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Media refers to the tools that humans have used throughout history to communicate about a shared reality. The most common reference is to the modern technologies that facilitate communication across space, time, and collectives.
Three main concepts of media inform communication research. The first is Harold D. Lasswell’s paradigm – “who says what, in which channel, to whom, with what effect” – which approaches media as neutral conduits of information. The second conception is the mathematical theory of communication by Claude Shannon that emphasizes technical aspects of communication systems. The third concept represents humanistic perspectives on media as cultural carriers of meaning. In this last respect, Roman Jakobson has made an important distinction between channels or contacts (concrete entities such as books, newspapers, or the internet) and codes (forms of expression such as speech, writing, music, or images).
Much media and communication research is characterized by efforts at integrating these concepts theoretically as well as analytically. Studies commonly identify three aspects of any medium: Media are physical materials in a particular social shape that enable communication. Such materials are the vehicles of modalities – language, music, moving images, etc. Finally, media are institutions through which individuals and collectives can reflect upon themselves and the rest of society.
Digital media have stimulated renewed interest in the relationship between technologically mediated communication and face-to-face communication, and in the reshaping – remediation (Bolter & Grusin 1999) – of older media. One may distinguish between media of three degrees (Jensen 2010). Media of the first degree are humans – biologically based and culturally shaped resources of communication. Media of the second degree are mass media – from the printing press to television. Media of the third degree are digital media that recombine all previous media on single platforms.
- Bolter, J. D. & Grusin, R. (1999). Remediation: Understanding new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Jensen, K. B. (2010). Media convergence: The three degrees of network, mass, and interpersonal communication. London: Routledge.
- Meyrowitz, J. (1994). Medium theory. In D. Crowley & D. Mitchell (eds.), Communication theory today. Cambridge: Polity.