Social Aspects of New Media Technologies Commentary

Posted: February 24, 2010 in Com 546

The evolution of media-related technologies has resulted in patterns of adoption that can be utilized for future development. In Social Aspects of New Media Technologies authors Williams, Strover, and Grant look critically at why new media technologies are or aren’t adopted.

The most common aspect of adopted media technologies is convenience. The cell phone and the VCR were widely adopted because they resolved problems that other technologies could not. For example the cell phone provided people with the opportunity to make calls when away from home (and not at a pay phone). Likewise, the VCR allowed people to record shows and movies while away from home. In both cases the technologies provided the convenience of portability in a sense that the consumer no longer had to be in the home to utilize the technologies.

Some technologies require mass adoption before they can be utilized. In Social Aspects the authors discuss the fact that e-mail and facsimiles would only be successful if they were adopted on the scale of “critical mass” meaning that enough people were using them to make it an effective means for two-way communication. It reminds me of a discussion I had with a good friend of mine about text messaging. My friend is an “old school” adopter and didn’t have text messaging until this past month. Well two months ago a mutual friend had texted her to go to a concert. Unfortunately, the text was never received and my friend missed the concert. The technology was of no use because it was not being used by both parties. The same was true with the evolution of email and fax, if it was not adopted on a wide scale the technologies would have failed.

Similarly, we are seeing the evolution and adoption of social media technologies at a rapid rate. I believe that a main reason for this is that it is becoming so widespread it is almost impossible NOT to get involved. Markets are utilizing these technologies to communicate with their consumers, and consumers are using them to communicate with eachother. When meeting someone it is now not uncommon to be asked if you have a Facebook page. If you don’t, you’re almost an inconvenience for those who choose that media outlet as their means for communication. At the same time, if a majority of consumers refused to use social media technologies they would fail just like the cell phone and fax.

While convenience is a main driver in the adoption of new media technologies, there can be some emotional attachment to these technologies as well. In Social Aspects researchers conducted a study to see why people watched TV. Some consumers were ritualistic meaning they watched the same shows every week at the same time. The TV became a constant in their lives, something they could rely on. Others turned to the TV as a companion of sorts, and would select programming in accordance with their mood.

I think that the emotional connection to new media technologies is what makes them sustainable over time. For example, the cell phone has provided people with the opportunity to stay connected with friends and family, therefore it has become an essential piece of their emotional state. Likewise, email and other forms of online communication do the same thing-they make people feel connected to the ‘outside world’ and facilitate emotional connections. In my analysis, it seems like mass adoption occurs when the technology solves a problem, promotes convenience, and allows for use that can be emotionally stimulating.

 Grant, A., Strover, S. & Williams, F. (1994). Social Aspects of New Media Technologies. In Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research (Chp. 16 pp. 436-482). Austin: The University of Texas. Retrieved from University of Washington EReserve.

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