The pervasiveness of the media in our everyday lives cannot be overstated. Media (short for mediation and the plural of medium) can refer to any number of categorizations that are collectively and most frequently understood to involve the dissemination of select information (often from a singular or fixed source) to a large audience. The "mass media," then, typically consist of various oligopolistic social institutions that are capable (through technological advances) of broadcasting information to large segments of society and are designed to promote information consistent with news, marketing, and advertising messages (all categorizations of media) that collectively communicate the reproduction of cultural norms and values. Numerous studies of the effects of mass media on society have yielded key insights on the level of importance and social significance these media embody.
One of the first and most notable scholars to address how technological advances of media affected social organization was Marshal McLuhan, whose critical study of popular culture exposed the emergent notion of mass media as well as the resultant cultural and social changes accompanying the introduction of the electronic medium; his classic works include Understanding Media of 1964 and The Medium Is the Massage with Quentin Fiore in 1967. For centuries, prior to the advent of electronic technologies, the media involved the circulation of printed materials, most notably books and newspapers; 20th-century additions included audio and visual communication technologies (e.g., radio, television, Internet). Few (if any) places in the world have not been somehow directly affected by the media.
The initial ability to disseminate information to the masses is directly attributed to the proliferation of print media, most notably the newspaper. Early newspapers first appeared in the 17th century, and despite advancements in media technologies, the daily print newspaper continues to remain among the most popular mass communication media in the world. Businesses and individuals discovered early on that news was indeed a profitable commodity, and although newspapers often consist of news and general information, they are mostly filled with advertisements. Political use of newspapers soon became widespread and filled socially significant gaps among politicians, government officials, and the general citizenry. Information presented in newspapers was not subject to much scrutiny, as the masses generally tend to rely significantly on media presentations, thus fostering the capability for the creation of a social reality and accompanying forms of social control.
Advent of the radio served as the primary catalyst for the creation of mass media. Radio technology was first developed at the turn of the 20th century and, coupled with the application of technological advances (e.g., vacuum tube, tube amplifiers), created what would become known as the "radio broadcast." Early radio broadcasts can be traced back to the military, particularly the U.S. Navy, who employed the technology strictly as a means of communication (e.g., Morse code). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, use of the phrase "the media" first appeared in the United States during this time (e.g., circa 1920), its use frequently attributed to the popularity of radio broadcasts. Throughout the 1930s in the United States, these broadcasts increased dramatically in popularity, especially broadcasts that featured musical recordings. However, the most notable increase in listeners occurred during the Second World War, when more frequent news broadcasts informed the public about wartime events.
The most important development in mass media was television, its universal and widespread appeal resting on its combined aural and visual capabilities. Although early television broadcasts first appeared in the 1930s, the device would not become a staple of the modern American household until the 1950s. Early telecasts featured all types of entertainment, and televised newscasts soon become the dominant source of mass information in U.S. society. The primary goal of television networks was to provide popular entertainment programming in an effort to attract the largest audiences possible so as to increase revenues through advertisements. The television as the dominant source of mass information crystallized the notion of mass media. Its growth continues to be driven largely by technological advances; the most recent and influential advance has been that of the Internet.
The ability to reach a global audience within seconds--thanks to the proliferation of mass media via satellite technologies, global telecommunication networks, and the Internet--is among the most recent and important technological developments. The Internet is a worldwide database consisting of a networking infrastructure that allows for the immediate exchange of information by a multiplicity of users. In the United States, the arrival of the Internet occurred sometime in the early 1990s. The Internet was originally created as a digital storage space designed to safeguard the containment of military information. It is among the more democratic forms of mass media. Unrestrained by national boundaries or censorship, it thus transmits information independently of statesanctioned organizations and commercial entities. Formal social control agencies often decry the unregulated exchange of information on the Internet because of the potential for fraud and other criminal activities. Attempts to control and regulate the Internet, however, have been largely unsuccessful, and Internet commerce has proven more beneficial to the economy than detrimental. It appears certain that U.S. adjustment to these technologies will likely direct the future of these media.
1) Altheide, David L. 2002. Creating Fear: News and the Construction of Crisis. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
2) Grossberg, Lawrence, Ellen Wartella, D. Charles Whitney, and J. MacGregor Wise. 2006. Media Making. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
3) McLuhan, Marshal. 1964. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill.
4) McLuhan, Marshal and Quentin Fiore. 1967. The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventor of Effects. New York: Bantam.
5) Pooley, Jefferson. 2006. "Fifteen Pages That Shook the Field: Personal Influence, Edward Shils, and the Remembered History of Mass Communication Research." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 608:130-56.
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