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New media and cultural identity.


New media and cultural identity are the issues which are of utmost importance. It is because of new media, the dimensions of political, economic and social concerns have undergone a visible and prominent change. In the process of cultural change, innovation plays a special role. The roots are changing, the process is continuous, yet the fusion of newer concepts and ideas regenerate newer forms of creative expressions to do away with the older ones which get degenerated. The essence of creative existence manifests in many forms.

It is like a tree which unfolds in every season to erupt, to grow, to deliver, and in doing so it withstands the adverse conditions. The innovation results in evolution. The degree of evolution depends on the capacity of acceptance by the society and its sense of cultural identity and self-usage.

Communication, technological and cultural contexts operate simultaneously in information society. Every change raises anxious voices. New media is the catalyst for the evolving trends in the society. New media/internet which is now considered an extension of everyday life and a tool of cultural change is being accepted in the world where ideas need to be in a process of flow and dynamism. It is interesting to know that the medium which was designed as a necessity for military use, impervious to nuclear war has become an open global forum for vox populi.

The research questions and concerns in relation to the topic under study remain:

* The concerns regarding diffusion, assimilation and homogenization of culture.

* The nuances involved in cultural changes at the hands of new media.

* The changing dimensions of cultures leading to diffusion causing threat to cultural identities.

* Isn't maintenance of cultural identities essential for the so called cultural diversities introduced by new media?

The topic has been looked into and explained through descriptive and analytical study.

Theoretical Aspects:

The cultural contexts can be identified as- cultural values of elite and masses, the societal values, the media structures, ethics, language etc. Culture emanates from interpretative procedures, myths, stories, typifications, and an array of artifacts that make-up the conceptual ideology of a society. Social impact of information age as pointed by Manuel Castells (1998) is that the global networks of both computers and people are transforming work, business, politics, psychology, romance and entertainment. People think and act in the 'network society'. Culture is defined by Carey as a 'process' which itself is a reflection of the complexity of the phenomenon.

It can be argued though, that " the fantasies and 'ideas' of 'the world' have been there since Plato described in his Timaeus the history of the world; since Aristotle defined the 'world state'; since Francis Bacon distinguished between different world concepts 'global terrestris' and 'globus intellectualis'. It was the idea of a world society as a universe of nature and reasoning, a global arena for public debate during the Enlightenment which has inaugurated modernity. Postmodern thinkers replaced 'reasoning' by 'simulation' and Hegel's term of 'World Spirit' (Weltgiest) by an idea of instant truth created by the media and conveying the image of a shrinking world."

The moon landing, broadcast 'live' worldwide was indeed a large step for mankind simply because the first time Planet Earth was seen as a common habitat, without borders, a blue planet of land masses and oceans. The idea of world seemed to have switched from a metaphysical concept into a material reality, a new relativity within a global whole and triggered by the debates of 'globalization'.

In the diversified paradigm changes of modern, post-modern and late-modern globalization process we see the shift from liberalization to globalization to glocalisation, giving rise to parallel citizenry. Public is no longer the substantial element of a particular nation or a particular political/economic system but has a global public sphere as the space to act upon, giving shape to the concept of 'Vasudhaev Katumbkam' as perceived by Mahatma Gandhi.i.e. the whole world is like a family or 'a global civil society'.

In 'The Gutenberg Galaxy' (1962), McLuhan gives an example of the way different media technologies lead to cultural change. He says the phonetic alphabet shifted the focus from the aural world to the visual, and this meant a shift away from the holistic, mythic consciousness of tribal society to linearity and fragmentation. The effects of electric media according to him give rise to tightly inter-related world with integral consciousness, to which he calls, 'Global Village'.

Other authors who have dealt with this field of study have tried to develop theoretical framework for the classification of the diverse cultural values in the various world cultures. They are Parsons, (1960), Strodtbeck's, (1961) and Coden and Yousef, (1975). Hall' s (1976) classification deals with high context culture and low context culture. All these theorists however believe that cultural values can not be studied in isolation, the context does play an important role.

New Media and Cultural Dimensions:

New media means -new information and communication technologies, mass media/social media and digital mode of delivery of messages. Internet is truly a post-modernist phenomena; it is a non-hierarchised, indeed disorganized, collage. For some, this is a symptom of the scandalous superimposition of fluctuating opinions over reality. For some this state of affairs is O.K. Through the internet we are information soaked and are subject to a sensory overload of images.

Internet, with around 200 million people globally being 'on-line' seems to speed up the messages across all kinds of boundaries. Expanding communication space has given way to global communication processes in which knowledge, values and ethics, aesthetics and lifestyles are being exchanged, hence giving rise to a third culture. Such a generative framework of culture is being shaped into a 'global world culture' by mew media.

The global public sphere is a multi; discursive space, a sphere of mediation. This new type has no center, nor periphery or the agenda setting. Today the new international journalism exists: interactive journalism, type which reacts to another news report on the same issue, clearly biased, not objective reciprocal journalism, reports are transmitted back into the countries of origin, and avoid censorship by airing a topic not via own broadcasting station, showcase journalism, presentation and marketing of regional cultures and places. It has moved to precision journalism, from universalism to particularism.

In this whole process of transformation, innovation, evolution, cultural identity and self usage, it is media which is responsible for the change or shifts of dimensions in every sphere. Today media offers the value judgment about the desirability of superiority of some transmitted elements which determine the direction of change from one corner of the world to the other. According to Smith (1990), "We encounter a form of culture which is tied to no place or period. It is context-less, a true melange of disparate components drawn from everywhere and nowhere, born upon the chariots of the global telecommunication system... There is something equally timeless about the concept of global culture. Widely diffused in space, a global culture is cut-off from any past... it has no history."

Moral Panics:

Another aspect is put forth by (Cohen, 1981) where he talks about 'moral panics' and media. He revealed as to how media represented youth culture in a negative way to create 'folk Devils'. He says, 'moral panic occurs when, a condition episode, person or a group of persons emerge to become a threat to societal values and interests'. With the fast developing technologies and new media the moral panics have become more widespread.

Unless there are strong parameters, values, in the social consciousness, the whole process of continuity of culture may become chaotic. Innovation and creativity lies at the base of new media. Due to the new media, diverse cultures are getting assimilated and diffused and are giving rise to a homogenized culture, the culture which is not confined to any kind of physical barriers. Interactive art technologies have resulted in change of culture, the way it was.

There is always a threat of the essential human element getting lost in the age of technology advancement, which hinders the imagination, creativity, thinking and analytical abilities. According to O'Sullivan et al (1994) "Central to this process has been the emergence of communications technology and information networks which allow for faster, more extensive, interdependent forms of worldwide exchange." The ability of modern technology to combine a huge variety of elements together from different times and places has lead to the complex cultural identities. Due to continual exposure to media and its new communication technologies, it influences the larger number of audience in shortest period of time. New media is engulfing the culture at a very fast rate. It has left human relationships behind. Media today has taken the role of parents, relations and friends. The changing patterns in human relationships can be called as a by-product of the processes of globalization.

Globalization, however is to be understood completely differently from global communication. Globalization means, increased interaction of people, goods, places and capital. It has deeply impacted notions of sovereignty, national identity, class identity and the public sphere. New media has positive as well as negative cultural dimensions.

Cultural Diversity:

Positive dimensions reveal that new media; internet is a tool of development for developing countries. It provides for easy access to any information. It improves horizontal as well as vertical flows of information. It provides a platform for understanding issues with wider view points. It also provides for democratic expressions of individual members of the society. It helps to understand global issues and provokes to look for solutions for the same. Thus the new media enriches the indigenous cultures and provides for the deep cultural roots which adhere to their identities with thicker bounds of cultural threads.

The positive concerns bring people together in a global community. As it is said that we have gone from old media through new media to we media. We together, tackle the 'globals' in order to save the great human cultural population and the planet earth.

The positive dimensions of new media teach the global citizenry to understand other cultures, respect them and adopt good from them and assimilate that into their own cultures. Each culture tells to have a wider plane of understanding. In a wider spectrum, the cultural diversity is maintained.

New media also encompasses an array of negative aspects in it. We are living in the age of virus. There always remains a threat of loss of identity, feeling of insecurity and lot of tension as the public spheres are changing at faster rates. The change is so fast that it is difficult to digest especially it is a major concern for the elders or for the conservatives in the society. They feel there is no direction where the new technologies and new media are taking the youth of today. The new media according to them is aimless as well as directionless. This gives rise to moral panics.

Identity has always been fluid and a subject of change under social, political and economic pressures. The change in the identity can be positive or negative. There are whole range of difficulties and challenges that may arise against the dominant cultures and identities. The identities formed in the cultural experiences which are in contest, give rise to 'identity crises'. The sense of ourselves can be affected by the process injected with global socio-political and cultural change. The complexity of such changes assumes new and different identities laden with supremacy and signification. Also, where the systematic distortion of the culture takes place as a consequence of growth of technology and access to it, it does give rise to moral panics and conflicts between conservatives and modernists. Rabindra Nath Tagore aptly remarked, "All traditional structures of art must have sufficient degree of elasticity to allow it to respond to varied impulses of life, delicate or virile, to grow with its growth, to dance with its rhythm."

Imperial Threats:

The interplay of Media and cultural identity needs a special attention. As is considered especially in developing countries that the forms of imperialism have shifted from political to economic to social and cultural sectors. The fear of dominance of imperialism in one form or the other remains there overshadowing and haunting all other considerations. According to Hamelink (1983), "The process of cultural synchronization implies that the decisions regarding the cultural development of a given country are made in accordance with the interests and needs of a powerful central nation and imposed with subtle but devastating effectiveness without regard for the adaptive necessities of the dependent nation."

Digital/Virtual Culture:

The New media supports the new society which is devoid of physical presence of human element, where interpersonal connectivity is formed through social networking sites. This has lead to a complete shift in social connection patterns of people. The human relationships are moving from collectivism to individualism. The traditional human orientation to neighborhood and small groups and associations has moved to geographically diverse and dispersed social networks. It is giving a new cultural identity to people as 'networked individuals', who form their own new communities. These communities are also based on shared interests as in real communities but there is no companionship and sense of belonging, which is an important element of identity and through which ultimately one draws fulfillment and satisfaction. Hence in networked community culture one actually enters an aura of 'social isolation'.

The ongoing process of comprehensive growth and evolution entails the questions of sufficient conditions for cultural resistance or submission. Only the dominant values will survive (positive or negative), will give rise to the culture which will be extremely positive or extremely negative. Thus extreme polarization would take place. Hence, the end result of the whole process will be the globalized culture either, with all the positive ingredients or with all the negative ingredients. Three will be survival of the fittest.

The big challenge in front of new media is to suppress the negative and promote the positive aspects of the cultures so that it can give rise to global cultural identities laden with all positive and pervasive values. The new media thus, should make all the possible efforts to promote positivity and suppress negativity.

In the process, alternate media culture is being created with informal citizens. The culture is of media consumption. In this media consumption consents are being manufactured and fractured. Commercial interests are the underline forces which control this phenomena media consumption and consumerism, hence as per Frankfurt school, in fact, it is the capitalism which is at it. One area of discomforting but rather noticeable change relates to it. How consumerism trickles down the class hierarchy, across the class divide and across borders through the desire for a particular brand and the attraction for the advertised commodity even if it is not affordable by all. This may be the reason that internet has been identified as a key factor in success of economies world wide.

What we have today is digital culture. Which in reality is virtual culture. This virtual culture is taking the real culture away from the reality. It is giving rise to culturally unaware thinking populations across web worlds, ultimately leading to culture jamming. It has caused a radical shift in the ways in which information is consumed.

Another major aspect of the whole phenomenon is the commodification of culture for commercial gains by the few in the media industry. The commercial variant of communicative relationship does not support the formation of ties of mutual attachment or shared identity or community. New media has introduced internationalization of production and distribution. This in turn is leading to the production of programs for the global audience. In the process very subtly or unknowingly the cultural values get seeped into change the whole outlook of the audiences and give rise to synchronized viewpoints. It presents altogether new representation of the situation where these opinion makers speak on behalf of the masses. It gains strength from both a real shift of social values and for a re-evaluation of popular culture and the probability that there has also been a real culture revolution within the masses, mass media / new media may be responsible. If so, then it shows the enormous inventiveness and power which it has to change the long and deep rooted cultural values and identities.

This approach is calculative and utilitarian on both sides reflecting essential features of the delivery i.e. 'transmission' or 'publicity' only, and not concentrating on the changing of cultural aspects. Thus, the whole concentration on creating and sustaining the commercial environment on its own leads to the erosion of culture.

The mainstream media is reformist, humanist media which is reflected through editorial orientation or can be called as politically conservative. The new media are driven by profits sunk into the severe and fierce competitive environments. It seems, a stew of journalism, entertainment and infotainment has established in what is taken to be real, in an absurd, directionless and irrational manner. It is entering with unimaginable extents into the societies and cultures. It is poking the individual spaces with "a crazy amounts of tabs" on Facebook, MySpace, Flicker, Twitter and YouTube leaving Email far behind.


New media and cultural identity are the concerns for most of the global population today hence, they need to be given full attention, as the threads which bind the cultural identities are being replaced with new- alien, textured, colorful, attractive but weak threads of new media. New media is making its place in the hearts of young generations with the speed of light. It is going to stay and shape the course of future. What we should understand for sure is that, new media needs to be trusted, if it has to be respected. Intelligent regulations are required for this new form of media. The social reality can then be seen as a reality constituted and cultivated on the basis of particular values, a reality on which the value system and the social system are completely interwoven and imbued with the activity of each other. In that way the cultural identities too can be secured. For, if it does not happen, the information storms of the virtual space will perish the inherent cultural identities and values due to loss of direction. These concepts need thorough investigation, insight and fresh point of views, as the cultural identities are mutating at the ever faster rate due to new media's constantly changing and penetrating technologies.


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Correspondence to:

Dr.Charu Lata Singh

D-304, Second Floor,

Sarvodaya Enclave

New Delhi-110017


Charu Lata Singh, VIPS, GGSIP University, Delhi, India
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Author:Singh, Charu Lata
Publication:China Media Research
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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