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Media is the plural form of medium, which (broadly speaking) describes any channel of communication. This can include anything from printed paper to digital data, and encompasses art, news, educational content and numerous other forms of information. Digital media, which makes up an increasingly vast portion of modern communications, is comprised of intricately encoded signals that are transmitted over various forms of physical and virtual media, such as fiber optic cable and computer networks.
The history of media is often (somewhat jokingly, but also seriously) seen as a tautology, since recorded history itself requires some form of media on which it can be stored and passed along through time. The innovation of printing press technology culminated in many different shifts in Western culture, from the intellectual realm to the legal space and beyond.
Twentieth century digital technology gave rise to digital media, which in turn facilitated the creation of the internet. Academic research, in addition to American military support, led to the development of ARPANET, whose decentralization of data and packet-switching technology foreshadowed the rise of the internet, and thus framed the modern digital media landscape.