2 Old to New Media

Social media have evolved through human cultural practices along with technological affordances.

may we have your attention: first social media experiences

Student Content, Fall 2020

At what age should a child have social media?

When we use our phones out in public just to avoid conversing with other people we are not only being very anti-social, but we are practicing civil inattention. Everyone always says it’s teens who use their phones the most, and maybe that’s true, but why is that the case? Is it because we have more social media accounts or more followers? Or is it because we choose to use our phones to distract us from the real world? And what age is too young for a social media presence? I interviewed a Freshman at The University of Arizona to share her first experiences with social media, and got her take on how young is too young.

Amara (a pseudonym) is 18 years old and has an iPhone just like every other college student her age, but the difference between her, and many other of these students is that she didn’t even have a phone until she was 16 in her Sophomore year of high school because her parents were very strict about phones and didn’t want their only child active on social media at such a young age. This was difficult for Amara for a few reasons, the first being she couldn’t contact her parents after school when they needed to pick her up, she couldn’t talk to her friends outside of school, and she always felt very out of the loop.

Amara got to have the childhood experiences her classmates never would. She played outside and did normal kids’ stuff. This is why I believe that parents should wait as long as possible to get their kids phones because kids should enjoy their childhood while it lasts, and then enjoy all the good of social media when they are old enough to appreciate it.

Graphic of the author

About the Author

May Otzen is a student at the University of Arizona. She spends her days watching Netflix and using various social media apps like Instagram, Tik Tok, and Snapchat. She loves spending time with her friends and playing with her cat, Bruce.

Respond to this case study… What age would you consider too young for a social media presence? What, if anything, makes social media more “distracting” for young people compared to other age groups? Describe any unique benefits social media *could* offer, and describe what policy or platform changes might need to happen to make these benefits possible.


It is important to understand the relationships between older media and social media. By older media, I mean the industry-produced form of mass communication available in the US before digital social media became a thing, such as television, radio, newspapers, books, magazines, etc.

Older media can be referred to by other names, such as traditional media. And then there are subcategories of older media: broadcast media are one subcategory of older media, including television and radio, that communicates from one source to many viewers at once. Print media are a paper-based subcategory of older media such as newspapers, books, and magazines, that many users access individually.

Media convergence

New digital media devices inherit many qualities and functions of older media and forms of communication.

Phones in a series growing smaller
Mobile Phone Evolution: The shapes of mobile phones have evolved over time to become less similar to older analog phones.

Here’s an example: When your phone camera snaps a digital photo, it probably makes this sound or something like it. That sound is the sound of a shutter opening and closing. It is a sound that analog (non-digital) cameras have to make in order to function.

Digital cameras don’t have shutters; they function through chips that sense light coming into the lens. So why do so many digital cameras make that shutter sound? Because developers wanted your device to signal to you that the photo was taken, and that sound has become associated with picture taking in our society. Media scholar Henry Jenkins calls this type of blending of old and new media “technological convergence.” (Convergence just means coming together while moving through time.) Technological convergence is one of several types of media convergence that Jenkins writes are crucial to understanding our media world today.

Our technologies are full of convergences with older, traditional media helping us make sense of new media. Some signs of technological convergence go away over time as we become more comfortable with technologies. For example, mobile phones were once shaped more like analog phones, which helped people feel more comfortable calling and talking on them. However, as they gained more entertainment-related affordances, they began to appear more like remote control devices.

The history of communicating with many at once

Traditional media can be limiting when viewed as the only influence on new social media. Think of a famous athlete’s Facebook post seen and raucously responded to by thousands of people. Would that have been possible through traditional media like a paper newspaper or radio broadcast? No. But now imagine it in this ancient amphitheater in Syria (below). That athlete could have shouted an insult at an opponent, and gotten roars of approval and disapproval from the crowd. Spectators may even have gotten into fights with one another. Those types of interactions have a long social history.

The Bosra pano in Syria
The Bosra pano in Syria: This amphitheater from the ancient Roman empire afforded viewership by a large crowd that also interacted with one another.

Humans can communicate to broad and distant audiences using many other means outside of print or broadcast media. These include:

  • Vocalization and voice amplification
  • Staging for visibility
  • Oversize objects
  • Movement and dance repertoires
  • Songs and repetition

Some of these means of communication are very old. But the smartest developers and users of new media let every possible means of communication and visibility inspire their designs and practices.

It is important to recognize that when we use media, we communicate and spread our ways of interacting with these media, not just the content delivered by the media. Theorist Marshall McLuhan referred to this with the phrase, “The medium is the message.”

When developers consider new features, they have to consider what is present in the cultures that will interact with those media. If a feature relies upon brand new methods of interaction, it increases the likelihood that those media will confuse users. See one interesting way people are looking at new gestures developed in the digital age here.

A millennial shift: Web 2.0 as user contributions

It is with traditional media in mind that New York University Journalism professor Jay Rosen wrote The People Formerly Known as the Audience in 2006. He claimed that these people were taking over the media by using social media, and that his statement was their “collective manifesto.” He claimed the people were speaking out to resist “being at the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak.”

Today’s media exist in a different era from the turn of the millennium. Rosen reminds us that broadcasters used to refer to viewers as “eyeballs.” Think about what that metaphor means. An eyeball has only two powers: To look, and to look away. There are plenty of media content creators who still only care about whether or not people are looking. But far more now allow users to “take part, debate, create, communicate, [and] share.” It increases their viewership, for one thing. And whereas the traditional media model involved advertising to the individual, the new model involves persuading the individual to advertise your product to their contacts.

The term Web 2.0 refers to sites that afford user contributions, such as likes and votes. O’Reilly Media coined the term Web 2.0 in 2004; you can read about that here. They were referring to social media sites popping up all over the web at that time. These new sites were different than the static sites of the 1990s and 2000s, the “Web 1.0” era. Web 1.0 sites would provide information or maybe some entertainment, but would not allow user contributions. You might say they were designed for eyeballs only – although creative users found ways to connect on Web 1.0, as we will learn when we learn about the Zapatistas in Chapter 5.

Web 2.0 sites that emerged in the early 2000s offered new capabilities, or affordances, to users. With Web 2.0 affordances, users can weigh in with likes and votes. They can comment or write their own posts. They can upload content, like images and videos. They can connect with others, and offer their own profiles and content to connect to.

Tools of change: Online cultures

The result of Web 2.0 is sites that are shaped by user cultures. Culture is a concept encompassing all the norms, values, and related behaviors that people who have interacted in a social group over time agree on and perpetuate. Think about the Web 2.0-enabled social media spaces you frequent. Perhaps when you spend time on Tumblr, you see that people talk about their emotions, and you talk about your own. Meanwhile, in League of Legends chat you don’t talk about your emotions because you know you will get attacked if you do. On Facebook and LinkedIn, you might wear a high-buttoned shirt, as you have seen is the norm; but you might appear in a robe on Snapchat, or a bikini on Instagram. Culture encompasses how users talk to each other, present themselves for one another, and take cues from and influence each other as they collectively decide what’s in and what’s out.

Software platform developers do influence culture in their user designs. For example, Facebook has its own shirt buttoned up rather high, with its plain white background and limitations on user customization of profiles. Online cultures do take some cues from developers, and users are restricted or guided by their affordances. But users have a lot of agency as they develop and share cultures within these sites.

Case Study: Generations on Social Media

Student Content

My relationship with technology

“Do you think that the generational gap will be smaller between this generation and the next?” I asked my boyfriend, who sat beside me at the table, scrolling through TikTok. We were showing each other our favorite TikToks that we found since the last time we saw each other, which is something we always look forward to.

“What do you mean?”, He glanced up at me from his phone, raising an eyebrow.

“I mean we grew up with technology that our parents didn’t and I feel like that made the generational gap wider, don’t you think?”

He paused for a moment and contemplated the concept, “Maybe.”

I gave him my theory, “I mean ever since we were born we are adapting consistently and incorporating new technologies into our everyday lives.” I say, “Do you think that means that we will continue to adapt to the technologies our children will have and we can experience the same memes and internet culture that they do?”

He shrugged “You have a good point. I think you’re probably correct, but we will know with time.”

This is a conversation I think about a lot when I reflect upon my childhood and my years so far as a young adult. Unlike my parents, I grew up with technology around me. I was a baby who watched The Wiggles on television and played Tetris on my dad’s old blackberry. It evolved into playing Webkinz and Club Penguin, and the kids at school were suddenly talking about making Twitter accounts at grade 5. Twitter was something I wasn’t allowed to have back then. I had an iPod and I played games on it where I gave people cool hairstyles or took care of pet dragons. These are all memories I look upon very fondly.

Then my relationship with technology changed around middle school. I downloaded the social media platform Instagram alongside all my peers and I was playing around with it, posting pictures of my pets. Soon enough, microcelebrities that I would watch on youtube started joining the platform, and soon I was scrolling through posts of these people who I idolized and realized: my body doesn’t look like that.

Soon, while trying to grow my photography account, I was getting sucked into this vortex of people’s selfies where they didn’t have any acne, unlike me; or their bikini pictures where their stomach was completely flat, unlike mine.

I didn’t realize the effect this was having on me until high school where I will admit that I grew resentful of the way my body looks. It took a couple of photography classes for me to realize: most of this, if not all, was due to the magical powers of Adobe Photoshop. I unfollowed all of these Instagram models and instead pushed myself to follow more photography accounts that didn’t make me hate my body.

It took a while for my relationship with social media to heal after that. However, my relationship with technology itself was flourishing. I was learning and creating art through Adobe Photoshop and a DSLR camera. I was using the photography studio at my school daily, and pushing out photos that I was extremely proud of.

Around the time I went into college was when my social media healed enough to start being more active there. Instead of Instagram, which I post on rarely, I chose a more casual platform to me: Twitch. I started, and still continue to, stream every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night.

I met a few online friends through that platform that I love to play, stream, and converse with. Some live a state over, and some live all away across the world in Japan.

I look forward to every Tuesday through Thursday, excited to play Stardew Valley, Uno, Valorant, Call of Duty: Cold War, or any other game that I want to play then; either on my own or with my newfound friends. This schedule has given me something to look forward to and a social life that is fulfilling during the Covid Pandemic.

In the very end, I would say my relationship with tech is rapidly expanding, with learning new things about stream equipment and how to apply them to make my stream more fun for both me and my viewers. I also realize that I am not obligated to join every social media platform and that is perfectly okay. This newfound casualty of Twitch as my main social media platform, alongside all the friends I found through there warm my heart and make me feel less alone. I finally feel like I belong in the digital world.

About the Author

This piece was written by Jaden Fernandez, Student Contributor

Respond to this case study… How has your relationship with social media changed over time? Consider both how you have changed on a personal level and how the technology itself has evolved. Have you swapped platforms? Developed new habits? Found or left communities?


Dominating today: The platform economy

…we are in the middle of a contest to define the contours of what we call the “platform society”: a global conglomerate of all kinds of platforms, which interdependencies are structured by a common set of mechanisms.”

– José Van Dijck and Thomas Poell, Social Media and the Transformation of Public Space. Social Media + Society, July-December 2015: 1.

Human-to-human connection is what social media is supposed to be about. This belief, this hope, was an impetus for this book when I began writing it in 2016. Historically, human-to-human connection was also what the internet itself reached for, at least in the dreams of its creators. This Web 1.0 or the “read-only” web as it would later be called was quite limited in its reach compared to today. And yet…that potentially infinite web of networks was still a wonder, and a site of international connections and information wars (as you’ll see in Chapter 5 with the Zapatistas).

Then what happened? Well on the surface, the web simply became more social. By the early 2000s with Web 2.0 and the “read/write web,” great excitement and euphoria surrounded the participatory cultures that blossomed on Web 2.0 sites. The wonder of the web refracted across our lives, as we marveled at how easily we could connect with one another. This world of connections broadened our human imaginations and expectations in irreversible ways. And many were overjoyed when, by 2009, all this human connection grew teeth – which is to say viability in the form of real currency exchange – with the “sharing economy” that enabled regular folk to share services and goods with one another. Platforms that began as tiny businesses with few assets gained tremendous value as the places to go to socialize online, with family, with customers, with friends, with influencers. The more real or potential network connections we had who used a platform, the more certain we became that we had to use it too. In the platform economy, the more, the merrier. These network effects continue to drive audiences to platforms at dizzying rates, rapidly eclipsing product pipelines and business models that dominated in times past.

Behind the visible connections, all this sociality also marked the beginning of voracious – yet invisible – intermediaries. We were giddily giving up our data in exchange for the peer-to-peer exchange of services, a backroom exchange with implications few would recognize for nearly another decade.

And today? Welcome to the “platform society,” in which we are connected to one another, but only through platforms that derive immense power from and over our human connections.

What are platforms?

I define a platform as follows:

Platform: An ecosystem that connects people and companies while retaining control over the terms of these connections and ownership of connection byproducts such as data.

Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon: These are the major platforms that José Van Dijck argues have defined how society and both public and private life function today. These platforms reach deeply into human lives worldwide, with their publicly understood purposes forming only a fraction of their activities and profits. And rippling from these big four platforms are smaller ones, which emulate their models in various ways. These platforms and their stakeholders transform not just what we buy and enjoy but what we need to live and thrive: how we educate, how we govern and are governed, and how we structure our societies.

The impact of globally operating platforms on local and state economies and cultures is immense, as they force all societal actors—including the mass media, civil society organizations, and state institutions—to reconsider and recalibrate their position in public space. (Van Dijk and Poell, 1.)

Platforms have a profound effect on how societal life is organized. Airbnb has changed not just the hospitality sector, but also neighborhood dynamics and social life. Uber has not only affected the taxi industry; it has affected the construction of roads and public transportation services. We do not yet vote through platforms, yet they have had irreversible effects on our elections. Today almost every sector of public life has become platformized: Higher Education. News and Journalism. Fitness and Health. Hospitality. Transportation. And in these platforms, transactions that are visible to consumers are undergirded by other transactions in which consumers become unwitting producers, their data a form of currency that subsidizes the transactions the chose to engage in in the first place.

Future directions in the online world

With so much human activity and cultural expression enabled in Web 2.0, what is Web 3.0? Look this up on the web and you will find no shortage of responses. There is no consensus – no agreement among experts or among users. We don’t even know if we are already using Web 3.0, because it is hard to know where Web 2.0 ends.

Surely one valuable perspective on the present and the future of the internet would come from Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the internet in 1989. (It was released to the public in the 1990s; read more of that history here.)

Today Tim Berners-Lee has a new mission – to make sure we really are connected by the internet. He describes what drove him to pursue this mission this way:

“Now people feel very disempowered, because the end result is that they’re telling their computer who their friends are, and who’s in the photographs, and planning things and designing things — and those plans and designs and friendships are sucked up and held by these social networks. And they’re not really social networks, they’re silos.”

The data you create as you move across online spaces is often controlled and owned by those spaces. Berners-Lee is now working to develop new methods of linking data across virtual space without relying upon governments, corporations, or the many others with an interest in controlling that data. You can read more about this new mission in this TechCrunch article.

“Right now we have the worst of both worlds, in which people not only cannot control their data, but also can’t really use it,” Berners-Lee said in the project’s announcement last year. “Our goal is to develop a web architecture that gives users ownership over their data.”

Case Study: Old vs. New Media

Student Content, Fall 2021

My journey with technology

TASL: Music includes Melody 6 and Drums 3 from iVoices Innovation Pack by Gabe Stultz, iVoices Media Lab, CC-BY.

Technology has always fascinated me. It is incredible how quickly I can look up anything I want to with just a quick Google search. It has certainly made research for school-related things much easier. My mom always lets me know how good I have it; how she had to go to the library and read a book to find information I can access in only a few seconds. I’m not sure if I could survive without the internet. How else would I have translated my Spanish homework or looked up how to solve a math problem I’m stuck on. It’s difficult for me to imagine my life without technology. The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is to check my phone; to check my school email, definitely not to scroll through Instagram and watch YouTube. During the summer of 2020 I got a job at a family-owned BBQ restaurant called Word of Mouth Grill as a cashier, server, and sometimes as a cook. I made an amazing potato salad if I do say so myself. The restaurant has an Instagram account where they post aesthetically pleasing pictures of the food they serve. Word of Mouth is an hour and a half away from U of A and I can’t just pop down to visit very often. Yet I must suffer because every day I see pictures of their food. It’s like I can smell the pulled pork through the screen.

In all seriousness though, my life would be so much different without technology and social media. I would have to check a physical newspaper to find out what’s going on in the world instead of simply clicking the apple news app. I feel like I would be uninformed if that were the case. Additionally, I would have fewer news sources to choose from. I would have to subscribe to numerous papers just so I can fact-check them with the other ones I read. Sounds a bit too tedious to me.

I also find the link between video games and socializing compelling. Yes, you hear about people being able to communicate through things like Snapchat, Facebook, and other social media ]platforms, but people often forget that video games are another way of communicating. I’ve met some great friends from being randomly put into Destiny PvP lobbies and I still play and talk with them to this day. Though I sometimes get paired with 10-year-old who think they are better at the game than me… Unfortunately, they are sometimes. I don’t mention it that often because it hurts my ego. Video games have also allowed me to keep in contact with my younger sister. We log on to Minecraft and play together for hours even though we are an hour and a half away from each other. Games are often painted by the media as bad for your health and addictive. While that may be true in some cases, I’ve experienced the positive effects of gaming. Sure, I’ve procrastinated on homework so I can play one more game more than a few times, but I feel that the positive effects of video games greatly outweigh the negatives. Video games have helped me escape the world and clear my mind when I’m feeling stressed or down and have certainly helped me stay in contact with my friends.

I’m still not sure what I want to do with my life yet, but I am sure that I want to explore the wonders of technology more. I believe that we can do so much good with technology and social media if we focus on building the world up instead of trying to use it for selfish purposes.

About the Author

Hi, my name is Tyler Amberg and my pronouns are she/her. I was born and raised in Tempe, Arizona. I love playing lacrosse and skiing. Well, when I have access to snow that is, it’s a bit difficult in the desert. I love movies, old and new, and will binge-watch them for hours with my little sister; who is also my best friend.

Respond to this case study… What affordances do you take for granted? How would your day-to-day life change if a technology you relied upon was no longer available? What might you substitute or repurpose to fill that need?


Core Concepts and Questions

Core Concepts

broadcast media

one subcategory of older media, including television and radio, that communicates from one source to many viewers

print media

a subcategory of older paper-based media such as newspapers, books, and magazines, that many users access individually

technological convergence

blending of old and new media. For example, cellular phones were once shaped more like analog (non-digital) phones

Web 2.0

sites that afford user contributions, such as likes and votes


a concept encompassing all the norms, values, and related behaviors that people who have interacted in a social group over time agree on and perpetuate

net neutrality

a shorthand name for a key set of features that have made the internet what it is today


an ecosystem that connects people and companies while retaining control over the terms of these connections and ownership of connection byproducts such as data

network effects

the more a platform is used, the more likely that platform is where we go to interact with family, or friends, or customers, or all of these. In other words, in the platform economy, the more, the merrier

Core Questions

A. Questions for qualitative thought

  1. What are examples of qualities that digital media have inherited from traditional media other than those discussed here? Try to think of some that don’t make the new media work better.
  2. Can you give an example of a site that allows you to create and share? And then of one that still treats you like little more than “eyeballs”? Explain.
  3. Do you think you are part of “the people formerly known as the audience?” Is it still possible to feel that you are only an audience (not a participant) in the age of social media? Or are there different terms we should use now?
  4. Try to conceptualize a platform that you use. Make it a place, familiar or imaginary. How is it organized? Who is there? How are they behaving?

B. Review: Which is the best answer?


Related Content


Hear It: Air Facebook


Platforms can be difficult to understand and conceptualize. Humor can help; so can illustration, and imagination. Here is how I imagine one platform that’s been significant in my life, but that I find it difficult to leave due to network effects.

Media Attributions



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Humans R Social Media, Winter 2022 Open Textbook Edition Copyright © 2021 by Diana Daly is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book