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3.0 Reality Check 1: New media are new!

There have been a great many pronouncements about the Internet revolution, some of which are apt and some of which are readily dismissed as hyperbole by sceptical digerati. But in case we find ourselves feeling too familiar with, and cavalier about, the Internet era, there are a few dates that are useful to recall:

(Cotton and Oliver 1997; Joyce 1995; Berners-Lee 2001; Nelson 2001; Leiner et al. 2000).

My point is simply that even if a few have already been using email or writing hypermedia for 15 years, in terms of the lifespans of ideas, all of this is still very new — so new that it is scarcely possible that we could know yet how best to communicate about archaeology this way6. The graphical WWW is, at the time I write, scarcely 10 years old.

One reason for scepticism about our collective mastery of hypermedia is McLuhan's observation that people don't really understand a new medium's potential until they've been immersed in it for several generations. At the start, 'the content of the new medium of communication is always imagined to be another older medium. Thus cinema at the outset was thought to be a vehicle for filming plays, and there are still "made-for-TV" movies' (McLuhan, quoted in O'Donnell 1998, 42). This appears broadly true of computer-based technology, too. For example, current GUIs rely on the metaphor of the desktop, the filing cabinet, the recycling bin, and this metaphor constrains end users significantly (Dilger 2000).

This leads us to the next reality check.

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