On September 3rd, 1786, a man from Peter’s Creek, Pennsylvania wrote to his local newspaper, commenting that “I see by your last paper that you have not been crammed with news.” The Pittsburgh Gazette had been printing the news since July 29th of that same year, but Gilbert Gichen was the first to have his comments on the newspaper published for other readers to see. While this was not the first newspaper in the United States (the first continuous publication was The Boston News-Letter in 1704), it did play a significant role in print journalism.

In the New Media era (social media, blogging, online journalism), Gilbert Gichen’s contribution seems somewhat trivial. Ideally, a few of you readers will do the same sort of thing under this post, although hopefully without the same trenchant criticism. But in the days of Legacy Media, Gichen was a trailblazer; a fresh dissenting voice. And it was this type of criticism that birthed media as we see it today – a tightly woven network of professional journalism and public contribution.

How the Switch to New Media Impacted Business

Nowhere is the transformation from Legacy Media to New Media more apparent than in the business card. In 1895, Charles M. Wright, an attorney from Wapello, Iowa had a set of business cards made to advertise his services. Mr. Wright had little contact information to include on his card, sticking to the only business card principles that he had at the time – his experience, city of residence, name, and profession.

Erica Swallow of Mashable.com provides an example of a business card from New Media, with a laundry list of social media addresses, and all of the contact information missing on Mr. Wright’s. And while Wright used his own image to create an impression on his potential client’s minds, Jessy Yancey of Tennessee Home and Farm decided to use social media icons to achieve the same thing.

And what a microcosm of the evolution of business and business cards. While Wright used his face to give his business that personal touch, Yancey’s card is anything but personal, instead filtering all contacts through the company social media pages. In the past, few people would utter the phrase “It’s not personal, it’s just business” because it was seldom true. In the age of New Media, the phrase has become a cliche.

The way that people work in media has also drastically changed. For example, the notable historian Shelby Foote wrote his career defining work called The Civil War: A Narrative in 1986. This 3 volume set was commissioned 20 years before it was published, and spanned 1.5 million words. In the past, taking many years to publish such a work was entirely normal. Today, few writers would be able to support themselves for such a long time on a single project, and few publishers would be willing to agree to such an undertaking.

The Accessibility of Information

Imagine waiting a month to learn that Justin Bieber had a new girlfriend, or even that the United States had gone to war with Iraq. When America was still fighting for it’s independence, that’s about how long it took (at the minimum) for a message to cross the 3,000 mile span from Southampton to New York City. For this, and many other reasons, the types of information in which we’re interested has been changed and fostered in the age of social media. Topics of the past had to not only be newsworthy, they had to have a long shelf life. Social media overtook Legacy Media by changing both the way information was presented, and the information itself. In the Boston News-Letter, what your dog ate this morning would hardly make news. But, on sites like Facebook, such stories comprise a vast amount of the information on the site.

When you think of the success of sites like Twitter, you see countless bite sized snippets of information. In New Media, that’s what readers have come to expect. We want short, punchy pieces of valuable content because our time is valuable. Before social media, emphasis was placed on extensive works created by experts (like Shelby Foote’s Civil War narrative). And this worked for a variety of reasons:

  • People had less distractions without things like digital cable, or even the Internet.
  • Reading was valued more as a society (as opposed to video today).
  • Few people had the time or skills to contribute to the information network – there was no quick route to getting published that the Internet offers today.

So, in stark contrast, social media has overtaken Legacy Media by offering the following:

  • Anyone can publish their ideas or opinions on thousands of social sites or networks, becoming their own publisher.
  • There is a large audience interested in such information (just think of how often you look at YouTube comments).
  • Creating a internationally published work online is vastly less expensive than an internationally released book would have been in the past.

How Social Media Has, and Will Continue to Evolve

The term “New Media” still implies that there will be a time when social media becomes the “old media” and the Legacy Media we speak of today becomes an ancient form of communication. A study performed by Pew Internet found that around 75% of people get their news from social networking sites (as opposed to other means like newspapers and cable television), while around 52% of people regularly post news topics or articles to social media networks. But will there be another form of communication in the future? One scary technology that has already seen some success has been a device that sends advertisements directly to your brain. If marketers have anything to say about it, this will likely be the future of social media, and information transfer as a whole.