Media and Society
JOHN DEWEY – 1859-1952
Harold A. Innis
Marshall McLuhan – 1911-1980
Walter J. Ong, S.J.
Robert W. McChesney – 1952-
Three Historical Narratives:
Oral to Electronic Culture
Oral Culture – all interactions take place in face-to-face discussions.
Written Culture – a shared system of inscription in a literate society exists so that communication can take place outside of face-to-face discussions across time and space.
Print Culture – an expansion of Written Culture that encompasses the consequent social and cultural changes that result from the proliferation of printer material.
Electronic Culture – communication transcends time and space.
There is a different sense of time in Oral Culture, according to Ong.
Since there are no records, memory cannot be recorded. History
can only reside in the present, in the telling of the story. Memory
is thematic and formulaic. The story may vary very little from telling to
telling over time, but the words and phrases used may differ.
Performance is the key to authorship. Every time a story is told or a work is
performed, it is shaped by the performer and provides a new model for future performances.
Oral cultures are relatively homogeneous with respect to knowledge and social norms but public and shared across generations.
Written Culture, according to McLuhan , has been the means of creating
According to Innis, written communication allowed societies to persevere through time by creating durable texts which could be handed down and referred to. This allowed for control of knowledge by certain hierarchies and also allowed for centralized control to expand over a wider area.
Audiences could be remote in time and space, and the communicator could guarantee that the message received is identical to the one sent without having to rely on the memory of the messenger. The communicator could reach a wider and more disparate audience.
Print Culture – the ability to mechanically reproduce text freed writing
from its reliance on an elite group of individuals and guaranteed that
each copy of the text would be identical to every other copy.
Printing was instrumental in the development of a secular society and in the establishment of a democracy among the upper classes in early
modern Europe, according to historian, Elizabeth Eisenstein.
Printing reinforced the sense of individuality and privacy and makes
Printing enabled the emergence of the newspaper and the novel, and
altered the very structure of human consciousness and thought.
Electronic Culture – the telegraph reorganized people’s perception of space and time; it enabled the transmission of messages across space, and it fostered a rational reorganization of time. The telegraph also separated transportation from communication.
According to Innis, electronic culture allows for a new form of empire expanded across space; information beamed across space becomes more difficult to control. It reinforced the sense of individuality and privacy to create new forms of what McLuhan called the ‘global village.’
Awareness of space and time have been transformed: space could be measured in temporal terms and time could be fractured and discontinuous.
Information and power can be both centralized and decentralized at the same time.
Technological Determinism: the belief that technology is the principal, if not the only, cause of historical change. McLuhan, for example, believed that people’s normal use of technology necessarily modifies their consciousness, that the forms of communication technology (oral, print, electronic) available to people at a particular historical moment determine the ways in which they can perceive reality and the logic they use to understand it. To McLuhan, the content of the media, the actual messages, are irrelevant, thus “The Medium is the Message.”
According to Raymond Williams, however, communications technologies have been sought in the context of solving particular social needs and that technological determinism ignores the active role of people and social institutions.
Theories of the Masses
from Social Relationship to Culture
Mass society theory holds that as a result of various social changes,
including industrialization, both the nature of social life and the form of
social interaction were fundamentally altered for the worse.
The Industrial Revolution prompted a transformation from a rural, agrarian society in which people knew each other intimately and personally (Gemeinschaft) to an urban, mechanical society in which people did not know their neighbors except in terms of professional function (Gesellschaft).
In the Gesellschaft, rather than being bound to one another by tradition and custom, mutual regard, and understanding, people now constitute a society only by formal, contractual relations – the individual becomes part of a mass.
from Culture to Society
Two totalitarian societies: Germany under Hitler’s Nazism and the Soviet Union under Stalin’s communism.
The United States emerges as a mass society after WWII – can it be a totalitarian society?
What is the relationship between a mass culture and a democratic society? How do we define the United States in terms of a mass society? The most popular response to these questions defined American society as fundamentally liberal due to the diversity of American culture and the plurality of audiences for a range of cultural products: high culture, mass culture, popular culture, folk culture, middlebrow culture
from Modernity to Postmodernity
When did the Modern period begin?
Modernization describes the broad spectrum of interrelated historical forces
that radically changed the world since the beginning of the Industrial
Revolution, capitalism, and colonialism in Europe and America.
Modernism refers to the cultural forms, discourses, practices, and relations –
both elite and popular. Both commercial and folk – with which people attempted to make sense of, represent, judge, rail against, surrender to, intervene into, navigate through, or escape from the new worlds of modernization.
Modernity refers to the changing structure and nature of the lived social realities
to which modernism and modernization responded and which were themselves shaped by both modernism and modernization.
When did the Postmodern period begin?
The commercialism of culture and communication characterized by the return to the small and the flexible, the commitment to maximizing profit by developing systems of production and distribution that can respond quickly to the different demands of smaller groups of consumers, and the construction and celebration of identities as multiple, fragmented subjects defined entirely by consumer and lifestyle choices; the increasing mobility of human populations around the world; the rapid development of new communication technologies, particularly the computer and other information media. In the postmodern text, only surfaces matter, only images are real.