Psychology

The Expanding and Wild Frontier of Digital Media

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My paper, after examining the function of commercial and niche media on expanding people’s worlds and minds, will focus more narrowly on the transformative elements of digital media as it relates to my concept of larger world views and
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  !"#$% ' ()*#++" !"#$% ,"-#* ./0-#"1 '2 !*33 42'5 “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, narrow-mindedness... Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” –Mark Twain The Expanding and Wild Frontier of Digital Media I believe that the single most important function of the media is to expand people’s worlds and minds. Similar to Mark Twain’s statement about travel being fatal to prejudice, media exposure can virtually take people to places well beyond the limits of their own small domiciles, opening up their mind to other people’s worlds, new ideas, and new understandings. In this capacity, media has the potential to help in building and maintaining a fair and wholesome society. This can only be achieved, however, if the media provides access to reliable knowledge and information conducive to healthy debate. My paper, after examining the function of commercial and niche media on expanding people’s worlds and minds, will focus more narrowly on the transformative elements of digital media as it relates to my concept of larger world views and open-mindedness. I will argue that digital media has indeed expanded people’s worlds in ways that most would not have imagined even thirty years ago, but that I see some areas of concern regarding the sheer volume of information available, and the way information is  produced and disseminated - and how these concerns can have a negative effect on the foundation of an impartial society. I will touch on the freeing aspect of not being controlled by traditional media conglomerates. I will conclude my paper with a determination as to whether there are any steps that can be taken to manage digital media, to the extent that it could more effectively contribute to a more healthy, fair-minded society. Commercial media, according to the Frankfurt school, a group of German Marxist social  !"#$% 4 theorists, includes all media that relies on circulation and advertising revenue to turn a profit. The most important goal of commercial media is to appeal to as many people as possible to maximize profits (Fiske 325). This can be beneficial in terms of helping to expand people’s minds in the sense that it does not discriminate against certain subgroups or subcultures (Jackson Lect. 10/3), however, the profit making motive can be negative in the sense that informing the  public of accurate information and news is not commercial media’s primary goal (Campbell 470). The Frankfurt school raised several concerns regarding media conglomerates’ aim to fill their bank accounts. The Frankfurt scholars argued that commercial media “deludes the public into thinking they are in control, because they want to reach as large an audience as possible, yet they dumb down the media so it isn’t overly complex or critical” (Jackson Lect. 10/3). These scholars viewed commercial media as a form of propaganda to make politics seem more appealing, and as an escapist media that acts as a mindless stimulant for overworked masses. I would argue, especially in terms of the glut of today’s television reality shows, that their claim still holds - that commercial media delivers mass produced entertainment that “stunts people’s minds and creates an overly commercial one-way form of culture, and leads people away from a culture-debating society and into a culture-consuming society” (Jackson Lect. 10/3).  Niche media/audience segmentation, according to Professor Jackson, is media designed to appeal to certain groups of people by employing a method called ‘narrowcasting,’ whereby  producers target these smaller groups because they want to appeal to subcultures that are likely to spend both their time and money in comparable ways (Jackson Lect. 10/24). This can be  beneficial in terms of creating discussions between media consumers who are consuming media that is designed to be particularly interesting to them, thus improving the chances of engaging them, however, the rise of audience segmentation can be negative in the sense that it allows  !"#$% 5 media consumers to identify with a smaller group, and may not expand their minds. It is also true that niche media can create stereotypes of subcultures by “re-present[ing] the various social identities in the world” and implying “that there is one correct image of a social group’s identity” (Grossberg et al, 235).    Niche media producers, in courting a particular point of view, narrow the content, and may even create bias, preventing some consumers from expanding their minds with content that is not necessarily reliable or impartial. If we were to compare the influence of both commercial media and niche media (which can  be one and the same), in terms of all media (which includes radio, print, television, and digital media – and which all have the potential to be commercial or niche media) on expanding  people’s worlds and minds, digital media is fast becoming the most influential. It is hard not to agree with Internet blogger, Adam Singer, who wrote that, “The web itself represents all media as the world’s information becomes digitized, semantic, and accessible. The internet is the home of all content” (Singer 2009).   This leads me to specifically turn my focus on digital media, because it is completely changing the landscape for how we consume media. This is partly due to the fact that any of us can post any information we want to on the web. According to Yochai Benkler, professor of law at Harvard Law School and author of The Wealth of Networks , “Whatever one sees or hears can  be treated as input into public debate in ways that were impossible when capturing, rendering, and communicating were facilities reserved to a handful of organizations and a few thousands of their employees” (Benkler 219). People no longer must rely on the media-hired experts and editors to filter information to them. With just clicks of the mouse they can access seemingly unlimited pieces of information, on unlimited subjects. While this aspect of digital media allows users to self-educate themselves and engage with other members of society like never before, it  !"#$% 6 can also lead to misleading information that misinforms debate (Gwenllian Jones 169). Old media, such as books and newspaper and journals, require an author’s name, and a publisher. With digital media, postings can be completely anonymous, or posted by self-proclaimed, but unverified, experts. What would be a non-story in traditional media can suddenly grow legs and take off on the web. The case of President Obama’s birth certificate is one example. Through a combination of anonymous bloggers and online conservative publications, a conspiracy theory that Obama was not a natural born citizen, and thus ineligible to be President, gained momentum, even though Obama had released copies of his official birth certificate to the public. The influence on public debate was so strong that Obama himself said, “The big debates over the country's fiscal situation cannot be solved if the country is distracted by false stories about where [I] was born” (Bowman 2011). The “Birther Movement,” as it became known, is indicative of the lack of quality control than can occur in a digital climate where everyone, and no one, is in charge of content.  Popular Science,  a venerable science publication since 1872, has taken issue with the way information can be distorted as a result of ignorant, mal-informed postings on digital media comments sections that they say leads us backwards from progress – “Comments can be bad for science...the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science” (LaBarre 2013). They reference internet “trolls and spambots” as interfering with any legitimate debate. By shutting down their comments sections, some might say that they are discouraging healthy debate, but they say that they are merely preserving the intellectual quality of hard scientific research. They suggest that you go to Facebook or Twitter if you want to debate their content (LaBarre 2013). Yochai Benkler has said about the internet, “One line of critique includes the concern that  !"#$% 7 information overload will lead to fragmentation of discourse, polarization, and the loss of  political community” (Benkler 214). Pew Research studies show, however, that a healthy 39% of Americans used social media to actively engage in politics during the 2012 election (Zickuhr 2013). This would indicate that digital media does provide a forum and an avenue for civic engagement that could be very useful to future debate and public policy, but the unregulated nature of so much of digital media, nevertheless, is a warning that not all of the information that’s put out there can be trusted (Gwenllian Jones 168). The Internet provides the tools for debate and making good public policy, but does not have any universally accepted and vetted guide for how to use them. Studies showed in 2009 that only about 25% of the world’s population was on the internet (Baym 6), but as access becomes more and more affordable with the proliferation of smartphones and other portable devices, more effort by schools and government outreach programs needs to be put into educating people as to how to best use the vast amounts of information that are often thrown out there in raw form. The danger of too much unfiltered information along with the danger of consumers ill-equipped to decipher fact from fiction, or distortion, might be impossible to corral in order to  build a more fair-minded society, but maybe that’s the beauty of the internet. It is the untamed frontier, with all its beasts and burdens, offering destinations far beyond the normalizing limits of traditional buttoned-down media producers and editors. The large net digital media casts over the entire globe gives, as Professor Jackson alluded to, an unprecedented education into new cultures and ways of life. For what is lost in well-balanced debate, is mostly gained in the convenience of having so much information at one’s fingertips. Works Cited:
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