Twelve years of NMEDIAC:
An introduction to the Winter 2013-14 issue
Jonathan Lillie, Managing Editor
Loyola University Maryland
In January of 2002 the first issue of NMEDIAC, the Journal of New Media and Culture, was published as a peer-reviewed, online, academic journal by a group of University of North Carolina mass communication and media studies doctoral students. We started on this ambitious endeavor in late Spring 2001, inspired by new online-only journals like the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (founded 1995) and M/C, a Journal of Media and Culture (founded 1998), and other scholarly web projects such as the Center for Cyberculture Studies. Our main goal in founding NMEDIAC (which by the way some pronounce like "immediacy", while others pronounce similar to the word, "maniac" n-meedy-ak), was to use the publishing power of the web to give voice to scholarship from across the disciplines that addresses how people engage new media in their lives. Here is how we described the journal's mission in that first issue:
NMEDIAC has adopted the mission of publishing peer-reviewed papers and audiovisual pieces which contextualize encoding/decoding environments and the discourses, ideologies, and human experiences/uses of new media apparatuses. In relation to previous work, NMEDIAC will provide an intellectual canvas where the cultural spaces and experiences of new media are theorized and rigorously explored within both global and local contingencies of the present and past.
A bit wordy perhaps, but it did lay a good foundation for what was to come in the next 12 years of publication. First, it placed NMEDIAC in the tradition of blind peer-reviewed, academic journals. Granted, there have been many valid critiques of this tradition, but part of our mission is to be a venue welcoming to graduate students and new assistant or adjunct professors, and we felt the best way to do this was to follow the tradition of peer-review. We have offered many young scholars their first opportunity to review and edit for a journal, and have encouraged many others to submit articles; and of course young scholars tend to be the ones studying the latest new media or techno subculture. If the research approach, method, or theory is sound and well documented, we prefer to work with authors to revise toward a stronger, journal-worthy paper, rather than rejecting because one reviewer notes a weakness or to push down our acceptance rate. Despite trying hard to be author friendly, our acceptance rate tends to hover around 40 percent.
Another part of our mission has been to provide a venue for multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary work, recognizing that only a small percentage of journals do that. In my introduction to the journal back in 2002, I argued that as cultural and social phenomena, new media technologies need to be explored from many vantage points, including from the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts. Hence NMEDIAC set out to publish work emerging from all disciplines. Willinsky et al. note that "new journals are often about the formation of new disciplines." They cite several interdisciplinary journals started in the 1970s that "made a significant contribution to the academic freedom of scholars working in what was then a new area. The journals, with their interdisciplinary titles, provided a vehicle for work that challenged entrenched disciplinary approaches and boundaries" (p. 605). NMEDIAC aspires to make a similarly important contribution. We have worked hard to push the boundaries of the interdisciplinary exploration of new media and culture, while maintaining the tradition of academic peer review.
We do not aspire or claim to be a top tier journal, but rather a legitimate scholarly journal open to innovative and interesting submissions including, as discussed below, new media artwork. To fulfill this unique mission we have continued to function as an open-access, independent, academic journal (though there have a be more than one inquiry along the way by larger organizations looking to adopt us). Willinsky et al. (2007) argue that the editorial independence of academic journals is an extension of academic freedom essential for the unadulterated flow of ideas and knowledge. NMEDIAC maintains its independence by not being owned or incorporated into any larger organization. We also support open access to new knowledge by publishing scholarship for free on the web. In the last few years, I have seen an increasing number of inquiries from authors asking how much we charge for article submission. Certainly my wallet would be happy if we charged authors. But as an online-only publication, run by volunteers, and supported with free web server space/maintenance by Ibiblio, we have never needed to, or wanted to, charge a fee for submissions. NMEDIAC's editors' and reviewers' only compensation comes in the form of editing experience, a CV line or two, and any service credit that their hiring or employing institution choose to grant them.
Using the web as a publishing platform enables the journal to publish multimedia as well as interactive new media artworks that examine information and communication technologies as a part of everyday life. This is how we worded it in 2002:
In addition to publishing scholarly articles that address the theme of new media & culture, NMEDIAC will also solicit and publish audiovisual new media art and presentations. Some of these pieces will incorporate scholarly analysis, but others will 'stand alone' as expressions that contextualize and comment on general or specific themes and issues that new media technologies bring us up against -- such as new media as experienced culture.
Admittedly, our fulfillment of this goal has been haphazard at times. The first and fourth issues, and more recently the Fall 2010 special issue on "New Media, Sex, and Culture in the 21st Century," offered the closest integration of research articles paired with related new media artwork. The 2010 issue was a collaboration between NMEDIAC and the Museum of New Art in Detroit, bringing together the work of scholars and artists exploring issues such as online pornography, sexual identity and performance, technologies of desire and pleasure, family politics, liberation and repression, prostitution and sexual violence, and many other topics. The museum hosted a month-long exhibit of 2D, video, and interactive media art, while the journal featured research articles and an extensive online catalogue of the museum show.
In the current issue, we feature the MFA thesis work of artist Natalie McKeever. Her "Internal Worlds" project, which was exhibited (shown here) at the University of California, Santa Cruz, "is an installation of abstract video projection and interactive components that explores how our sensing bodies shape our perception, and our selves." McKeever's work is essentially an ontological study of humans' body-mediated perception of the world. In particular, it interrogates technology as extensions of our mediating bodies. Internal Worlds is reminiscent of a installation artwork from over a decade ago, the Listening Post, reviewed also in the current issue, which is still significant today for its technological achievement and conceptual insight.
While Internal World's used an interactive installation to explore individual, technology-enhanced, experience, in 2002 the Listening Post allowed visitors to witness the deluge of individual messages posted to the internet every minute. Wes Modes's article focuses on the technological achievement of this collaboration between sound artist Ben Rubin and Bell Lab's scientist Mark Hansen, which mined words from public, online bulletin board posts and reconfigured them into series of hanging display screens. Although the Listening Post is noteworthy for its technical innovation alone, it is more powerful perhaps for the comment it makes on how peoples' lives have become part of the data ecosystem. As Modes concludes, "Listening Post exists at the intersection of art and privacy, surveillance, and the use of personal data."
Our criteria for selecting new media artwork to feature on NMEDIAC has been simply that we seek works that use new media forms to explore people's everyday experience of a media-saturated, technology-mediated world. We require artists to provide an extended statement that explains what issues they are exploring. In most issues, these statements dovetail best with the theoretical papers that we publish, often coming from scholars in the humanities, usually in art history, English, and media studies. See for example "New Media and Cultural Consumption: Questions to Address through Public Participation" by Roland Benedikter (Summer 2012); "Liaisons Dangereux: Pornography, Modernity, Power" by Tomasz Sikora (Fall 2010); "Foucauldian Technologies of the Self, Participatory Cultural Production and New Media" by Christina Smith (Summer 2008).
Of course, pretty much every article we publish addresses or applies theory in some way, but we typically we have at least one per issue that focuses entirely on using theoretical synthesis to better understand some aspect of new media and culture. In the current issue, Michael Filimowicz "proposes a new synthetic model of culture as a dynamic system of negative-virtuals and positive-actuals," which he terms "the plane of mediation." In particular, he uses Auerbach's hermeneutic approach as means to delineate applied understandings of the social and the culture, the actual and the virtual, as a means to open up our understanding of culture as merely material or symbolic.
Starting with our mission statement and first issue, NMEDIAC has sought papers that address issues of globalization, national and ethic identity, and in particular submissions from scholars working outside the United States. Due to cultural, economic/trade, and political pressures, most countries had already liberalized the majority of their domestic markets, including cultural and communications industries, and relaxed media quotas by the time internet technologies were becoming widespread in the 1990s. Globalization has therefore come to be increasingly understood and studied as a range of processes that have vast cultural implications for all of the societies of the world. As Appadurai (1996), a well known scholar of globalization, notes, the global flow of commercial culture encompasses many dominant ways of knowing, thereby challenging individual's and groups' ability to think and experience outside of mainstream culture's ontological and epistemological hegemony.
The image, the imagined, the imaginary – these are all terms that direct us to something critical and new in global cultural processes: the imagination as a social practice. No longer mere fantasy (opium for the masses whose real work is elsewhere), no longer simple escape (from a world defined principally by more concrete purposes and structures), no longer elite pastime (thus not relevant to the lives of ordinary people), and no longer mere contemplation (irrelevant for new forms of desire and subjectivity), the imagination has become an organized field of social practices, a form of work (in the since of both labor and culturally organized practice), and a form of negation between sites of agency (individuals) and globally defined fields of possibility…The imagination is now central to all forms of agency, is itself a social fact, and is the key component of the new global order. (Appadurai, 1996, p. 31)
Appadurai's concept of the "imaginary" is central here and based in both critical cultural and social construction of reality theoretical paradigms. Communities are all somewhat imaginary in that they are in part created through individual's belief and identification with them, and therefore their everyday participation in the different aspects of what they believe that community to be as well as the material and media culture of that community. In this current Winter 2013-14 issue of NMEDIAC, Wiktor Marzec and Agata Zysiak explore these issues in their article, "Imaginary Modernization and Mapping of Space:
Location-based Media in Polish Urban Landscapes." The article shows how new geolocation technologies adopted by small Polish cities invite citizens to introduce new "modern" (in this case technology-enhanced) experiences to their identification of urban life and community, constituting, "a technological substitute for lost cognitive mapping capacities and self-assurance of being modern." The authors conclude that geolocation "could appear as a significant factor in shaping new kinds of subjectivity, not only on the individual-cognitive level, but also in relation to broader social structures."
(Two other recent NMEDIAC articles addressing new media use within the contexts of globalization include: "Does Location Matter?
A Comparative Study on Mobile Phone Use Among Young People in Finland" by Sakari Taipale; and "Home in FB: Caribbean Facebook Groups" by Shaheed Nick Mohammed.)
Marzec and Zysiak's work is a strong example of the theoretical shift in new media studies from a preoccupation with "virtual worlds" and "cyber" communities to how people live with and through media. This shift was due in part to the uptake around the turn of the millennium of critical theory – some from the 1990s (e.g., Grossberg, 1992 and Silverstone et al., 1994) and some much older such as Foucault (1977) and de Certeau (1984). – that stressed the importance of studying modern phenomena, whether new media technologies, urban planning, or political movements in the context of people's everyday lives. As Grossberg (1992) observes:
Everything becomes comprehensible only within the mobile terms of everyday experience. Thus, what is erased is the very possibility of the political as a domain which both exceeds and transcends the everyday…. There seems to be no way out of everyday life, as if maintaining a life-style was a full time job which absorbed people's energy and time. (pp. 300-303).
While the uptake of cultural theory has helped scholars to foreground new media in the everyday, many of these technologies continue to be based on web-based services, with social media services dominating the past decade. Whereas the "virtual communities" of the 1990s were semi-public, but obscure, today's social media has made personal everyday moments increasingly public, while also engendering communities of interests as earlier net technologies did.
In her article in the current issues, Lisa Ehlin examines "Reblogging Fashion: Participatory curation on Tumblr." She insists that scholars need to start taking content curation platforms like Tumbler seriously. While critics in the late 1990s began to deride the web for failing to achieve the lofty projections of horizontal, participatory community that it had been hyped as, she sees content curation tools as significant step in fulfilling that vision. Tumbler, and similar services, have "implications not only on the future of data, information and content, but also on the power relations intertwined within this knowledge production," she argues. "Through anonymity, agency and reblogging, Tumblr, and the users of Tumblr, are arguably challenging existing power structures and offer alternative ways to understand our social fabric."
Whereas Ehlin, explores how people are using a specific new media platform, other NMEDIAC articles have considered how a particular interest group uses a range of internet technologies to pursue specific goals. For example in the current issue, Bret and Stephanie Schulte analyze a recent off-shoot of the alternative press, so called "hacker journalists" who combine programming and reporting skills to push social change. "They are at once data miners, news producers, and idealistic vigilantes pushing a renaissance of individualist cyberactivism," the Schultes argue. "Traversing many conflicting ideologies—conservative, libertarian, socialist, post-capitalist—these hackers offer informational efficiency, governmental and corporate accountability, and 'Do It Yourself' empowerment to citizens but risk changing the foundations of journalism, a historic pillar American democracy."
Occasionally, NMEDIAC publishes book reviews as well as whole special issues dedicated to a specific area of new media studies. Our special issues in 2003 and 2010, included some of the most frequently linked and cited articles ever published in the journal. We are currently fielding proposals for a special issue to be published in early 2015 (drop me an email if you have an idea for a special issue on a pressing topic in the field). The current issue wraps up with a book review of Andy Ruddock's (2013) Youth Media. Ruddock "asks why youth are so often tied to media studies and how researchers have explained media influence on young people." The book presents a series of case studies of how youth around the world have appropriated media to help them live their lives and make sense of the societies they are growing up in.
For those few who have read all the way to the end of this brief introduction to NMEDIAC and the current Winter 2013-14 issue, I offer you a sincere "thanks" for your interest and support of the journal. We hope to continue this modest enterprise in scholarly web publishing for many years to come. But we do need your help to do it. No, not your money. But please consider volunteering as a reviewer or editor if and when you have time. And of course feel free to liberally cite any NMEDIAC articles you find useful to your own research.
Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
de Certeau, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. Steven Randall (Trans.). University of California Press: Los Angeles.
Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York: Vintage.
Grossberg, L. (1992). We Gotta Get Out of This Place: Popular Conservatism and Postmodern Culture. London: Routledge.
Silverstone, R., Hirsch, J., Morley, D. (1994). Information and Communication
Technologies and the Moral Economy of the Household. In Roger Silverstone and
John Hirsch (Eds.), Consuming Technologies: Media and Information in Domestic Spaces (pp. 15-31). London: Rutledge.
Willinsky, J., Murray, S., Kendall, C., and Palepu, A. (2007). Doing Medical Journals Differently: Open Medicine, Open Access, and Academic Freedom. Canadian Journal of Communication, 32 595-612.