Woven into the fabric of our day to day lives
COML 509 B3:Social Dynamics of Comm & Tech [Fall 2012]
November 2, 2012
Embedded Media: When is a tool no longer “only” a tool?
A media is “embedded” when a culture becomes progressively dependent on this media to meet their needs, and fulfill their daily duties and responsibilities. At this point does a tool cease to be “only” a tool and transcend its original status to become something more? Neil Postman warns of the consequences of this type of tool transcendence in his 1998 speech Five things we need to know about Technological Change. In this address Postman cites French literary critic Roland Barthes who referred to this cultural phenomena a “myth” in reference to “a common tendency to think of our technological creations as if they were God-given, as if they were a part of the natural order of things.” Barthes general warning is that when a culture accepts or vaults a tool to “mythic” prominence it becomes dangerous because that tool is “not easily susceptible to modification or control” (Postman, 1998).
Modern communication devices such as “smartphones,” and mediums such as text, Twitter, and Instant Message, as example, have annexed our contemporary culture’s communication practices to the degree that they are worthy examples of Postman’s warning.
These aforementioned communication mediums have become so conventional, so “ordinary” that internet scholar Philip Howard refers to them as “embedded media.” Cite source? It has been suggested that Computer Mediated Communication, or communication via the internet, should no longer be considered a “new” practice. Beyond the fact that CMC is now commonplace in the developed world, modern culture has become so dependent on these communication tools to the point that that Howard would argue they are “embedded in our lives and our lives are embedded in new media.” (Phillip Howard, 2003 as cited by Thurlow et al, pg. 75) OK! Which in Postmanian terms makes them dangerous?
An understandable assumption would be that media garnered through the internet is more embedded into our culture than traditional forms of communication like television, and radio broadcast and print media outlets, because internet media is perceived to be interactive, a collaborative discourse wherein the user is both a consumer and a content provider. Internet users, whether replying to a posted article or actively contributing to “the news” through blogs and independent outlets, appear to be participating in a medium that is “a two way street.” In contrast, traditional media outlets appear to be “a one way street.” I.E. television ,radio and newspapers report the news and the “users” consume the news.
However, it is my belief that the consumers have always played an active or interactive role in media. Consumers are not always complacent sheep accepting each broadcast as unadulterated truth. For example? Letters to the Editor? Audiences saving television programs with letter writing campaigns? A contingent of our public is sagacious, analyzing the news with keen discernment and shrewd judgment. They process the information with internal methods and external dialogue. In the past they have used this process to make their own informed and thoughtful decrements, and they have had the platform and freedom to share their insights as far as their social networks might reach. What the internet has provided is a more public and expansive platform for individual’s to share their analysis. The freedom to do so has always existed, the internet has provided the thinker an expanded audience and a metaphoric megaphone. Good point! But what of Postman’s concept of ecological change rather than simply additive change?
Because the news media is such an incendiary subject for analysis, skeptically viewed as being infected with media bias, let’s use visual art or music as an example. When a