When I was young you watched television, listened to the radio or read a news paper. Companies identified themselves with the technology of transmission. Television stations, radio stations and newspapers named the technology medium. Today they are all ‘media’ companies. The name changes reflect the nature of digital technology and its ability to readily provide content across multiple technology platforms.
Likewise when I was young you used your camera to take a picture. Pictures were the physical manifestations of the photographic process. I guess technically a picture was a contact print from a negative. When someone had pictures to show you or you wanted to see someone’s pictures they handed you the picture or a picture album. Now its all images as any device with a camera captures information rather than produces a physical product. The term camera itself is changing from a product you buy to a feature on devices ranging from cell phones, MP3 players, toys, etc.
Language is a strong and powerful force. It defines the terms of communication and that shapes our understanding and ability to socialize new ideas. The rise of digital terms like media and image and the re-focusing of their physical counterparts like radio and picture are indicative of change.
The terms media and image reflect the essence of the object they describe. The information that each contain and the focus of our interest and value. WIthout media, a television is a white out blizzard or static. Likewise, without the image a picture is a piece of semi glossy paper.
The terms media and image are not new, they have been uses for as long if not longer than television, radio, newspaper or picture. But they have come to the forefront as digital technology eliminated the 1:1 connection between a image and paper or media and a radio station. Changing emphasis creates a world of many to many relationships as images appear across different media, conveying meaning beyond representation of the information itself.
The ability to take the essence of a thing (the image or media) and representing it across multiple physical instances expands the range of expression, increasing complexity and nuance. All of these are things we see increasing in the digital world as fads, satire and more mainstream concerns all blend competing for attention and resources.
Language will become increasingly important in the digital age. Not so much in terms of its ability to specify things, but rather in its ability to name the essence of things and the object of our interests and concerns. Words like media and image do this in a way that opens the door to creating new combinations by decoupling the digital from the physical. After all if I said that you would read a newspaper by watching it on a television screen you might scratch your head and say — why? But that is technically what you are doing when you view media over a display monitor.
Where else is terminology changing from physical instance to digital essence? And what does that me to how we think, act and creat in a digital future?