7 kinds of Media?

I recently watched this video from AWE 2013 by Toni Ahonen on why Augmented Reality is the 8th mass media. The part of his talk that didn’t quite sit right with me is his list of types of Mass Media. Here’s the list (including his new 8th type):

  1. Print (books, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, etc.) from the late 15th century
  2. Recordings (gramophone records, magnetic tapes, cassettes, cartridges, CDs, DVDs) from the late 19th century Cinema from about 1900
  3. Radio from about 1910
  4. Television from about 1950
  5. Internet from about 1990
  6. Mobile phones from about 2000
  7. Augmented Reality from about now

I have two problems with this list. The first is that software is mostly absent. If I download an app from the app store or install a piece of software off a physical disk isn’t that a kind of media? One of those is arguably “Internet” and “Mobile”, but they’re both basically the same thing and both certainly qualify as “mass”.

My second problem is that the list seems to be an odd mix of content types and distribution mechanisms. Print gets one entry despite having a zillion forms. Audio and video both get two entries even though they’re both distributed in significant ways over the Internet. And Augmented Reality isn’t really either one, it’s sort of a kind of software that might not even be distributed.

I would use a different list:

  1. Print – The written word, including digital words like the ones you are reading right now. This includes still photography and all the flat kinds of art. – from the late 15th century
  2. Audio – Spoken words, music, and other kinds of sound regardless of distribution mechanism. – From about 1900
  3. Video – Moving pictures regardless of the distribution mechanism. – From about 1900
  4. Software – Pretty much anything where you are interacting with an automated system. This became a mass media with the personal computer revolution. – From about 1980

If you need to talk about how this media is transferred you could build a related list of distribution mechanisms:

  1. Physical – Somebody drops a hunk of dead tree on your doorstep or you buy a movie on physical media at a store and carry it home. – Since forever
  2. Radio – An analog or digital signal using radio waves. – Since about 1900
  3. Land Line – An analog or digital signal travelling down a wire or hunk of optical fiber. – Since the late 1800s
  4. Internet – This actually happens on top of land lines and radio, but it abstracts away all of that so well that it probably deserves to be its own distribution mechanism. – Since about 1995 (as a mass thing)
  5. Undistributed – Live performances or one-of-a-kind artifacts. The consumer has to physically go somewhere to experience things that are transferred this way. – Since forever

And if you care about the style of distribution there’s a third list:

  1. Broadcast – One producer, many consumers. The printing press started this, arguably. – Since the late 15th century
  2. Peer to Peer – Many producers, many consumers. For print this would include letter writing. – Since the invention of written language
  3. Many to One – Many producers, one consumer. This is used for things like the census, tax returns, and polls. – Since the invention of governments

Maybe it’s just my engineer-brain talking, but this seems like a much more clear way to express the various types of mass media. The thing is, I’m not sure it’s actually any more useful than that first list. The point of the first list seemed to be to make first Internet companies feel good about themselves. Then later that was expanded to Mobile companies and now it is being expanded to Augmented reality companies. Did anybody ever look at that list and gain any kind of insight?

What do you think? Is this sort of breakdown of media types useful?


3 Responses to “7 kinds of Media?”

  1. Fidtz replied on :

    I think they are useful for categorising and so talking about current media but they have no vector so are not useful to make predictions

  2. Joe wrote on :

    @Fidtz, Oh right! I forgot to include the 9th mass media: Cybernetic thought cloud.

  3. Kent Bye said on :

    It is interesting to think of software as a medium, and if that’s the case then video games could certainly quality on his original list.
    What I would argue is a new communication medium should be defined for how content is produced, and how it’s consumed. For example, whenever a new communication medium comes about, then people will take what worked in the previous medium and then port it over 1:1. Then they realize that showing a radio play with images requires that a new visual language and constructs need to be formed. Then you get things like the 180-degree rule, jump cuts of showing just visual information, and the whole art of visual storytelling for how to raise dramatic tension with the 7 components of space, line, color, tone, shape, movement and rhythm. These are new innovations of film that are unique to the storytelling language, and you can’t back port them to the previous medium.

    With that in mind, I would argue that PCs, video games, the world wide web, mobile phones, augmented reality & virtual reality are all distinct in that they each have their unique language for what works and what doesn’t work with them. Also, the consumption behaviors of how people consume media on these different devices are radically different. In some ways, blogging, and Twitter, Facebook and Social Networking in general could be considered mediums in their own right.

    I also at the same time like the elegance of your system, especially the distribution mechanism and style of distribution.

    As a media creator though, I would have to agree with Ahonen that these are distinct mediums because I wouldn’t package and create the exact same experience for web, mobile, AR and VR.

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