Social Scientists and their Theories on New Media

Social Aspects of New Media Technologies

Presentation slide deck:

Social Aspects of New Media Technologies

Williams, F., Strover, S. and Grant, A. E. (1994). Social aspects of new media technologies. In J. Bryant J. & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (pp. 463-482). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

While many people and researches have defined the term “New Media” in different ways, one of the interpretations offered in this book is that sometimes new media is the extensions of older forms of media or enhancements to existing ones. Researchers found that new media seem to influence individuals’ and groups’ patterns and capabilities for communication. For social scientists, the human and social impact, such as applications and consequences, is of more interest to them than the technology itself.

Uses and Gratifications

The basis for uses and gratifications is looking at active audiences who use goal-directed media to fulfill gratifications and how they interact with technology to make sense of the varied messages. Indeed, there is a noticeable variability in how audiences interact (in terms of nature of media, effects, patterns of use, and the process) with the increasingly varied forms of messages. Consider Cable Television technology for an example. When cable companies first introduced their services, they were lucky to have found their consumers already existing in the market (those already owning TV sets).  Those consumers, when applying Christensen’s signals for change lens, happened to be undershot customers willing to pay a little more in exchange for improved television reception and variety/specific programing, such as news, sports, movie channels, and so on (Christensen, Anthony, Roth 1994).

As more and more people acquired cable television, viewing behavior was categorized into 2 styles: 1. Ritualized: or habitual. In our household for example, my husband always wants to see what’s on TV, and has to have the TV on for absolutely no specific reason or purpose, but for the mere fulfillment that it is providing background noise sometimes.
2. Instrumental: or purposeful. I certainly fall within this group because I am a highly selective viewer who knows exactly what shows I want to watch and when they come on.  The use of DVR technology (which was introduced even later) to record my favorite shows and skip all advertisements; a development associated with Diffusion Threshold which I will touch on later on in this abstract, further refined my selectivity and viewing behavior.

Critical Mass

For the purposes of this reading, Critical Mass means the number of individuals who must be involved in a social movement before it may “explode” into being.  In other words, it is when a certain technology gets to a point where it is widely adopted by users to a state of “all or none”.  Electronic Mail and Facsimile are clear examples. Here is a funny anecdote I would like to share to illustrate when you know a certain technology has achieved critical mass. As an international student in Tennessee State University in 1995, and having recently emigrated from Syria, I didn’t own a computer of course or even have an email account/address. At an International Student Conference, where I got to meet many incredible students from across the globe, I felt immediately excluded when I saw the reactions (some of which were a bit extreme) of my new friends as they found out I didn’t have email! I clearly recall one of the students from Japan who literally started banging her head against the wall, and another from Portugal who faked fainting upon learning this news. You can imagine how I felt at the time and exactly what I was planning to do as soon as I arrived home later that week. The rational behind my reaction is summarized in the following quote from this chapter: “People may be forced to adopt a communication technology, with all the benefits and drawback that go along with it, simply to maintain their current communication networks.” (William, Strover, Grant, 1994).

In applying Christensen’s theories on Signals of Change, I was clearly a non-customer who didn’t see any value in obtaining electronic mail to transport messages the same way snail mail or telephone can! After my experience at the students’ conference, I was quickly converted to an overshot customer, who was pressured to pay for a service they didn’t see the value in. Ironically, it wasn’t long before my siblings across the country acquired email accounts and I happened to start working from home. My new circumstances this time, took my out of the overshot customer bucket into the into the undershot customer bucket because my basic email service was no longer satisfactory which meant I was on the hunt for better, faster service with enhanced features and capabilities (Christensen, Anthony, Roth 2004).

It is important to note however, that in order for certain technologies to reach critical mass, a certain set of technical standards, vertical integration, and compatibility with existing technologies are necessary. This is how the term “diffusion threshold” is explained in this book. One easy example of it is the VCR technology. Of course, attracting advertisers’ support is another hurdle to overcome before achieving critical mass so that the technology is able to sustain its own distribution and adoption.

Diffusion of Innovations

Is how we reach a decision to adopt a new technology or not. This process encompasses four different steps, and I will link them to a recent experience at work to help explain each of the stages: 1. Knowledge: I recently became aware of something new (The release of Internet Explorer 9) through the Microsoft’s MSW site as well as other sources, but at the time, I hadn’t formed an opinion about whether or not this new product is valuable. 2. Persuasion: Since then, I’ve made attitudinal evaluations of the idea and further inquired
about IE9, by asking my office mate about the learning curve and his experience
with IE9 since he only installed it a week before. I also logged on to the company’s internal website to learn more about it. This series of rational behaviors is the basis for forming a decision. 3. Decision: Either adopting or rejecting. In this case, I’ve decided to adopt the innovation by installing IE9 on my machine, but it doesn’t stop me from continuing to react and reevaluate my decision. 4. Confirmation: Did I make the right decision? I am  either confirming that I’ve made the right decision or possibly considering reversing my decision. Even though I am annoyed by some of the changes made to the use interface (which don’t make any sense to me), I plan to stick to my initial decision to adopt IE 9,  especially after having learned that IE10 is already in the works, and I certainly don’t want to be left behind.


Williams, F., Strover, S. and Grant, A. E. (1994). Social aspects of new media technologies. In J. Bryant J. & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (pp. 463-482). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Christensen, C. M., Anthony, S. D. and Roth, E.A. (2004). Seeing what’s next. (pp. 3-27). Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press

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04/20 update: Reflection on in-class discussion:

It was very helpful to lead the discussion more than just once, and it was certainly the first time I’ve been asked to do so. Usually, I prepare, present, and be done with it. Yes, I often ask for feedback from multiple attendees and make a genuin effort to consider their constructive criticism, but this was different.

In the first discussion, I ran out of time. There was so much more I still wanted to discuss with group 4, and there wasn’t much time left for questions. In the second round, I stopped both videos half way and talked fast. This left plenty of time for answering questions, but the rushed pace, took away from the substance and effectiveness of the presentation.

Third time is a charm! By the 3rd time, I had mastered the pace, and identified the most important points participants were curious about or had questions about. I received great feedback from my peers in the last group and was happy to have gone through this exercise for the first time.

Another learning from this incredible experience is to think of the setting. Not only it is important to think of your story and audience, but thinking and visualizing the setting would’ve been helpful and I am pretty sure I would’ve altered my presentation as a result. As I finalized my presentation, I didn’t consider the loud classroom or the fact that 5 discussion leaders were presenting to different groups simultaneously, otherwise I would’ve shortened the two- minute long video I had embedded in my presentation. When I viewed my slide show at home, the video made sense and was actually pretty funny, but due to the noise in the classroom and the fact that my audience was watching and listening to my presentation using my little laptop, the video lost its impact.

All great learnings, thank you Kathy!



  1. […] 1: Lisa, Mike, Rachael, Ruba, […]

  2. Ruba, it’s abundantly clear the volume of preparation invested in your presentation was great. In fact, I was not fully conscious of just how passionately interactive even younger folks have become in almost all cases where they create visual presentations. Whether the young fellow is typical or atypical of this almost “hyperactive” enthusiasm is beside the point of current trends. I especially enjoyed your incorporation of a current commercial into your slideshare work for our entertainment.

    • Hey Thor, did you just include me with the “younger folks”? Because if you did, you are now my new best friend:-) But yes, I agree that we are all starting to move away from the conventional PPT style to more visual and simple presentation style. I do have to admit that I had GREAT and THOUROUGH feedback from Kathy. She literally pointed out to all the imprefections and suggested (among other things) that I use presentation zen approach on 3 of the 7 slides where I had charts instead of photos. I am pretty sure this is the presentation style I will be utalizing going forward. Thanks for taking the time to post.

  3. You are a great presenter! I especially liked how you used the Bridgestone tire commercial to show diffusion. I was already familiar with the commercial, but this use was very unexpected–and effective!

    • Thanks so much Madeline! Yes, I was worried at first that my audience wouldn’t get the point behind using a commercial for tires to illustrate ciritical mass for email, but I think we are all so very guilty in being online and checking emails in all sorts of scenarios that we totally relate to the commercial. Great marketing on Bridgestone’s end. Glad you enjoyed the discussion.

  4. Hi Ruba,

    I think you made some great points in your presentation. I think the entire presentation was well tied but the part that was really great was your example of diffusion of innovation, since you tied it to a personal example. The presentation was really compelling and it answered questions as they came to my mind. I think the big takeaway from this chapter is that innovation process still relates to the existing forms of “new media” as it did in 1994.
    Great Presentation!


    • Thanks Navni, I am happy you found the presenation and discussion interesting and that it answered some of your questions. As I mentioned in one of my earlier replies, it is indeed interesting that the adoption process is so similar now to that in 1994. Don’t forget though, the focus in this research was on human and social impact, which is probably why the period between now and 1994 couldn’t have had radical or major change in our behavior. Then again, this is my personal assumption though. Thanks again!

  5. Great presentation Ruba! I really enjoyed the videos you included to illustrate your points. It’s interesting how viewing habits are changing from a passive activity to a more engaged and interactive experience. We’re becoming a “lean in” audience as opposed to a “lean back” society when it comes to consuming media.

    • Thank you Derek, I am glad you enjoyed the presentation and discussion. You bring up a great point regarding our viewing habits. One would think that with all the new forms of media, and the rising number of messages we are receiving on daily bases, we/audiences would be randomized and unengaged. However, recent studies are finding that the increasing variety of messages and form of communication, has helped us become smarter and more selective audiences.

  6. Hi Ruba,

    I enjoyed your post. You said that “new media is the extensions of older forms of media or enhancements to existing ones”. What do you think the Kinect is an extension of?

    • Put me on the spot, why don’t you Evan? Great question though. I feel Kinect is an extension of PE or whatever activity one is trying to emulate (but in a digital format), does that make sense? To me, Kinect is not an extension of older video games, rather an enhancement of the actual and physical work. Which is why it is so revolutionary, but don’t take my word for it, I am totally and wholeheartedy biased. Thank you for the time to post, and for asking such meaningful question.

  7. Ruba-
    I really enjoyed your presentation and felt that you gave a lot of thought to incorporating our weekly reading. I liked that you mentioned ‘overshot’ and ‘undershot’ when we were discussing technology as a whole towards the end.
    Great video selections as well. I would be careful next time though in choosing shorter videos or try to condense your chosen video to show the part you want to show so it’s easier for you and the viewers!

    • Ok Eric, I just finished watching the video on You Tube for “How to solve a Rubik’s Cube, and GUESS WHAT? It is the same guy from the “New Media” video in my presentation!How did I miss that? I am so glad you pointed it out. I am glad you enjoyed linking the discussion to Christensen’s signals of change. But most improtant, I am am very thankful for your feedback reagrding editing/condesing videos. Yeah, it was clear to me earlier, that the first video didn’t quite have the impact I had hoped for.

  8. Great presentation, Ruba!

    You clearly had a solid command of the subject matter, and I really liked how you incorporated imagery. Your delivery style was engaging and you encouraged a two-way dialogue with your “audience.”

    • Thanks for your feedback Elise, I am glad you found the discussion engaging (I tried to keep the energy level up 🙂 As for the imagery, I only used photos from flickr by the Commons. I found a much better selection of images at istock photos, but one of the photos I wanted to purchase was going to cost $37, so I was like “forget about it”.

  9. It’s a great quick presentation and very clear to me because the interesting examples. I think the critical mass is so true due to human nature. Everyone is afraid of to be exclude outside. I also feel fascinated about the theory of Diffusion of Innovation. I am curious about why and how the process is formed. Thanks for leading this discussion!

    • Hi Coco, regarding your comment on the Diffusion of Innovations process. It is interesting that the book I discussed earlier (which was written in 1994), listed out almost the exact same steps of adoption as the ones called out in Roger’s book. If you recall, the steps I explained earlier were: Knowledge, Persuasion, Decision, and Confirmation. With Roger (which is much more recent), the 5-step model is identical only with the addition of an “implementation” phase after the decision phase. The implemntation phase is very critical and makes total sense when thinking of technologies and their applications. Glad you enjoyed the discussion.

  10. Good job! The presentation is extremely clear and appealing. It’s brilliant to use vivid examples and personal experience to illustrate abstract terms.

    It’s good to know the theory of “critical mass”. I am totally resonate with the quote “People may be forced to adopt a communication technology, with all the benefits and drawback that go along with it, simply to maintain their current communication networks” with my twitter experience. I am annoyed by the twitter interface where things messed around and the design is not as intuitive as it’s supposed to be. But I need to deal with it to maintain my presence in MCDM community.

    I would love to finish the example videos after class.

    • Thanks Kang, I hope you will have the chance to view the videos later on. I think we are pressured to adopt certain technologies more often than we realize. I have to admit that in previous years, I was never an early adopter, but as the years go by, I am becoming more engaged and more interested in trying out new technologies. I was all about Twitter in the last 2 quarters, but not so much this quarter. Just like you, my Twitter experience has also been specific to the MCDM community only.

  11. Fantastic job! Not only were your ideas clear and well versed but you presented examples that made sense. Such as your example about being an undershot customer when it came to email and after pressure from others you hesitantly adopted the new technology and later became an overshot consumer.

    As far as feedback regarding your public speaking….great job keeping your energy up!! You were engaging and kept my interest during the entire presentation. Also, your use of of youtube clips felt relevant and they clearly supported your ideas.

    Proud of you, Ruba!

    • Thanks so much Jackie! I really appreciate your feedback and support. I am glad you enjoyed the discussion and look forward to particpating in yours.

  12. I thought your post was really entertaining, I can totally relate to your real-life examples of ritualized and instrumental TV-watching when discussing the motivations behind technology interaction.

    • I hear ya Joanna! I think almost every household can relate to my TV example, it is more like the battle of the sexes (not stereotyping here)!!! Thanks for your comment.

  13. I really like the term “diffusion threshold” and think that it can help explain why “new media” is defined as extensions of older forms of media or enhancements to existing ones. It seems that many potentially “disruptive technologies” (new technologies) don’t become disruptive because they can’t get over the threshold. Presentation looks great; wish I’d had the chance to hear the talk.

    • Thanks Corey! Yes, there needs to be certain technical standards, vertical integration and a level of capability met before new technology avhieves critical mass. Not to mention the need to attract advirtisers’ support, which is key sustaining the technology and supporting its own adoption and distribution.

  14. Ruba, I as disappointed to have missed your live presentation so I chose to read your paper (and your presentation). I thought your paper was very well done and especially appreciate how you wove in the theories from Christensen (who I happen to be really enjoying and learning from). I hark back on my own recent conversion to IE9, where I was in a situation in which I was more or less forced into the conversion vs. went through the awareness and decision process. In my case IE9 was highly recommended to improve the viewing of an application I was running. So I am just now poking around on it (and so far miss IE8). It makes me wonder about other adoptions that are more forced rather than come to it by a natural decision process as Christensen describes. Might be an intersting topic in our class! Nice work Ruba! I will be using your work as a standard in which to creat mine.

    • Thanks so much Teri! I really appreciate that you took the time to read my abstract. Yes, I argee with you in that often times we are forced into disruption technologies for fearing of exclusion or being left behind. I especially felt the pressure as I became a Microsoft employee. Although there was a bit of a pressure to begin with as soon as I moved to Seattle 12 years ago.
      As you mentioned – there was nothing wrong with IE8, and while I am not forced to adopt it, yet, I felt that if I waited much longer, I would only find myself at the point where I am forced to catch up. I will be looking forward to your presentation in the coming weeks.

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