In a recent interview by one of our journalism students, I was asked why I thought the new digital communication class, A201 – Digital Communication, is necessary. In typical academic fashion, my first instinct was to turn the question back on the interviewer: Why not? Most of the new forms of communication to emerge in the last decade are enabled by, and experienced through, digital media. Digitally mediated communication, in the form of computers and hand held devices, has certainly expanded the access to media in everyday life. At the same time, evidence suggests that mediated experiences are becoming the dominate, and perhaps even preferred, forms of experience in our culture. As Nicholas Mirzoeff says in An Introduction to Visual Culture,
Modern life takes place on screen… [Media] is not just part of everyday life, it is everyday life.
So maybe we agree that media is pervasive in modern life, but I have yet to answer the main question: Why is a class in digital communication necessary? To be fair, digitally mediated communication is still made up of words and images, just like newspapers, books, and television, so what has changed that this form of communication merits creating a new core requirement in the School of Mass Communication?
I suggest it is not media that has changed, it is the media consumer that has changed. Us. The humble viewer. As David Myers suggests, the relationship of audience to media has become problematic for media producers. We are no longer a society of passive consumers of media content. We are redefining our role. Because of digital technologies, we can be active producers of media content. Not only that, we can distribute our content via the Internet through such digital media channels as YouTube, Flickr, iTunes and so on, or even create our own media channels via a web, wiki, or blog site. This has great democratizing potential, especially for those who know how create and distribute media content themselves. Almost anyone can have a voice in this emerging mediated global conversation. That is the goal I have for the Digital Communications class in the SMC curriculum. By knowing how to use digital media tools to create complex and aesthetically pleasing communication messages, our students can become actively involved, and successful, in these new forms of communication.
The journalist then asked if I am “concerned that the influx of digital technology in the media world will impact students embarking on communications careers in a negative way.” A very reasonable question. The concern seems to be that digital technology may change the Mass Communication disciplines of Journalism, PR, and Advertising for the worst. The key word there is “change,” but in the evolutionary sense. Digital technology won’t eliminate or render inrelevent these professions, but there will be changes to how we currently understand them. Throughout history, new communication media have been seen as a threat to existing ones: film would ruin newspapers, radio would kill film, television would destroy radio. It didn’t happen. Instead, we find that media use is an evolutionary process, so the real question is: How should I prepare for the future in my chosen profession? The future is hard to predict, but the existing SMC curriculum already provides an outstanding foundation for a career in mass communication, no matter how these professions evolve. However, I think it safe to assume that digitally mediated forms of communication are going to be a big part of the changes. This is yet another reason why the new Digital Communications course is necessary.