerful digital tools for the production of messages and more effective ways of sharing messages, the broad public tends to prefer the latter. This tendency is perhaps most evident in the case of software and apps related to photography. At present, the most popular smartphone app focused primarily on photography is Instagram. According to Nielsen data, in 2015 Instagram had some 55,413,000 users in the United States, a number that earned it the eighth spot in a list of top smartphone apps (Tops of 2015: Digital, 2015). In common with most image-sharing apps, Instagram makes it possible for users to manipulate pictures as well as share them online. It performs the latter function very efficiently, but, beyond providing a fairly extensive set of visual filters, its utility with regard to photo-manipulation is limited (Peng, 2016).

In contrast to Instagram, Adobe Photoshop Express, the free version of Photoshop, contains a more powerful set of photo-editing tools, but is not yet as effective with regard to photo-sharing. This contrast may be a reason for the finding that Photoshop Express currently has relatively low utilization levels even among smartphone users who already have access to it (Shankland, 2016) and does not appear in recent lists of top 25 mobile apps. The priority that users give to social networking is also evident in the case of Twitter and Vine, both of which have attracted large numbers of users (in the case of Twitter, enough users to vault it into the 14th spot on a comScore list of top mobile apps [Frommer, 2015]), despite the fact that both of them impose severe restrictions on the types of messages that they are equipped to handle.

These observations illustrate one of the central lessons that the history of digital media has taught us—namely, an appreciation of the high value that people place on the ability to bring their thoughts, their lives, their existence to the attention of the wider world—even when that wider world consists of people whom they have never met, with whom they may never interact directly, and whose responses to their online postings may go no further than a re-posting or a simple “like.”

Another way of thinking about this is to consider the price that people are willing to pay for the ability to publicize their identity to the world at large. In return for the opportunity to post their thoughts or pictures online, substantial numbers of people subject themselves to such major risks as loss of employment or even criminal prosecution. This type of behavior can be dismissed as mere recklessness or thought of as addiction (boyd, 2014, pp. 77–99), but it can also be seen as a particularly telling indicator of the significance of social embeddedness in people’s lives. The extensive virtual social sphere that has been brought into existence by digital networks is a response to that collective characteristic of the users of digital media. It is therefore fitting that, with a few notable exceptions (e.g., Kovarik, 2016), when media histories deal with the period that we are going through today, they usually refer to it as the age of the Internet or of social media (Cullen, 2014; Fellow, 2010; Poe, 2011), rather than the ← 2 | 3 → age of instant information, crowdsourcing of the news, video on demand, democratization of media production, or any of the other innovations that digital media have made possible in the production and reception of messages.

As these remarks may make clear, one of the premises of this book is that the technological development of media is shaped by the evolving expectations and requirements of their users, rather than being simply a driver of user behavior. We may speak of the changes that digital media have brought about in our lives, but we do so in the belief that the social consequences of media are what we make of them, not what media do to us. A case in point is a study in which Lelkes, Sood, and Iyengar (2015) investigated the relationship between Internet access and political polarization. The study examined geographic variations in broadband access brought about by differences in states’ right-of-way regulations. Greater access turned out to be associated with increased partisan hostility. In other words, this study found evidence of a causal relationship between the arrival of the Internet in a community and the exacerbation of political differences within that community. However, it is reasonable to assume that this effect did not occur out of the blue. Since the effect was bidirectional, strengthening both liberal and conservative attitudes, it was clearly mediated by people’s preexisting political inclinations. As the study’s authors note, a plausible explanation of the sequence of events that led to this effect is that access to a wider range of online news and opinion increased the likelihood that people would gravitate toward those information sources that reinforced their own previous positions. In short, the effect originated with the users of the new medium, rather than the medium per se.

With these qualifications as a backdrop, this book is an attempt to assess some of the more noteworthy changes that have been taking place in the spheres of communication and culture as digital media evolve and proliferate. The book makes no claims to being an encyclopedic survey of all the ways in which digital media are altering earlier modes of communication. Rather, we have sought to achieve some depth of coverage of a more select group of topics that have received particular attention from communication scholars, and we are fully aware that there is much that we had to leave out.

The book is organized into six sections. The first two sections, labeled “Information” and “Persuasion,” deal with areas that, in an earlier time, would have been considered aspects of “mass communication.” Under the heading of “Information” we examine the news media, on the one hand, and the uses of media in education, on the other. The section on “Persuasion” deals with commercial advertising as well as politics and social influence. The book’s next three sections, “Community,” “Gender and Sexuality,” and “Communication across Cultures,” all deal with the role of digital media in the formation, maintenance, transformation, or disruption of social relationships. Under the heading of “Community,” the book’s contributors take detailed looks at the subtle processes by which online relationships are constituted. The next section, “Gender and Sexuality,” shifts the focus to the interplay between online and direct communication about romance, sex, and identity, while the “Communication across Cultures” section examines the impact of digital media on cross-cultural perceptions and interactions. As Paul Levinson has noted in his preface to this book, the overall approach of these three sections, and especially the one on crossing cultures, is relatively positive or optimistic about the actual or potential influence of digital media. However, this optimism is tempered considerably by the book’s final section, on “Surveillance and Privacy.” Here the book’s contributors discuss the price we all pay, in terms of the surrender of aspects of our autonomy, in exchange for the benefits that we derive from our participation in the world of digital media.

Outline of Contents

Under the general heading of Information, the book’s opening section contains six chapters. The first two deal with the news. One of the most far-reaching changes that the transition to digital news reporting has brought about is a shift in the sources from which people receive their news. According ← 3 | 4 → to a Pew survey, in mid-2015, 41% of US adults got news on Facebook, and 10% did so on Twitter (Lichterman, 2015). At the same time, the process of actually gathering and reporting news is gradually devolving from traditional news organizations to a broader range of citizens equipped with lowcost, high-function cameras, computers, and mobile devices. This process is the topic of Paul Falzone’s description of his work with young Ugandans producing a news program in hip-hop format, and Mette Mortensen’s analysis of the ways in which visual news-gathering and dissemination have been affected by the proliferation of eye-witness images originating outside of the confines of major news institutions. The role of social media as sources of information is particularly prominent in the chapter that follows, in which Anthony McCosker discusses the use of Instagram as a site for users’ reflections about mental health. McCosker pays particular attention to the tagging of content, and to the implications of the hashtag “#depression.”

Regarding the impact of digital media on education, the two chapters that come next address two related questions: Have young people growing up with digital media (“digital natives”) been affected so profoundly as to be unteachable by traditional educational methods (an argument sometimes associated with Prensky, 2011)? On the other hand, might it be possible to use new media as a means of actually improving education? In her response to the first question, Eva Brumberger’s chapter casts a skeptical eye on claims of radical generational changes in students’ intellectual aptitudes, and takes a nuanced look at the concept of young people’s “visual literacy.” The positive educational uses of new media are discussed by James Paul Gee, in a chapter about the design of videogames for teaching purposes. As Gee and others have pointed out (see Reeves & Read, 2009, p. 4), the absorbing nature of games would be an effective stimulus for achievement if it could be adapted to other contexts, such as instruction. Gee’s many publications on this subject (especially Gee, 2007) have been a major influence on educators’ thinking about the characteristics of effective teaching technology, and for that reason his chapter is the only one that we have reprinted, with revisions, from the first edition of this book. The final chapter in this section of the book takes a broader look at information. Lance Strate is one of the founders of the Media Ecology Association, a scholarly community that explores the ways in which the characteristics of media create the framework for human thought and action (Strate, 2006). Strate’s contribution to this volume is a reflective essay on fundamental matters: the nature and function of media, and the meaning of information in the electric age.

The book’s next section deals with persuasive communication. This section’s opening chapter, by Matt McAllister and Stephanie Orme, is a systematic analysis of commercial advertising’s shift from the era of analog media to the digital present. McAllister is a prominent commentator on the cultural implications of advertising (e.g., McAllister & West, 2013). In this chapter, he and his coauthor provide a probing dissection of what the digital shift in advertising is doing to journalism and to our privacy. They also draw attention to two growing trends: the blurring of boundaries between advertising and information or entertainment, and advertisers’ attempts to enlist social media in their cause. These topics are dealt with in further detail in this section’s next three chapters.

The advent of digital media has given audiences a succession of tools for evading advertising, ranging from DVR fast-forwarding to ad blocking. Advertisers have responded by embedding an increasing proportion of their messages in contexts that camouflage their persuasive intent, such as product placement or “native advertising.” This strategy is described by Cristel Russell in her chapter on product placement in television, while Haiming Hang’s chapter on videogame advertising discusses the role of interactivity in enhancing the persuasiveness of “advergames” (games designed for advertising purposes) as well as other forms of product placement in videogames. Aside from enabling ad avoidance, digital media have also posed a potential threat to advertising by making it easier for consumers to broadcast their product evaluations to other potential customers. In response to this challenge, advertisers have sought to harness social media for their own purposes, an attempt that can sometimes blur another kind of boundary, namely, the distinction between genuine and fake user-generated content (Stage ← 4 | 5 → & Andersen, 2012). The relationship between advertisers and social media is one of the concerns of Jennifer Stromer-Galley’s chapter on US Presidential campaign tactics in the digital era.

This section of the book concludes with two chapters, one casting an eye on the past, the other on the future. Edward McQuarrie and Barbara Phillips, researchers who have spent a good part of their careers studying print ads, reflect on their changes that digital media have wrought on our visual environments. Bireswar Laha and Jeremy Bailenson, explorers on the frontier of new developments in digital media technology, provide a succinct overview of the ground-breaking contributions that Bailenson’s lab at Stanford has made to the use of virtual reality in social persuasion (Blaskovich & Bailenson, 2011).

The book’s next three sections deal with various aspects of online social relationships and community. The section that we have labeled Community begins with a major theoretical statement by Keith Hampton. Drawing on his many inventive studies of the role of media in the formation and outcome of social networks (Hampton, Goulet, Rainie, & Purcell, 2011), in this chapter Hampton discusses the consequences of two fundamental features of present-day digital interconnectedness: “persistent contact” and “pervasive awareness.” He argues, perhaps controversially, that these features are reversing modes of life that we associate with late modernity, and renewing aspects of premodern community. In contrast to Hampton’s macroscopic view of the consequences of networked community, the other five chapters in this section of the book are concerned with the finer details of online relationships, and they pay special attention to the ways in which specific platforms facilitate or impede specific forms of communication.

Jessa Lingel launches this discussion by taking us back in time to the online world as it was before the emergence of the familiar social media of the present day. Beginning with an e-zine devoted to body modification, Lingel traces two parallel developments: the creation of a community centered on socially marginalized body practices, but also the evolution of technology that served that community’s growth and eventually took the forms that are in common use in social media today. The two chapters that follow Lingel both provide detailed assessments of the devices and platforms through which online engagement occurs. In Jenny Kennedy’s case, the focus is on the actual materiality of the objects—smartphones, keyboards, etc.—that we employ in our online activities, while Tim Highfield analyzes the difference between visual and verbal social media, with specific reference to Instagram.

This section’s penultimate chapter, by Kjerstin Thorson, is an extended examination of the features that affect young people’s ability to engage in political exchanges on Facebook. The chapter presents findings from a range of surveys that Thorson has conducted on this issue. The conclusions that these data point to will probably leave some readers with a discouraging view of the quality of civic engagement fostered by social media. This section’s final chapter, by Troy Elias, Andrew Reid, and Mian Asim, takes a different tack from the previous four. Here the focus is on one other aspect of online community that has been a recurring focus of public concern, namely, negative commentary that can be perceived as a challenge to a group’s identity. Elias and his coauthors examine this phenomenon in the context of an online purchase decision, and in that respect this chapter can also be seen as an appendix to the book’s Persuasion section.

The book’s section on Gender and Sexuality contains two chapters that deal primarily with the relationship between digital media and gender, and three chapters devoted to studies of online relationships, romance, and sex. The latter part of this section tackles some of the more contentious questions that the world of digital media has given rise to, including concerns about the social impact of hook-up apps and sexually explicit images (e.g., Freeman, 2014; Sales, 2016; Wilson, 2014). This section’s first chapter, by Shane Mannis, discusses the potential contributions of social media to the process of gender transition. One of the oldest premises of academic social psychology is the idea that social identity is constituted by one’s interactions with the social environment (Mead, 1934). Mannis’s chapter gives us an analytical account of trans people’s use of social media for “identity work” as well as the “crowdsourcing” of identity, and the chapter also provides a vivid description of the importance of online ← 5 | 6 → community for members of marginalized groups. The theme of gender identity is explored from a different angle in Andrea Shaw’s chapter on LGBTQ representation in videogames, especially Grand Theft Auto (GTA). Shaw’s study is based on an archive of images dating back to the 1980s, and her analysis of GTA covers the entire span of the game’s two-decade history.

This section’s next two chapters deal with the formation of offline relationships on the basis of online interactions. Stefanie Duguay, Jean Burgess, and Ben Light discuss an issue that many culture critics tend to worry about, namely, the impact of hook-up apps. They urge a more tempered, data-driven approach to this issue and caution against succumbing to the lure of “media panics.” Derek Blackwell shifts the focus of this section to longer term relationships. His chapter examines the processes by which online dating can lead to romance and marriage, and he also pays particular attention to the ways in which digital media can contribute to relationship maintenance. The final chapter in this section of the book deals with the topic of online pornography. Fifty years ago, the only sex act that anyone was likely to witness was one in which he himself, or she herself, was involved directly. Today, as a result of digital networks, people are routinely exposed to images of complete strangers’ sexual activity. How are people’s lives affected by this major transformation of the visual environment? In their chapter on porn audiences, Clarissa Smith, Feona Attwood, and Martin Barker take a dispassionate look at the results of their large-scale survey of people’s motivations for, and responses to, the consumption of online pornography.

The book’s next section takes us from interpersonal relationships to communication and interaction between people of different cultures. This section’s first four chapters revolve around entertainment media as vehicles through which people become exposed to other cultures and may become motivated toward further involvement with those cultures. Paolo Sigismondi’s opening chapter lays the foundations for this part of the book by providing a large-scale overview of how digital media have transformed the “global mediascape.” His description of this transformation builds upon concepts developed in his earlier work (Sigismondi, 2011), in which he discusses the entertainment industry’s increasing adoption of “glocalization,” the combination of global and local cultural features that facilitates the passage of media across cultural boundaries. The blending of cultural elements is explored further in this section’s following chapter, by Marwan Kraidy, who has also written extensively about the phenomenon of cultural “hybridity” (e.g., Kraidy, 2005, 2013). Kraidy’s chapter describes the controversy generated by a music video in which the Iraqi singer Shadha Hassoun portrays a woman who has a relationship with a US soldier. This video, which contains a dense set of references to US culture and to US military presence in Iraq, became the occasion for heated debate (much of it conducted online) about Iraqi national identity and relations with the United States.

Music videos are also the subjects of the next chapter, by Sehwan Oh, Hyunmi Baek, and JoongHo Ahn. This chapter’s broader context is the international influence of the “Korean Wave”—the Korean media that have gained large audiences across multiple cultural boundaries (Messaris, 2016). Drawing on an analysis of viewer comments about Korean YouTube videos, Oh and his coauthors investigate the capacity of those videos to stimulate international interest in Korean culture and Korean products. Another perspective on the Korean Wave is provided by Atsushi Takeda, whose research deals with Japanese viewers’ responses to representations of Korean culture in fictional media. In his chapter for the present volume, Takeda describes research findings on media-inspired travel to Korea by Japanese tourists.

Up to this point, the chapters in this section of the book have all been about the largely unintended consequences of entertainment media. The final three chapters are concerned with the uses of digital media that are explicitly intended to affect relationships between people of different cultures. Yair Amichai-Hamburger and Shir Etgar discuss the theoretical foundations for the design of online spaces that promote mutual understanding across cultures. Vivian Chen describes the use of videogames for the promotion of social inclusion among different segments of a culture, and she discusses the theoretical principles that can be applied to such an endeavor. Jennarose Placitella analyzes the rhetorical strategies of videos disseminated over social media by the Islamic State. ← 6 | 7 →

In the concluding section of this book, on Surveillance and Privacy, five chapters confront what could be considered the half-hidden costs of the things we gain by interacting with the world of digital media, their creators, their users, their overseers, and their exploiters. This is a topic that engages public attention in periodic eruptions of acrimony whenever some particularly newsworthy event—a major database breach or a new revelation about covert monitoring—comes along. Yet it would be hard to claim that these spurts of concern have produced any fundamental changes in the vulnerabilities that they bring to light (Lucas, 2015). Indeed, it has been argued that public conflicts regarding these matters among corporate and governmental entities (as in the case of Apple vs. Federal investigators) may conceal mutual investment in the status quo rather than heralding its transformation (Jenkins, 2016). The first two chapters in this section of the book provide broad overviews of these issues. The next two chapters take a more microscopic look at specific examples of the monitoring of online activity. The final chapter examines one of the ways in which users of networked media respond to potential incursions on their privacy.

Oscar Gandy, the author of this section’s lead chapter, is a pioneer in what has come to be known as the field of surveillance studies (e.g., see Ball, Haggerty, & Lyon, 2012). His book, The Panoptic Sort (Gandy, 1993), an early landmark in the field, set out to investigate the ways in which large corporate organizations make profitable use of the data that individuals generate—willingly or not, wittingly or not—in their everyday transactions with those organizations. In that work and its successors (e.g., Gandy, 2009), Gandy has paid particular attention to the data-fueled, algorithm-driven sorting or categorizing of individuals, and the impact of that sorting on people’s life chances. In his chapter for this book, Gandy gives us a synopsis of his earlier work and proceeds from there to a systematic account of current and likely future trends in the practices of surveillance and their implications. The chapter that follows, by Mihaela Popescu and Lemi Baruh, is also broad in its scope. The authors develop a comprehensive typology of the kinds of potential harms that people are exposed to by virtue of their participation in large-scale digital information networks, and they then argue for an alternative to the current practice of privatizing those risks.

The next two chapters in this section take detailed looks at the monitoring of people’s behavior in the course of their routine interactions on specific social media platforms. Yoel Roth analyzes the workings of Douchebags of Grindr, a blog that publicizes offensive comments in Grindr user profiles. He points out the tension between the functions of community policing, on the one hand, and the risks to users’ privacy, on the other. He also discusses possible techniques for mitigating those tensions. Tarleton Gillespie delves into the intricacies of trying to determine the criteria by which material posted on Tumblr may end up being labeled pornographic. Gillespie’s broader concern, here and in previous work (e.g., Gillespie, 2007, 2014), is with the opacity of the automated processes that circumscribe people’s uses of digital media. As the title of his chapter says, “platforms intervene.” But we, the users of platforms, don’t know how they intervene. The ramifications of Gillespie’s ideas extend well beyond the subjects of this section of the book. His chapter could just as easily have been included in the Information section, since it deals with a form of censorship—or the section on Gender and Sexuality, since the censorship in question involves pornography. This section, and the book as a whole, concludes with a chapter by Lee Humphreys, describing a study of Twitter users’ management of privacy, both their own and that of other users. In a series of interviews, Humphreys’ subjects talk about the types of information about themselves that they avoid disclosing on Twitter, and they describe their reactions to other users’ disclosures of such information.


Ball, K., Haggerty, K., & Lyon, D. (Eds.). (2012). Routledge handbook of surveillance studies. New York, NY: Routledge.

Blaskovich, J., & Bailenson, J. (2011). Infinite reality: The hidden blueprint of our virtual lives. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

boyd, d. (2014). It’s complicated: The social life of networked teens. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Cubitt, S. (2014). The practice of light: A genealogy of visual technologies from prints to pixels. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ← 7 | 8 →

Cullen, J. (2014). A short history of the modern media. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

Dyson, G. (2012). Turing’s cathedral: The origins of the digital universe. London: Allen Lane.

Fellow, A. R. (2010). American media history (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

Freeman, C. (2014, October 16). Hook-up apps are destroying gay youth culture. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/3510261/hook-up-apps-destroying-gay-relationships/

Frommer, D. (2015, August 18). These are the 25 most popular mobile apps in America. Quartz. Retrieved from http://qz.com/481245/these-are-the-25-most-popular-2015-mobile-apps-in-america/

Gandy, O. H., Jr. (1993). The panoptic sort: A political economy of personal information. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Gandy, O. H., Jr. (2009). Coming to terms with chance: Engaging rational discrimination and cumulative disadvantage. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Gee, J. P. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy (2nd ed.). New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Gillespie, T. (2007). Wired shut: Copyright and the shape of digital culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Gillespie, T. (2014). The relevance of algorithms. In T. Gillespie, P. Boczkowski, & K. Foot (Eds.), Media technologies: Essays on communication, materiality, and society (pp. 167–194). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hampton, K., Goulet, L. S., Rainie, L., & Purcell, K. (2011). Social networking sites and our lives: How people’s trust, personal relationships, and civic and political involvement are connected to their use of social networking sites and other technologies. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

Jenkins, H. W., Jr. (2016, January 30–31). The secret behind the “backdoor” debate: The U.S. government and Silicon Valley are engaged in shadow play for the benefit of both. The Wall Street Journal, A11.

Kovarik, B. (2016). Revolutions in communication: Media history from Gutenberg to the digital era (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Bloomsbury.


XIV, 380
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (February)
Computer Digital World Revolution computer media social media
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XIV, 380 pp.

Biographical notes

Paul Messaris (Volume editor) Lee Humphreys (Volume editor)

Paul Messaris (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) is the Lev Kuleshov Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. He has directed several films, and is the author of Visual Literacy: Image, Mind, and Reality, winner of the National Communication Association’s Diamond Anniversary Book Award. Lee Humphreys (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University. She is the author of The Qualified Self: Social Media and the Accounting of Everyday Life (2018) and the Chair of the Communication and Technology Division of the International Communication Association.


Title: Digital Media
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396 pages