John McCann


In Mediamorphosis on February 28, 2007 at 5:45 pm

Ten years ago, Roger Fidler wrote Mediamorphosis: Understanding the New Media, (Pine Forge Press, 1997) and I started using it in my lectures about the upcoming media changes in the 21st century. Early in the book, he offers a definition of mediamorphosis:

“Mediamorphosis is a unified way of thinking about the technological evolution of communication media. By studying the communications system as a whole, we will see that new media do not arise spontaneously and independently — they emerge gradually from the metamorphosis

Wikipedia defines metamorphosis as a biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth or hatching.

I thought of the mediamorphosis concept as I was writing my previous post about traditional media entering the Participation Age. I will explain this concept in this post.

Fidler derives his metamorphosis principle from three concepts: coevolution, convergence and complexity.

“All forms of communication are tightly woven into the fabric of the human communication system and cannot exist independently from one another in our culture. As each new form emerges and develops, it influences, over time and to varying degrees, the development of every other existing form. Coevolution and coexistence, rather than sequential evolution and replacement, have been the norm.”

Existing forms of media evolve when a new form enters, and each form is operating in an ecosystem where its evolution is dependent on the evolution of those around it. History indicates that the old and the new will coexist, rather than the old one dying. For example, AM radio coevolved with television in the post World War II era, and then again when FM came onto the scene to take most of the music audience.

“Convergence: a crossing of paths or marriage, which results in the transformation of each converging entity, as well as the creation of new entities. The forms of media that exist today are the result of innumerable small-scale convergences that have occurred frequently throughout time.”

I think of media convergence as one format borrowing what works from another media format. It was natural for a television station to develop a website that contained some of its video segments. We are seeing convergence today in this area as newspapers offer their own video segments on their websites.

“When external pressures are applied and new innovations are introduced, each form of communication is affected by an intrinsic self-organizing process that spontaneously occurs within the system. Just as species evolve for better survival in a changing environment, so do forms of communication and established media.

According to Fidler, this process is the essence of mediamorphosis.

Notice that he is talking about the interplay between forms of communication and media enterprises. Ten years ago or so, the Internet introduced emailing a new form of communication. I can go to one of my local newspapers website and arrange for it to automatically send stories I am interested in to my email address.

Instant messaging (IM) and short messaging (SM) is a new form for most of the population and we are seeing traditional media companies using them to distribute their information, e.g., ESPN sending sports scores to cell phones. This is the convergence of a form of person-to-person communication with a mass medium. From a mass media firm’s perspective, the emergence of IM and SM were a change in its environment and it had to evolve.

  1. Interesting topic. Did you think about “radiomorphosis” as an example of the influence of new media on Radio.

  2. Nice work

  3. Very Interesting

  4. […] Mccann, J. (2007). Mediamorphosis. Retrieved September 24, 2016, from […]

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