by Lisa Gitelman
The phrase “new media” is an element of elite discourse; it is used more often by professors than by anyone else. Taking the titles of books published in English as a rough way to estimate usage, it would seem that new media as such first became a concern among educators in the 1960s. So new media arrived in something of the same fashion as “new math,” as a result of anxieties about American competitiveness that accompanied technological advances amid the Cold War. (The new media in question then were instructional media, like educational broadcasting, filmstrips, transparencies, and language labs.) Anxiety lingers as part of the “new media” formulation in interesting ways, but this history was eventually superseded and forgotten, as the phrase came to refer more certainly in the 1990s to computers, digital networks, and associated technologies. This new usage is evidenced by a flood of publications, which has included such classics as Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s Remediation: Understanding New Media (1999) and Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media (2001). Books like these seek to understand just what is so new about the new media they address. They are classics because scholars and students still learn from them, but the media that seemed so new at the turn of the new century are of course old—or at least older—by now. Newness is a matter of perspective and a moving target.