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It’s difficult to define media as one entity as it’s permanently surrounding us in different forms, more so today than ever before. Means of communication have existed for thousands of years but the development of technology combined with communication has made way for a new revolution of how audiences are reached and influenced. This is defined as New Media. This essay will be focusing on two aspects of media effects. I will be critically examining the concerns that early media researchers, such as Hall and McLuhan, had with media effects through their theories. Furthermore, I will be branching these media effects theories into the concept of new media. Incorporating a plethora of ideas and arguments, I can examine whether today’s audiences are more influenced in this age due to the prevalence of new media. The key argument that will be presented will be in favour of new media making today’s audiences more susceptible. I will be looking at how different media effects theory undermines and support this argument. FINISH
Media saturation, westernisation, modern advertising, the internet, virtual worlds, individualism vs collectivism and culturalisation,
There are many pre-misconceptions around the way research developed an understanding of how messages are received and interpreted differently. Early media researchers were concerned with the effects that mass media had on audiences and conducted extensive research into this. It is difficult to develop a model to represent how the messages the media sends can affect people in alternative ways. According to Livingstone (1996, cited in, Curran, J and Gurevitch, M), to have a stereotyped view of research usually poses an equally contrasting view of creative and informed viewers making rational choices about what to see. Stuart Hall utilised semiotics to explain how messages from the media are encoded and decoded in contrasting ways. His research was concerned with the argument that images can be polysemic and would be read in a variety of different ways depending on culture, age and other contributing factors. However, people interpreting a message in different ways, for example, rejecting it completely, makes it difficult to apply this theory to any real-life situation. In 1938, the War of the Worlds radio broadcast caused mass panic as citizens thought the world was to be invaded by Martians. “The power of radio had fooled the listeners. They had become accustomed to believing everything they heard on the radio, without questioning it. Now they had learned – the hard way.” (Rosenberg, 2018). This scenario cannot be supported by Hall’s theory because the information relayed to listeners cause the vast majority to assume the worst, ultimately implying that listening through the radio caused people to decode the message in a certain way.
It’s difficult to establish how accurate early researcher findings were on media effects because the majority that was conducted is outdated. Marshall McLuhan, an early media researcher, divided media into two categories, hot and cool. Thomson (2011) states that media involving more than one of the senses would be cool because the audience must interpret several signals from the different senses. His idea that a medium is either ‘hot’ or ‘cool’ only considers information and participation levels on one platform within communication and disregards other factors that could contribute to how to define it. For example, the internet is based on a web of person to person communication and everyone can collect information and participate on different levels. Therefore, McLuhan’s hot and cool theory is widely deterministic as it overlooks a person’s free will on how they choose to interact with media. However, the hot and cool theory can support the idea that audiences were just as susceptible to influence before new media existed. During the 1960 US Presidential Election, McLuhan wrote the theory that the reason Nixon lost the election was due to the mediums of communication that both presidents imposed. “Richard Nixon did not play well in the televised debates because he was a “hot” personality in a cool new medium.” (Payne, 2012). This argues the fact that we were as influenced back then because our sense receptors were heightened and more specific to picking up influence. Regardless of this, I still believe that new media has a broader effect on influence.
New media has opened a new era of influencing to evolve due to the widespread availability of information to be accessed through a saturation of different mediums. The constant bombardment from digitalisation, whether it would be through smartphones, virtual worlds or computers, makes it highly difficult for audiences not to be influenced. For example, when a news anchor releases a story, the information within that piece very quickly ‘saturates’ through to other mediums, capturing the eyes of millions of readers in a matter of seconds. Early media researchers such as Lazarsfeld introduced the ‘Two-Step Flow Model’. He uses this model to explain that the mass media, in this case, news outlets, would publish a story in a newspaper and that would spread firstly through to opinion leaders and then to the followers. In terms of new media, this theory cannot comply, as news outlets utilise their websites and social media to quickly spread stories. Subsequently, information is spread much quicker and opinion leaders no longer have the level of control that they had in the past. The “Global Village” was a theory put forward by Marshall McLuhan as almost a strange ‘prediction’ of what the world would be like in this era of digitalisation. His theory seemed much more aligned and adaptable to the new media world than Lazarsfeld because it accepted the idea that we would be living in interconnectivity and there would be less geographical boundaries.
A key example of where new media has aligned to accept Macluran’s theory is the process of Westernisation. The United States is renowned for being the leaders in developing a westernised, fame-endorsed society and much of this has now spread to other parts of the world due to the growth of ideas through social media, the internet and numerous television channels such as MTV. “The philosopher and intellectual foresaw the birth of the internet 35 years before it happened” (The Telegraph, 2017). Despite this, perhaps there was as much influence before the internet was invented because the global village was based on pre-existing ideas of interconnectivity existing through traditional media rather than new media. It’s difficult to coin a theory as accurate if it was imposed before the invention. Nicholas Carr touched on the implications new media is having on our society in his book ‘The Glass Cage’.
“Nicholas Carr, former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review and author of several books about technology, discussed the detrimental effects the Web has on our reading, thinking and capacity for reflection.” (Menaker, 2014).
Ultimately, he believes that the power of the Web is disregarding humans’ capability to read, think and reflect. This undermines the ‘Global Village’ theory as a growing web of interconnectivity was a unified step forward for mankind according to McLuhan rather than something ‘detrimental’. Nicholas Carr has incorporated Marxist thinking into own his ideas about the problems caused by new media. The Uses and Gratifications theory by Blumler and Katz assumes that we have power over how the media influences us as we only use the media to seek out the specific needs that we want. This counters Carr’s thinking because we can take the driver’s seat in how much influence is put onto us. Despite this, we are still highly influenced by new media because of the widespread access it has given us.
New media has influenced us in inconceivable ways; the concept of marketing and advertising in such a discreet but invasive way is one. Media production such as TV, Radio and the Press has always relied in various ways on advertising revenue for their survival. However, in the age of mass media, advertising has shifted mostly onto the internet and revenue on the web is measured by the number ‘eyeballs’ exposed to a particular ad – the quality of attention paid to the ad was of a lower importance than the size of the audience. This suggests that there has been a shift in recent years on how the media wants to influence us; rather than focusing on how people digest the message that the advert is trying to portray, they are more concerned with how many people are viewing it. This links to Marshall McLuhan’s theory of ‘The Medium is the Message’. He believed that the medium in which the message came from and received had a higher significance that the message itself. In terms of new media, advertisements on social media compared to a print newspaper are likely to have a stronger influence because the medium decides how the message can be received. As social media is so vast, there are no longer direct routes to a message, the medium influences in a variety of ways.
Another way that media outlets have adapted to influence a higher number of people can be portrayed in the Individualism versus Collectivism debate. Before the invention of the internet, communication was more restricted which lead to a lot of people being naïve about what they hear. The Hypodermic Needle Theory by Katz & Lazarsfeld represented media as influencing through injecting opinion and influence straight into the minds of individuals. Early observations of the effect of mass media, such as during Nazi propaganda, demonstrates how this was successful when the world was more concerned about their self-beliefs rather than the wider society. This could imply that people were influenced just as much by the media back then than now with new media in this new era of collectivism and the constant flow of digital communication.
The Agenda-Setting Theory opposes the idea of that collectivism within new media increases influence. The theory, introduced by McCombs and Shaw, assumes that media outlets are the channel by which opinion is altered and shaped. Any source of information that we hear has already been moulded into what is deemed significant. For example, a news story reporting on a natural disaster may only pinpoint the ‘key’ figures or information.
The available media in the marketplace have exploded. Some of us read newspapers on the Web, find or create groups of similar interest on Facebook or Twitter, and monitor news channels of many types throughout our day. Some of us, especially if we are older, still read daily newspapers and watch the television evening news. We have choices and we are using them to mix agenda messages into agenda communities that satisfy our individuality. (McCombs, M., Shaw, D. and Weaver, D, 2014).
This argues that we are still able to ‘satisfy our individuality’ when it comes down to how audiences choose to access their media and whereby how much we are influenced. The ‘available media’ in this new media age is so expansive that we are in control of the agenda set on us and what we do with it. As a result of this, we are not more susceptible in the eyes of these theorists. I agree with the point portrayed in terms of humans being individuals, but the argument ignores the concept of collectivism.
An aspect of new media that has had a prolific effect on the influence of people, in particular, children, is virtual worlds gaming. The concept of a virtual world is highly stimulating for audiences because it incorporates the senses of sight, sound, and touch. This would make it highly difficult to be defined as ‘hot or cool media’ by early media researcher Marshall McLuhan. There have been several controversies, particularly conveyed in the press, around the effects that video game violence has on physiological immobilisation to real-life violence.
“Research has associated exposure to media violence with a variety of physical and mental health problems for children and adolescents, including aggressive and violent behavior, bullying, desensitization to violence, fear, depression, nightmares, and sleep disturbances.” (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2009).
The Hypodermic Needle Model supports the understanding that there is a positive correlation between gaming and violence. For example, a child playing a video game containing violence such as ‘Grand Theft Auto’. From prior knowledge, I am aware that the main character carries several different weapons such as guns, knives, and bombs. The intended message of the game portrayed across to the child is that these weapons are to be used to carry out an act of savagery. According to the theory, the prevalence of violence is directly syringed into the minds of those who play the games, implying that the media presented to them is passively influencing them. Despite this, it could be argued that it’s not only new media such as virtual worlds that enhances the chances of influencing violence. Mass media can stretch as far back before electricity was invented when mediums such as novels and plays were some of the only sources of conveying information. For example, Shakespeare’s plays were littered with suicide and murder, especially prevalent in Romeo and Juliet and King Lear. As a matter of fact, it’s comprehensible that the audiences who watched his plays could’ve been influenced by these themes. Thus, we can’t make assumptions that its new media technology alone that has an effect on audiences.
With the development of new media, multiculturalism has derived and with this, a plethora of new identities can form from different cultural societies. The internet created a whole new phenomenon where people from completely different walks of life, thousands of miles apart, can communicate and share their cultures. Hesmondhalgh (2013:311) expressed that the development of a digital electronic database was a key component for cultural expression because anything from words to images and music can be transformed into a binary universal code. For example, the ‘meanings’ of an emoji would be accepted in several different cultures, this is not something that could’ve influence as much when traditional media was around due to the lack of technology to break the cultural barrier through a code.
New media is the catalyst for the evolving trends in the society. New media/internet which is now considered an extension of everyday life and a tool of cultural change is being accepted in the world where ideas need to be in a process of flow and dynamism. (Singh, 2010).
The idea that new media is now just an ‘extension of everyday life’ normalises these technological advances as something we potentially couldn’t live without. We have become so influenced that it’s now just a part of life that people take for granted rather than a benefit. Hesmondhalgh (2013:87) stated that “many components of the internet and other digital technologies claim that they are opening up access to the means of cultural production and circulation in a positive, democratising way, and that barriers between production and consumption are being eroded.” Hesmondhalgh has an optimising outlook on technologies influencing us in a way that we are now more accepting of other cultures. It is argued according to Barker and Jane (2016) that the digitalisation of data has enabled anomalous levels of surveillance from both the corporate and state. This invasion of privacy could decrease the influence that people are digesting as it would lead audiences to be wary about what they are communicating across the web and how their personal information is being used. In defiance of this, the prevalence that new media has had on influencing audiences around the world has been revolutionary and is leading the way for an increasingly interconnected world.

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