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Media transitions: The cases of digital imagery and e‐mail

Kimberly Cass (School of Business, University of Redlands, Redlands, California, USA)
Thomas W. Lauer (Decision and Information Sciences Department, Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan, USA)

Information Technology & People

ISSN: 0959-3845

Article publication date: 1 September 2004



This paper presents a framework for understanding the technological change and its impacts on environments where multiple versions of a technology exist simultaneously. Both orienting and limiting role of physical (skeumorph) and conceptual metaphors on the products, processes, and user experience in changing from a familiar functional implementation to the one employing new media is illustrated using examples showing the transition from wet photography to digital imagery and from surface mail to e‐mail. People use physical (skeumorph) and conceptual metaphors to orient themselves with new technology by understanding new functions in terms of earlier technological versions. Since new technology is adopted at varying rates and varying times, multiple versions exist at any given time. Sometimes expectations appropriate for earlier technological iterations obscure the challenges and possibilities presented by the new media implementation. This paper examines how new technologies challenge and are challenged by the contexts into which they are introduced. By understanding the function that physical (skeumorph) and conceptual metaphors play in facilitating technological change, we can become more conscious of the discontinuities between the new technological iteration and earlier implementations to gain deeper awareness about how “the new” functions differently and to help us engage new technology closer to its own terms and open up new possibilities for its use.



Cass, K. and Lauer, T.W. (2004), "Media transitions: The cases of digital imagery and e‐mail", Information Technology & People, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 252-267.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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