Why study New Media and Cultural Studies?

s200_helen-kelly-holmes“The development of digital and social media has led to profound changes in our cultural practices.  Increasingly, our lives are lived through mediated communication, which makes it even more urgent to examine the relationship between culture, media and communication. People need nothing to talk to each other in ‘real-life’, person-to-person communication, but mediated communication relies on technology. Originally, this was writing, then radio and television, and now it is increasingly the Web and digital technology. This relationship has evolved from the printing press of the 16th Century to the digital technologies and interactive possibilities of the 21st Century. We can see how media, communication, culture and technology are inextricably bound up with each other and the relationship between them is both revolutionary and evolutionary. The revolutionary perspective takes a rather fatalistic or deterministic view of our relationship with technology, seeing humans as slaves to it. In such a scheme, technology is changing us and our culture and communication in fundamental and possibly negative ways. The evolutionary perspective is a more optimistic one and sees technology as working for us as humans, adapting to our needs as they change. Technology thus only provides what we as a culture require when we require it – it evolves because we have evolved. So, in this scheme it is changing culture practices that are changing technology and requiring new means of communication.

‘New Media and Cultural Studies’ focuses on exploring these changes with a combination of cultural studies, new media studies and communication. The term new media refers on the one hand to the media that have emerged in response to technological  change, especially digital technology (so, the internet and social media); and secondly it refers to how traditional media (radio, press and television) can now be used in different ways and come to have different meanings as a result of technological change. The subject explores both of these interrelated dimensions in their cultural contexts. Given the amount of information available to us in today’s ‘always on’ environment, we need to develop critical skills in order to read and write texts for social and digital media. But it’s no longer just writing: more and more of our communication involves other modes of communication, along with writing, so the ability to analyse as well as design and create texts that exploit other modes, for example, visual or animation, is vital.

One of the main challenges in examining the cultural implications of these new developments is their ‘everydayness’ – they are all around us and seem so ordinary, but in fact they offer fascinating insights into how we live today. The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu urged his students to act like Martians in approaching the study of contemporary society and culture – we need to behave like stunned and shocked intergalactic visitors to our planet and question everything, especially the most boring, taken for granted cultural habits, like chatting to friends on social media. If this alien perspective appeals to you, and you are open-minded about where your career might take you, but know that you want to work with communication, then New Media and Cultural Studies is the subject for you.”

Prof Helen Kelly Holmes