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9780029353325: RESEARCH METHODS AND THE NEW MEDIA   COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY A SOCIETY VOL 2 (Free Press Series on Communication Technology and Society)

The "new media" -- interactive videodiscs, telecommunications, computers, VCRs, teletext systems, and more -- present researchers with new challenges when it comes to studying practical applications or theoretical effects. This valuable volume aids researchers in first recognizing the special qualities of interactivity, demassification, and asynchroneity that the new media have created and to instruct professional researchers and students in alternative research methods, multiple methods, and the triangulation of results. For the first time, a variety of methods are examined as they apply to new media research, including mathematical modeling, controlled experiments, quasiexperiments, surveys, longitudinal studies, field studies, archival and secondary research, futures research and forecasting, content analysis, case studies, and focus groups.
Whether the problem to be researched is as focused as considering the cost-benefit for a school wishing to adopt computers in the classroom or as wide-ranging as determining the effects of video games on child socialization, this up-to-date and thorough guide alerts researchers to the pitfalls of traditional methodology and offers a firm foundation upon which they can build reliable, accurate projects able to produce sound results.

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About the Author:

Frederick Williams is Mary Gibbs Jones Centennial Professor at the Center for Research on Communication, Technology & Society of the University of Texas, Austin. He is the author of The New Communications, among other books.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Distinctions in the Study of New Media

The New Media

One mark of communication research of the last twenty or so years has been the growth of interest in the adoption, implementation, and effects of new communication technologies, and in new versions of older technologies. Of course, "technology" itself is not a new concept to human communication. It relates distantly even to those tools our ancestors used to expand their communications beyond their naturally endowed capabilities. The stones our ancestors used to scratch their marks on rocks, the fires they used for signaling, or the sticks they used for counting were all early technologies of a sort. More advanced tools, and more technological inventions, were writing, the printing press, papermaking, the telegraph, photography, the telephone, and broadcasting. Indeed, much of the history of human communication is marked by the "science of the practical" -- that is, the uses of technologies to extend our communication capabilities.

When we refer in this book to the "new media," we mainly mean those media technologies, mostly electronic and digital, that are undergoing expansion in our times. The key technologies underlying the new media include microelectronics, computers, and telecommunications networks. A medium might be as singularly "new" as interactive videodiscs, yet there are many examples where "new" represents an extension of an older medium -- for example, the computer-switched telephone network, the teletext system that uses part of a television signal, and the teleconferencing system that mixes voice, data, and image. Table 1-1 provides a summary of many of the traditional levels of communications and their expansion through new media.

As shown in Table 1-1, the new media facilitate all levels -- from intrapersonal to mass -- of the communication process. Technologies such as microelectronics expand the capabilities of existing communications systems, often making these systems less expensive, more reliable, more portable, and allowing content to be more independent of physical contact than such traditional channels as letters or face-to-face conversations. Computer technologies allow users to process communication by altering the structure of interactions and by editing, storing, and retrieving content. Telecommunications networks allow users in diverse locations to communicate with each other and to expand their social structure to include others whom they had not known before.

These new capabilities allow for changes in human communication behaviors on intra- and inter-personal levels, in groups, organizations, and in mass audience contexts. They raise questions about the potential of new media, about how they are adopted and implemented, what their effects may be in both immediate and long-range contexts, and, above all, about the larger social questions concerning their benefits to humanity. It is therefore important that we expand our capabilities for studying the new media just as the technologies themselves have expanded.

In this first chapter, we discuss major distinctions of new media and associated distinctions of research in this area.

New Media -- Components and Combinations


One major area of development is in the transmission of human messages through telecommunications systems. These technologies are, either singularly or as a part of other systems, contributing to new possibilities for human interaction. Some are newer than others, but all are currently an important part of new media.

Optical transmission systems involve the modulation of light waves as a communications carrier. Two common forms are the highly focused "laser" beams and the optical fibers that serve as communications channels. Optical systems have the potential to be far less expensive than traditional telecommunications systems. They have a large signal capacity and are freer of interference than electrical or electronic systems. Much of the planned expansion of the public switched (telephone) network will use optical fiber technology.

Communications satellites are broadcast relay stations that, because of their position above the earth, can disseminate signals over a wider area than a land-based station. When in an orbit matching the movement of the earth's surface (called a "geosynchronous" orbit), earth stations can easily "lock on" to the satellite and need not incorporate expensive tracking mechanisms. As satellites become able to broadcast increasingly powerful signals, earth stations can be reduced in size, making satellite communication much less expensive and more widely available.

Coaxial cable allows for the simultaneous transmission of many individual messages, including moving video images, which require large bandwidths. Cable is known for its application in the distribution of television signals to homes. However, modern cable has many enhancements; these include two-way or interactive transmission; simultaneous delivery of voice, data, and images; and applications ranging from security systems to remote reading of home electric or gas meters.

Microwave relay systems allow for the line-of-sight transmission of many simultaneous voice, data, and image signals from tower to tower. As a substitute for wired telecommunication systems, these relay stations have greatly reduced the cost of building telecommunications networks.

Cellular mobile telecommunication systems include a network of low-power broadcast grids where every cell has a different frequency so that many callers can share the overall network. As callers travel from one cell to another, their communication channel is automatically shifted to one of the different frequencies.

Local area networks are dedicated communication networks often used to link individuals in a building, buildings in a complex, or the geographically separated units of a single company or organization. These networks typically bypass the local telephone network. A major application is an integrated communication network in modern office buildings, a system sometimes referred to as "shared tenant services."

Value-added common carrier networks use various combinations of the preceding transmission channels to provide reliable, less-expensive telecommunications service. "Value added" refers to the offering of processing capabilities such as storage and forwarding of messages at a later time, least-cost routing, error-checking, and detailed accounting records. A particularly significant characteristic of such networks is their use of packet-switching, which breaks up a message into small packets; sends each one along the fastest, cheapest, or most reliable route; and reassembles the packets at the destination computer.

One of the most important contemporary trends in telecommunications is the digitalization of signals. When in digital form, signals can transfer voice, data, and image information easily in the same network. Digital signals can include their own "routing" instructions. There is a move toward a world standard in digital networks; this standard is called the integrated systems digital network -- ISDN for short.


The computer is as much a communication technology as it is computational in that it facilitates the movement, storage, and reproduction of messages. But whereas communication technologies typically only change the energy form of messages for purposes of transmission, computers can change the messages themselves. In this respect we can think of a computer receiving messages as "programs" to act on other messages as "data." But even more applicable to communication research is that computers are integral parts of most modern telecommunications systems. Some of the world's most sophisticated computers serve as "switches" for major communications networks. Moreover, miniaturized computerlike components enable the operation of most transmission and receiver technologies, ranging from telephones to television sets.

Some contemporary computer concepts and designs are as follows:

Microprocessors integrate all the circuits necessary for the basic computing operation on one miniature medium, which is called a chip. These chips are the basis for computerized functions in various types of equipment, such as those mentioned above. When microprocessors are combined with data input-output and memory devices, the combination represents the essentials of a microcomputer.

Personal computers are the popular models of microcomputers now found in homes, schools, and offices, often selling for under $5,000. Currently, they are single-user-oriented, but they are increasingly being designed for simultaneous multiple users and multiple tasks.

Minicomputers have a greater computation capacity and speed than personal computers, can often run several programs simultaneously, and serve multiple users connected through multiple terminals attached to a local area or value-added network. Minicomputers sell in the $10,000 to $500,000 range.

Mainframe computers are the traditional computers found in large installations and originally affordable only by large businesses, government, and the military. These computers serve many simultaneous users ("time-sharing") and usually cost millions of dollars. Many of the capabilities of the older mainframes are now provided by minicomputers.

Supercomputers are the high-speed mainframe computers originally used for military and scientific purposes but are now coming into wider use in business and design applications. They are the most expensive of the computer types.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the creation of program materials that reflect human intellectual capabilities for learning, reasoning, adapting, guessing, and simulating. AI has led to advances in robotics, vision, language processing, and decision making. Some communications applications include the design of large networks, monitoring communications satellites, engineering design, online information systems that "learn" from a user's prior searches, and motion picture animation.

New Service Applications

Rather than considering specific examples of telecommunications, computing, or combined systems, we often consider new media in terms of a particular type of service. Some examples include the following:

Teleconferencing is a meeting of three or more people in two or more separate locations held via interactive electronic communication. Three main types of teleconferencing are video teleconferencing, audio conferencing, and computer conferencing.

Teletext is an information service that allows individuals to request frames of information for viewing on a home television screen. The frames are transmitted in the vertical blanking interval of a conventional television broadcast signal, and the "lines" of information for teletext are located above the picture visible on the television set. Each of the several hundred frames that are broadcast in an ongoing cycle of broadcasts can be chosen by an individual via a keypad and, after decoding, viewed on a television set.

Videotext is an interactive information service that allows individuals to request frames of information from a central computer for viewing on a video display screen. The number of frames or lines of information is limited only by the capacity of the computer in the videotext system. Videotext requires a request channel (unlike teletext), so it is much more interactive in nature. The most common and accessible form of videotext is the online data-base, containing bibliographic materials, trend data from historical data-bases, full text of articles, the latest news, and much more.

Interactive cable television provides the ability to send text and graphic frames, as well as full video pictures, to home television sets via cable in answer to requests that the viewer enters on a keypad. The diversity of content is potentially unlimited. The cable typically serves as the request channel as well as the conduit for the requested information or programs, although some hybrid systems use telephone lines. The source computer is usually capable of polling and tabulating responses and accepting orders for services or products.

Computer-mediated communication systems consist of a main computer that stores and processes message content; it is connected to users by telecommunications networks. Two main types of computer-mediated communication systems are electronic messaging and computer conferencing (of which computer bulletin boards are a simpler, more nonprofit form). The users of an electronic messaging system typically belong to a single organization. In contrast, the users of a computer conference are often at scattered locations with their terminals linked by a wired network, including those provided by telephone companies.

High-definition television is a system that increases the scanning lines over the current U.S. standard of 525 lines, or the European standard of 625 lines, to up to 2,000 lines. This change provides a much clearer and detailed image. Such images lend themselves to many applications, such as computer-aided-design, instructional and scientific systems, image processing, or simply a high-quality image for home entertainment (including large-screen displays).

Low-powered television allows for television stations with a small broadcasting radii, which would result in more alternative stations. Ideally, this form of television could lead to the development of neighborhood broadcast stations, a trend away from the "mass" orientation of traditional television.

Special Qualities of New Media

Three Dimensions

Although the new media share many characteristics with traditional media, there are distinctions that suggest possible implications for human communication. As the basis for examples, we will briefly discuss three such qualities: interactivity, de-massification, and asynchroneity. These qualities are defined below; their distinctions among traditional communication channels are summarized in Table 1-2.


The degree to which participants in a communication process have control over, and can exchange roles in, their mutual discourse is called interactivity. By mutual discourse, we mean the degree to which a given communication act is based on a prior series of communication acts. Bretz (1983) proposes that a high degree of interactivity implies a third-order dependency: A's response to B depends on B's prior response to A's initial communication acts. By exchange of roles, we mean the ability of individual A to take the position of individual B and thus to perform B's communication acts, and vice versa. In the example of a third-order interaction, both A and B are respondents to the other's communication, so they are fully able to exchange roles. By having control, we mean the extent to which an individual can choose the timing, content, and sequence of a communication act, search out alternative choices, enter co...

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Published by Free Press (1988)
ISBN 10: 0029353327 ISBN 13: 9780029353325
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Book Description Free Press, 1988. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0029353327

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