“New media” workers have joined the creative economy as digital designers, web page designers, and producers of entertainment products. Like many creative commodity producers, their work lies at the intersection of the technical (in this case code writing) and the expressive (through design). It reflects the tensions inherent in this intersection and the conflicts common to many creative workers who produce commodities but whose work also reflects some element of personal expression or authorship. The ways in which these tensions are resolved is central to the formation of new occupational and professional identities. Cultural economy perspectives offer us insights into the subjective experience of the tensions associated with creative work. They become more powerful, however, when combined with an understanding of the policy context in which new media has evolved. Drawing on both cultural economy and policy analysis approaches, I argue that while new media work emerged in conjunction with new technologies and reflects the tensions between technical applications and design, it also is a product of changes in broader regulatory frameworks that have shaped the work-world of new media. The “regulatory difference” has produced considerable variation in the occupational identities of new media workers among advanced economies. In some economies, new media work is evolving in a form that is closer to that of the professional, whereas in the United States it is better described as an entrepreneurial activity in which new media workers sell skills and services in a market.
To make this argument I examine findings from the growing body of international work on new media but focus on the particularities of the United States case. What this evidence indicates is that the character of new media occupations is defined as much by the policy context within which it emerges as by the technology it uses.