A Question from Sri Lanka: ‘What is New Media?’

Monks from the Buddhist and Pali University in Sri Lanka take part in a conversation on new media.

As my series of lectures progressed last week, I quickly decided to move away from all of my ‘established’ game plans.  I prepared five powerpoints for the trip but I soon realized that many people just wanted to talk.  Plus, the idea that I could show some multimedia presentations quickly evaporated in a country with slow Internet connections.  Rather than sit and wait for a slideshow to upload, I went old school and talked….


By Friday I completely abandoned the powerpoints and just asked those present to ask me questions that were on their mind.  I met with a mix of people during the week — students, professors, intellectual, activists and journalists.  But perhaps the most interesting group came on Friday when about 50 monks filled the small lecture hall at the American Center in Colombo.

As we started the session, the chief priest asked a simple question through an interpreter:  “What is new media?”

Those of us who have been involved in new media for the past 15 years have seen the ‘digital divide’ argument come and go but I’ve seen that divide a little differently on this trip.  Parts of this country are wired, but much of it isn’t.  And while students, journalists and some intellectuals are making use of the Web as a research and communication tool, the full potential of the Web remains unrealized.

So, I tried to get to the heart of the Web with my answers — with concepts and philosophies that are important to remember as many of us in the West remain overly focused on how to make money with Web products.  I mainly spoke about the ability of people of many cultures and traditions to communicate across the Web.  I tried to enforce the concept that the Web allows forces for change to take hold at the grassroots level (I talked a lot about Obama and his campaign.)

But, mostly I spoke about the power of ideas and how they can be shared across the world thanks to the power of technology.

But, perhaps the most surreal moment came as I spoke to the monks about Facebook and how to prevent bad folks from hacking in and hijacking your profile.  It’s very much the same conversation I have with my 12-year-old soon — although, clearly the fears of operating and communicating in this society are a little more complex and serious.

More to come….


About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing amherstwire.com, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at washingtonpost.com. He also edits part-time for espn.com with the NFL and college football network.
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