Nowadays, we are surrounded by digitization in almost all areas of life. Digital media play an essential role in this. But what are digital media, anyway? In this article, we will define the term “digital media” and create a unified understanding to facilitate discussion about its role in society.

On our knowledge page we have already written a short explanation about digital media. The term “new media” or communication media is also often used here. Classically, we understand the term “digital media” to mean cell phones, tablets and computers.
According to the German Federal Agency for Civic Education, digital media are electronic media that work on the basis of the binary number system and do so with the help of information and communication technology. The binary number system refers to the two state numbers “0” and “1”. A computer can then interpret these numbers. This definition is a bit bumpy and raises new questions, so let’s first look at the two terms individually.

Digital vs. analog

In the case of analog media, we are talking about books, newspapers, records and photographs, for example. You can touch and feel them. Here, too, there are then further subcategories such as print media. In general, however, it is also said that analog media such as a record player can be switched on and off. But this fact then also applies to many devices that we understand as “digital media”.
Colloquially, digital media is often understood to mean the actual end device on which media are consumed.

A simpler distinction is revealed by availability and distribution. Analog media in physical form tend to have limited availability, and their distribution is also often slow and limited to local or regional distribution channels. Digital media, on the other hand, are in electronic form and can be distributed via digital networks and platforms. They are easily accessible, can be transferred to multiple devices, and are often interactive.

But what about the definition now?

Some terms develop a kind of life of their own and yet the masses speak of the same things. It’s a similar story with our “digital media” topic. We know what we are talking about when we talk about digital media. However, if you want to know exactly, you have to ask your counterpart what the person really means, since there is already no uniform distinction for the word media.

Digital media can be divided into different interaction concepts. This brings me much closer to a definition. In this definition, which can also be found on Wikipedia, we are talking about screen-based applications such as e-books, cell phones or digital radio. There are interactive objects such as an interactive whiteboard and there are interactive environments such as digital exhibition and learning spaces.

A suitable mental model is probably easiest if we consider the two terms digital and media separately and bring them together at the end. By digital we mean a world in numbers, or coded information. According to the internet-abc site, the word medium is derived from Latin. It can be translated as “mediator”. “Intermediaries” enable us to disseminate and consume information on a wide variety of topics through a variety of channels, such as newspapers, images, and movies. By combining the two terms, we get the picture of “mediated coded information”.

Curse and blessing

Of course, digital media offer us many advantages, as already mentioned above the large reach or also the quick availability. Like almost everywhere, there are downsides. You are literally flooded with information. In addition, virtually anyone with access to the Internet can create and disseminate information. In traditional media such as television or newspapers, there is at least a certain degree of quality assurance through the editorial team.
With digital media, it is up to the individual to filter information and select what corresponds to the truth. The risk of misinformation is high. This can lead to negative effects on public opinion and political decisions. Meanwhile, negative effects on physical and mental health have also been demonstrated.

This makes it all the more important to use digital media for oneself, to raise awareness of global issues and to recognize the positive effects. With our association’s work, we would like to develop strategies for this that show how misinformation can be recognized, how new tools can be used, and how the negative effects can be minimized.