[Air-L] (no subject)

Tom Apperley thomas.apperley at une.edu.au
Mon Sep 13 16:17:25 PDT 2010

Hi Danny,

Thanks for your thoughts on polymedia. I'm intrigued, in the sense that
while I recognise its a highly relevant and important area of research, I'm
not quite sure how to use the term apart from demarcating this area to
inquiry. Could you perhaps use 'polymedia' in a sentence or two?

I've been using 'media ecology' to describe the same phenomena (following
Fuller, 2005). I find it useful because as well any addressing the issue of
'many' media it also accounts for how media 'platforms' are connected,
imbricated and embedded to/in each other.

Best wishes,


On Mon, Sep 13, 2010 at 8:55 PM, Daniel <d.miller at ucl.ac.uk> wrote:

> First I wanted to introduce myself, having just joined this list. I have
> been working on internet studies since a book I published with Don Slater,
> The Internet: an Ethnographic Approach (Berg 2000). Most recently I
> completed a book Tales from Facebook, which is coming out with Polity in
> April 2011. More concretely I have included below a cross-posting which
> comes from a blog I have been running for some years with Haidy Geismar of
> NYU at www.materialworldblog.com <http://www.materialworldblog.com/>  a
> few
> of whose postings may interest people on this list.
> In this particular case the posting may be unusual in that the primary
> purpose for posting is to let people know that we have proposed this term
> polymedia for general usage in the hope of creating some semantic
> consistency. But in addition I must admit I would also be interested to
> know
> if there are people on this list who a) see themselves as working
> specifically on this topic of polymedia or b) currently carrying out
> sustained ethnographic work (i.e. a year or more fieldwork) on social
> networking sites?
> Danny Miller
> Mirca Madianou (sociology, Cambridge) and Daniel Miller (anthropology,
> University College London)
> Academics should be very wary of neologisms that most often lead to
> esoteric
> obfuscation and confusion. But occasionally there is an overwhelming
> argument that something in the world has changed beyond recognition and
> beyond the capacity and semantics of language, such that the only effective
> way to clearly convey it is through this strategy. For this reason we make
> no apology for inventing the word 'polymedia'. The basic argument is quite
> simple. Until very recently most people wishing to communicate at a
> distance
> had a limited choice of media, and as a result they had to pay considerable
> attention to the cost and to the constraints imposed by the particular
> media
> they that were available to them for that communication. When transnational
> communication was mainly limited to letters and the sending of
> voice-recorded cassette tapes, then our evidence is that users were very
> conscious of the propensities of the media themselves in shaping their
> communications, as is evident, for example, in the extensive time lag
> between sending and receiving letters.
> In recent times, and for many people around the world this means the last
> year or two, (although we recognise for many other people this is still not
> yet the case) have finally reached a state where there exists a genuine
> proliferation of possibilities when it comes to communication between
> separated persons. Furthermore once the costs of the equipment and payment
> plan is spoken for, such as a computer, the ISP subscription or an annual
> phone plan, then the costs of any individual act communication itself
> becomes largely inconsequential. For almost any reader of this blog, but
> also for a typical school aged individual of a middle class income in
> pretty
> much any town anywhere, there may now exist a choice of mobile phone and
> internet based platforms such as voice calls, texting, email, instant
> messaging (IM), blogs, VOIP with or without webcam, photo and video sharing
> and social networking sites all readily available. New forms such as video
> messaging are on the horizon. We suggest that in such a situation the
> primary concern shifts from an emphasis on the constraints and affordances
> vis a vis a particular medium to an emphasis upon the social and emotional
> consequences of choosing between a plurality of media. The mere situation
> of
> polymedia changes the relationship between communication technology and
> society.
> The word polymedia seems to us more appropriate than alternative terms.
> Multimedia is now established as the term for situations, such as the use
> of
> webcam in videocalling, where several different forms of media are being
> used simultaneously and in direct relationship to each other. It would
> therefore be confusing to use that word for this proliferation of media.
> Polymedia might seem closer to terms such as multi-channel or
> multi-platform. But all such terms are based on an idea of hierarchy within
> media, that assume we can know what is properly a platform or a channel.
> One
> of the other effects of these recent developments is that users do not
> distinguish between such  layering, or hierarchies. Various different
> devices are used in various combinations, so that Skype may be through a
> smartphone, or IM embedded within Facebook. So such terms have become
> themselves a source of confusion rather than clarity. We therefore need a
> term that simply describes this new state of the world, and the prefix
> `poly' from the Greek for many or much, seems entirely appropriate. So we
> do
> not apologise for inventing the word polymedia which we hope will become
> standardised.
> The basis for this development is fieldwork we have carried out in the
> Philippines and Trinidad. The work in the Philippines has concentrated on
> the relationships between mothers working in the UK and their left behind
> children in the Philippines. This will culminate in a forthcoming book,
> Madianou, M. and Miller, D. Technologies of love: migration and the
> polymedia revolution, and associated journal papers. Much of this is
> concerned with the way those at both ends of the communication utilise the
> entire range of possibilities and the parameters of difference in order to
> try and control the nature of that communication, for example to avoid
> argument, allow time to consider a response, express love and feel a sense
> of authenticity to content. Our work in Trinidad provides a comparative
> dimension regarding communication between transnational families in the UK
> and Trinidad and there is also a separate book just focusing on Facebook
> (Miller, D. Tales from Facebook, forthcoming Polity).
> The revelation of polymedia is obviously not simply a response to our own
> work. We can see parallel discussion in a wide range of recent
> publications.
> One such trajectory comes from sustained work on mediation in media studies
> associated with writings by Nick Couldry, Sonia Livingstone, Roger
> Silverstone, Lilie Chouliaraki, Mirca Madianou, Bolter and Grusin and
> others. Then within the more technical studies of media convergence in
> functionality and studies by Broadbent and others on the implications of
> this within family communication. The first proper and extremely helpful
> textbook in this area was recently published as Personal Connections in the
> Digital Age by Nancy Baym (2010) based on research in a number of
> disciplines. She highlights seven key parameters of difference, properties
> that may be shared or make for significant contrasts between each of these
> media. These are: interactivity, temporal structure, social cues, storage,
> replicabilty, reach and mobility. She then employs these parameters of
> difference to consider a wide range of facets of human communication
> including the degree to which we see media as more or less authentic in
> comparison to face-to-face interaction, the sense of community, identity,
> gender, veracity and the self.
> In contrast to this wide-angle view is the tight focus of a recently
> published book The Breakup 2.0 by the anthropologist Illana Gershon (2010).
> By examining which media people employ when breaking up a relationship,
> Gershon provides considerable and persuasive documentation of how people
> mistakenly presume what their partners intend by such choices and the
> various misunderstandings that follow. Chapter three of her book is a
> particularly good example of this perspective on the multiplicity of
> contemporary media. Gershon brings her own analytical terms to the table
> such as `idioms of practice' based on `media ideologies'. Her informants
> can
> be outraged almost as much by someone dumping them through an
> inappropriate,
> what they see as inhuman media, as the fact that they are being dumped.
> In our own research we are as impressed by the speed at which normativity
> and standardisation of expectation can form around new media, as Gershon is
> impressed by continued heterogeneity. Within a few months many people seem
> to have clear ideas about the implications of some new iteration of
> Facebook, or a combination of skype and webcam. In fact both these
> processes
> are important aspects of polymedia. What we would argue all these research
> has in common is this sense that the proliferation of new media and the
> movement of costs from foreground to background, as they become less
> prohibitive constitutes an unprecedented media ecology which also makes the
> social and moral aspects of media choice increasingly significant at the
> expense of the technological constraints and affordances. For these reasons
> we propose the adoption of a new term - polymedia.
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Thomas Apperley, PhD
Lecturer in Media Studies
Higher Degree Research Coordinator
School of Arts
University of New England

Author of *Gaming Rhythms: Play and Counterplay from the Situated to the
Global*. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.

<http://www.networkcultures.org/_uploads/TOD%236%20total%20def.pdf> (click
on image to download)

Editor Digital Culture & Education<http://www.digitalcultureandeducation.com>

Guest Editor (with Michael Dieter) Fibreculture

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