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Digital Media

Transformations in Human Communication

Edited By Paul Messaris and Lee Humphreys

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.

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Introduction (Paul Messaris)


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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...

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