When I started teaching Media in the early 1980s, there were not many places offering courses; Film Studies 'O' level was the first course I taught and that had only a few hundred students taking it each year. A level Film came along in the mid 1980s with similar numbers and there was a CSE course in TV studies which I helped out with when I was doing my teaching practice. Once GCSEs started in 1988, Media Studies took off and A level Media began soon after, gradually accelerating numbers to the point we are at today, where there are probably 100,000 students taking the subject for assessment at one level or another each year.
But back then, the Media was a lot simpler than it is today: I remember when I was at school we only had three TV channels and the school only had one video player, which we had to wait for 20 minutes to warm up. Even by 1985, only half of my students had a video recorder at home and no-one had their own video camera. By then we had a fourth TV channel and breakfast TV had begun (yes, its hard to imagine, but there was a time when if you turned on the TV before 9am, there was nothing on!), but it was still largely the case that if you missed something on TV, unless it was a big popular programme, you wouldn't get another chance to see it.
Although we thought there was a lot of media to talk and write about, it was still possible to draw distinct boundaries around it. Radio was played on a receiver in the home or in the car, or if you could get it to work, on a transistor which you could carry around. Portable music in the late 70s was either carried on your shoulder in a 'ghettoblaster' to annoy everyone around, or as a single tape on a walkman, only invented in about 1979. Films had been shown on TV for many years, but the big screen at the cinema appeared to be dying out until the import of the multiplex to the Uk from the USA in 1985 and though you could buy films on VHS, not many people did, although rental was popular. Magazines and newspapers were beginning an era of growth in the number of titles available, spreading to more niche markets and phones were things you made calls on from your house or a telephone box.
In 1988 Sky came along, but it was only really the start of live Premier league football that got people signing up for satellite dishes and extra channels. What's really hard to believe though is that as late as 1996, I remember asking all 100 students taking Media A level in Year 12 at my college whether they had been on the internet and only one person had. Since then, we have seen the fastest growth of a new medium in the history of communications, to the point now where it is quite rare to find a student who does not have the internet at home and a huge proportion who have it in their pockets on their mobile phones. And more than this, most of those students are now not just receiving material through the internet, they are creating it too; starting with e-mail and messaging, things have moved on to students uploading text, pictures and video to their own spaces on the web.
Equally hard to believe, especially for younger people, is just how recently some of the big names on the internet first appeared: Google was 1998, iTunes and Wikipedia 2001, MySpace was 2003, Facebook 2004 (2006 in its worldwide form) and Youtube 2005. How did we ever manage without them? For internet users in the UK, it is very hard to imagine a world where they didn't exist and with each new major site or application that comes along that we start to use every day, we find it impossible to recall life before it started.
This kind of perspective is essential when considering the significance of the online age. Things have changed dramatically and will undoubtedly continue to change, at a very rapid pace. From being impressed that I was able to carry a walkman with cassettes of my six favourite albums with me on a hitch-hiking tour of Europe in 1982 to having 600 albums on my first iPod in 2002, I can now get spotify on my phone and have access to tens of thousands of albums at any time. From building up a VHS collection of films and Tv programmes in the 80s and early 90s to replacing the films with slimmer DVDs, I am now in a position where I can find on youtube clips from programmes that were only ever shown once in the 1970s which I thought would only exist as fragments of memory.
How might it be in years to come? This vast, indeed neverending, digital library will continue to develop with the input of millions of users, making things ever more accessible and expanding our knowledge. Despite the attempts by Rupert Murdoch to make us pay for his news, people will be able to access plenty for free and will have the opportunity to hear multiple voices offering a multiplicity of viewpoints.
Oh.Except in many schools and colleges, where youtube, blogger, facebook and many more will remain banned or blocked for no good reason. I heard from a teacher the other day that in her school, if you type 'Middlesex' or 'Sussex' into the browser, you will get a blocked notice, because of the second part of the words; another told me that if you write any body part into google (like 'arm') you'll be blocked. In another school, the word 'child' is not allowed as a search term. It seems a terrible shame that in the era when media technology has opened up the possibility of knowledge being most readily accessible, the archive of media history unlocked and the opportunity for young people to create their own media being at its clearest, schools and colleges are subject to a censorship which puts them on a par with China and Iran. It's like setting up a library and then stopping students from entering particular bits of it by putting in locked metal doors.
If you want to find out more about recent media history, this is a good place to start by looking at social media. This very informative article puts it in context.