Module 2: Introduction to Digital Methods for Disability Studies

2.4 Introduction to Key Terminology

Web 2.0

In “Online Lives 2.0: An Introduction,” Laurie McNeill and David Zuern (2015) identify the qualities of what has been termed “Web 2.0.” The early internet, i.e. “Web 1.0” spanned the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s, and was characterized by the ability to access information online and connect via email. Web 2.0, the current iteration of the internet, began around 2004-5 and is characterized by participation, social media, and the collapse between private and public lives. In Web 2.0, Internet users are no longer passive recipients of knowledge. Today, we are actively involved in creating content online and much of what we consume was created by other users rather than traditional media conglomerates or corporations. Many theorize that Web 3.0 is right around the corner (Mersch & Muirhead, 2019) but this course will not take up this next possible phase.

McNeill and Zuern also note that in Web 2.0 it’s increasingly difficult not to be online, as the Internet has become integrated into every part of our daily life. The Internet today is used for everything from paying bills to dating to staying in touch with loved ones who live far away, and even for attending a university undergraduate class.

New Media

Web 2.0 is related to a term we will be using throughout this course: new media. New media are enabled by Web 2.0.

What differentiates old media from new? Every media technology and platform was new at some point! Contemporary conversations around new media revolve around what Henry Jenkins (2006) calls “convergence culture”, which he defines as “the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want” (p. 2). A key element in new media is participation; as described in Web 2.0 above, users are no longer passive viewers, but active participants.

Jenkins (2006) describes new media in the following ways:

  • “The new media operate with different principles than the broadcast media that dominated American politics for so long” including “access, participation, reciprocity, and peer-to-peer rather than one-to-many communication” (p. 219).
  • “A changed sense of community, a greater sense of participation, less dependence on official expertise, and a greater trust in collaborative problem solving” (p. 220).

What examples of new media can you think of? Take a few minutes to write down some ideas.

Digital Technologies

Technologies are the tools that we use in our everyday lives. They are the application of scientific, mechanical, technical, and digital innovations.

We will focus on digital technologies and screen technologies in this course (laptops, smartphones, smart TVs, desktop computers, etc.) and the new media and web 2.0 platforms that we use on these devices such as digital media tools (i.e. image editing, audio recording and editing, video editing, and Twine) and social media (i.e. Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram).

Digital technology describes a specific kind of technology that works with data and information represented by ‘digital’ values, typically the digits ‘0’ and ‘1’ in binary code.

Technologies can be powered by different mechanisms. Digital technology is distinct from other technologies such as the steam engine, which ran on steam power, or analog technologies such as the film camera or mercury thermometer. The computers, tablets and cell phones we use today are all examples of digital technologies. Digital media are media that are enabled by and take place on digital technologies.

Digital platforms are the online environments and the associated softwares that facilitate content creation, interaction, and communication between platform users. Burgess (2021) describes how people have become “increasingly dependent on a relatively small number of digital media platforms” including “Google and YouTube (owned by Alphabet), Tencent Video and WeChat (owned by Tencent), iQiyi (controlled by Baidu), Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram (owned by Facebook), and Facebook itself” (p. 22. Note that since this article was written, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook are now all owned by Meta). These, along with entertainment platforms like Tumblr, Twitch, and TikTok and crowdfunding platforms like Patreon and Kickstarter, make up the “commercial digital media ecosystem” of Web 2.0 today (Burgess, 2021, p. 22).


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Digital Methods for Disability Studies Copyright © 2022 by Esther Ignagni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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