What Is The Catalyst For Changes & Transformation In Media, Culture & Society? Is It Socio-Cultural Factors, Or New Technology?
When people ask the questions, “Why is print media dying?” or, “Why do people prefer to read their newspaper through an iPad app?”, the common answer is: “Because everything is online”. But the real questions we should be asking are: “Why Is Everything Online”? and “Who or What Determined That Print Must Die, and Digital Must Reign”?
The same thoughts can be applied to the use of Twitter, which has now become a present day journalists ‘must-need’ tool. “Why must we communicate in 140 characters or less?” Is it because the development of the technology has determined that everyone should communicate in short form, using a mix of hyperlinks, mentions and hashtags? Is it because society needed a tool to successfully communicate in 140 characters or less?
Questions such as these have been asked and analysed by many theorists about media and cultural changes throughout the last few centuries. While the answers to questions like this can be complex, there are two ways we can aim to develop an understanding and our own critical thought.
Technological Determinism advances the argument that “technology is the agent of social change” (Murphie & Potts, 2003). The theory is built on the notion that “a successful technical innovation, if implemented on a sufficiently wide scale, will generate a new type of society” through its own power and autonomy (Murphie & Potts, 2003).
Marshall McLuhan further extends this understanding through his proposal that ‘the medium is the message’. As Murphie and Potts (2003) explain, “McLuhan argues that the cultural significance of media lies not in their content, but in the way they alter our perception of the world”.
To use my own example, the introduction of digital and online media such as websites, apps and Twitter has transformed 21st century society into one dependant on instantaneous information. As such, print journalism begins to become redundant as newspaper websites can update information almost instantaneously, and this goes with television and radio broadcasts, whilst print news only becomes available once the paper is printed and distributed. Newspapers are now seen as primary for ‘analysis’ of news stories as a result.
The introduction of journalists has transformed the profession into one that requires one to apt in most, if not all cross-media forms. A “convergent” journalist must be able to film video, take photos, interview, produce audio content, and write for print, online & broadcast. As such,Twitter has transformed the industry and the expectations of journalists as they must now know how to tweet all their information to get the story out first.
In the book Tragedy of Technology, Stephen Hill wrote that:
“Technological Change…is not, by itself, productive of social change. Instead, the direction of change is a product of the particular alignment between the technological possibilities and the society and culture that exists”.
The notion of Cultural Materialism expresses that Technology, on its own, cannot enact social or cultural change, and that social characteristics such as economics, politics, elites in power, and culture play a heavy role in how these new forms of media are implemented, adapted, and if at all used.
For example, Media Ownership gives elites the power to disseminate their political views and opinions through their programming and print media. Rupert Murdoch’s decision to implement paywalls in front of his online newspaper content challenges the widespread notion of the sharing content online, and now impacts the way digital media must work and develop to meet this need.
Essentially, technologies come about because there is a cultural or social need for them.
Summary & Thoughts
In understanding how changes in media, culture and society arise, a multi-directional ‘Cause & Effect’ relationship emerges, as media impacts society and culture, and vice versa.
It is from within the needs and wants of the social and the cultural that new media technologies emerge. While these new media forms are imperative in how they change cultural and social media practices and how they evolve the media industry, be it in the print, digital, broadcast, public relations and other sectors, the impact and effect of a new media form remains heavily dependant on how we use these technologies.
People do not solely follow the Hypodermic Model/Media Effects where they consume everything, but they are active, choose what they use media for (hence, Uses & Gratifications theory).
If media forms are used by people in different or additional ways to what they were initially made for, technologies are not neutral, transformable; adaptable to social and cultural desires. Simultaneously, while being subject to change, they themselves are agents of change.
Bauwens, Michel (2009) ‘The Internet as Playground and Factory’ <http://vimeo.com/7919113>
Jeffries, Stuart (2011) ‘Friedrich Kittler and the rise of the machine’, The Guardian, December 28, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/28/friedrich-kittler-rise-of-the-machine>
Miller, W, (2008) ‘Non Sequitur’ <http://www.gocomics.com/nonsequitur/2008/05/09/>
Murphie, A & Potts, J (2003) ‘Theoretical Frameworks’ in Culture and Technology London: Palgrave Macmillan: 11-38