Polymedia: Towards a New Theory of Digital Media in Interpersonal Communication

Madianou, Mirca; Miller, Daniel
International Journal of Cultural Studies

This article develops a new theory of polymedia in order to understand the consequences of digital media in the context of interpersonal communication. Drawing on illustrative examples from a comparative ethnography of Filipino and Caribbean transnational families, the article develops the contours of a theory of polymedia. We demonstrate how users avail themselves of new media as a communicative environment of affordances rather than as a catalogue of ever proliferating but discrete technologies. As a consequence, with polymedia the primary concern shifts from the constraints imposed by each individual medium to an emphasis upon the social, emotional and moral consequences of choosing between those different media. As the choice of medium acquires communicative intent, navigating the environment of polymedia becomes inextricably linked to the ways in which interpersonal relationships are experienced and managed. Polymedia is ultimately about a new relationship between the social and the technological, rather than merely a shift in the technology itself.