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BECA 390 2018: Lesson Two

Media theory in the Age of Information

Nancy Reist

on 11 June 2018

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Transcript of BECA 390 2018: Lesson Two

BECA 390 Lesson Two:
Media Theory in the Age of Information

Strong Media Content Theories
Several media theorists pay little attention to the technology and focus instead on the on the influence of media content. So instead of comparing the impact of mobile media to television, these scholars might compare the viewers of Fox News to viewers of Vice News, or consider the impact of beauty pageants on viewers' perceptions of their own attractiveness. Next week we will be looking more closely at the economic and structural factors that constrain this content. Here, we will examine theories that are concerned with the effects that this content has on individuals and society.
Active Audience:
Uses & Gratifications
From Last Week
Last week we introduced the idea that our understanding of the world around us is created in our brains. It has many distortions and gaps, which are moderated throughout the process of perception.
Impact of the Channel
Some theories look at how the media channels we use impact the way we think and act.
Social Learning Theory
(Albert Bandura)
This theory suggests we have two ways to learn. The first is by practicing and experiencing the rewards and punishments that come from our actions.
Cultivation Theory
This is one of the most extensively studied theories about the effects of television. Though it began as an effects theory from the time when there were only three major networks, current research suggests that it is still relevant though more complex.
TV and Health
Many studies have shown that television watching is associated with premature death. Factors that influence this:
Channel AND Content
Probably related to hours spent sitting, but other forms of sitting (like reading) have less impact. The best solution appears to be:
Television watching is associated with heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, & obesity.
Too much television watching affects people who are otherwise healthy and exercise regularly.
Move!!! Avoid sitting for long periods of time.The more you move throughout the day, the healthier you will be.
Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET)
How much energy an activity uses.
1 MET = Lying Quietly (sleeping is .95 MET)
Riding quietly in a car = 1.3 MET
Sitting watching television = 1.3 MET
Running = 9-20 MET
Housework = 3 - 4 MET
Dancing 4.5 - 8 MET
Bread and Circuses: Distractions
Roman emperors used entertainment to distract the populace and keep them from rebelling. Poor, disenfranchised people would go to the entertainment in the arena and forget their problems. The concept has come to represent the practice of building favor with the public by providing distracting entertainment, rather than real solutions to important problems.
Environmental Costs
One problem is that the minerals needed to build electronic devices are rare, and the mining process is very destructive to both the environment and the people who live nearby. This video explains:
Speaking of Distraction
Creative Commons
The CDC estimates that every day 9 people are killed and over 1,000 injured in accidents caused by distracted drivers. The following activities significantly increase the chances of an accident if you do them while driving:
Talking on the phone,
whether or not it is hands free
Watching videos (I was almost hit by someone watching a movie while driving an SUV on 101 in SF)
Using a GPS or reading a map
Any activity that takes the driver's concentration away from the road, even if it's only for a second
For more information, check out
It Can Wait (http://www.itcanwait.com).
This is not a required reading, but it IS important information.
Warning: this PSA is very disturbing.
Image from
Library and Archives Canada
The health impact of our media use is one example of the way some scholars examine the impact of the media technology itself, rather than considering its content. This approach to studying media is often called
media ecology
, though it is also sometimes described as
technological determinism
. Originally this research focused on television:
Neil Postman
(video for your reference--not required)
Marshal McLuhan
Analog TV was considered a "cool" medium due to its low definition and scan lines. Radio and film were considered "hot" media because they provide more detail in the channels they include. So is HD TV "hot" or "cool"?
Some media scholars acknowledge that the technology we use to communicate can have a big impact on society, but they argue that the content delivered by the media is equally (or even more) important.
Al Gore:
A Critic of Television
Some of Gore's criticisms of TV:
TV favors images over words, which leads to a preference of simpler, dramatic content rather than in-depth information
TV messages are tailored to specific audience interests. This is not good for building consensus.
TV is expensive to produce and adds to the cost of running a successful political campaign. This makes politicians more dependent on wealthy sponsors who contribute to their campaigns.
Watching television is hard on the body and brain due to constant stimulation of the amygdala, which can trigger the release of stress hormones.
Nicholas Carr:
What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains
Required Video
In this PBS video, Carr explains some of his concerns about how social media are changing the way we think. Carr acknowledges many of the benefits of social media but worries they may reduce our ability for deep, complex thinking: "Once I was a scuba diver in a sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski." Although this video is based on older material, Carr has written several books recently. He also is the author of one of this week's required readings, which is a critique of Twitter. Although the article focuses on President Trump, Carr discusses the way the platform itself can encourage provocative, hostile communication.
Clay Shirky:
Cognitive Surplus
Required Video
He has argued that social media can enable people to use their cognitive surplus to enhance creativity and support social goals. He responds to challenges to this positive view of social media in one of this week's required readings.
Bandura adds that if there is no one in our immediate environment for us to watch, we can also learn by watching people on the media. Even though we don't know these people, they can be role models for us.
The basic concept is that people who watch a lot of television believe the world is closer to the world they see on TV than what it is really like.
Similar to Spiral of Silence, the theory states that people who watch a lot of television are more likely to hold opinions closer to the "mainstream" they see on television. They are also more likely to hold stereotyped views of people's abilities.
Spiral of Silence
The media may reinforce this spiral by covering the opinions of a very vocal minority and fail to portray the views of the quiet majority.
This perspective suggests the audience actively chooses media for specific purposes. The media may still be influential, but it is in focused areas.
Parasocial Theory
We will explore this theory more in the coming weeks.
Perception has different stages, including selection, organization, and interpretation. These three stages influence each.
Common distortions in the perception process include stereotypes, prejudices, projection, and implied causality
Neuroplasticity refers to our brain's ability to change. Repeated behavior reshapes the brain. This brings us to this week's topic:
How do the media influence our perception of the world? If repeated behavior changes our brain, and we use the media repeatedly, does that mean the media are changing our brains?
Of course, we don't have anything like that today.
Required Video
Required Video
Another problem is that our electronic devices are obsolete by the time we get them home from the store. As one of your required readings and this next video from the United Nations explain, the inappropriate disposal of our electronic toys leads to several more social and environmental problems.
TV interferes with the "public sphere" and reduces opportunities for thoughtful debate. This means we do not discuss important issues as much as we should.
This theory was proposed by Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann. It is based on the idea that many people fail to say things for fear of social isolation. According to this theory, if people believe their ideas or values are unpopular, they may be inclined to be quiet about it. On the other hand, people who believe their views are popular are more inclined to speak out. This means that ideas supported by people who speak out may appear to be more widespread than they actually are, while other perspectives may appear to be less popular than they actually are because people are afraid to speak up about them. Thus, the spiral.
Cultivation research also has found that people who watch more TV often overestimate the probability they will be the victim of a violent crime.
While the evidence about how the media affect our health and the environment is relatively straightforward, when it comes to more abstract ideas about how the media influence us, scholars have a range of theories.

This Week's Essay
(on iLearn)
Part I: Due Thursday (June 14) at 9:00 a.m. on

Most of the information that Californians know about President Trump's potential negotiation with North Korea's Kim Jong Un comes to us from the media. Indeed the on-again off-again talks between the two world leaders have attracted a great deal of media attention.

For this week's essay, please consider how the media have shaped your perception of North Korea generally and your understanding of the relationship between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.
What sources of information have informed your perspective of their relationship?
Did you actively seek information or did it come to you?
What interpersonal and media channels were most influential in helping you form your opinion?
What distortions do you think may have been introduced?
What was your opinion of North Korea and its leadership prior to the 2016 election? How was this opinion influenced by fiction media, non-fiction media and personal experience?
Please choose a media theory from this lesson that helps explain the influence you feel media coverage has on your perception of North Korea and explain why you think it fits.

Your essay should be two or three paragraphs long and should be supported by a minimum of four different specific references to the material from the required reading, videos, and the Prezi lesson.

Part II of this essay will be posted on Thursday morning.

Thus, according to this theory, in some cases, because they do not see their ideas expressed in the media, people may be reluctant to speak up about them. This, in turn, means the media does not cover the idea and it may appear to be much rarer than it actually is.
The second way we learn is by watching the behavior of others who act as social role models who we can emulate.
Framing Theory
Last week we discussed the way our brains filter experiences and provide us with pictures of our surroundings that seem complete, but which are limited and potentially distorted. Framing theory suggests the media serve the same function for our understanding of the wider world. We may be unaware of the distortions. The media can NOT show us everything, so while this crowd at a Donald Trump speech may look like this...
... a news
team may
show the
While another
news team
may show
the crowd
like this:
Coined the catch phrase "The Medium is the Message"
Considered the media to be extensions of our senses.
The influence of a media channel varies depending on which senses the channel enhances. So TV extends vision, while radio extends hearing.
The impact of a media channel also varies depending on how much information it provides to the senses. "Hot" media channels provide more information. "Cool" media channels provide more information so senses need to fill in more gaps.
Wrote one of the first serious critiques of television:
Amusing Ourselves to Death
Worries that TV reduces complex issues to superficial images
He contends that interaction is needed for serious learning, and argues that TV is too much of a one way channel.
This PBS video from the 1980's is NOT required, but it is interesting how relevant it seems to today's social media criticisms.
His concerns are based on the technical constraints and qualities of the channel itself, not so much on the kind of content covered on TV.
Some early media ecology theorists considered TV to be a positive influence on society.
Other media ecologists consider TV a destructive influence on society.
Wael Ghonim:
Social Media That Promote Genuine Social Change

Required Video
In 2011, Wael Ghonim was a
employee who achieved notoriety when he used social media to encourage Egyptians to protest in the streets. Discouraged by the results of the Egyptian revolution and the, Ghonim designed
, a social platform designed to promote civil discourse. In this TED talk, he suggests there are five challenges facing social media today. In early 2016,
was purchased by the question and answer site
which closed the service.

Not all media theorists believe that the impact of social media is bad for individuals or for society. Shirky discusses his concept of
cognitive surplus
in this TED Talk.
He suggests that modern technology has created more time that is not needed for survival. Shirky calls this
cognitive surplus
This theory suggests that we develop one-sided relationships with media celebrities.
We consider these celebrities to be friends even though they do not know us.
friends may influence us. When Kanye or Ellen comment about an event, their fans take it more seriously.
Although the theory is based in research on soap operas and talk radio, social media appear to be making parasocial relationships even stronger.
Echo Chambers &
"Alternative Facts"
One of the major challenges we face today is the increased influence of so-called media "echo chambers," which, as this Zesty Things graphic illustrates, enable people to limit media exposure to sources who repeat information we already believe. As a result, most of us have limited access to new ideas or perspectives that challenge our preconceived notions. People end up arguing about important issues such as climate change, the economy, and social justice using conflicting bodies of evidence. In one of the required reading assignments, Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein describes the impact of these echo chambers on the information environment as Alexander Hamilton's nightmare.

Zeynep Tufekci:
Online Social Change: Easy to Organize, Hard to Win
On the other hand, Tufekci, author of the 2017 book
Twitter and Tear Gas
—and the subject of one of your required readings—argues that some of the same properties that make social media so powerful for initiating social protest, can also contribute to the failure of those movements. In this required video, she discusses several examples of this challenge.
Required Video
The key thing to remember is that for every minute you spend stationary with your media, you should spend some doing something active!
Channel theories consider the physical and social impacts associated with the use of specific kinds of media.
Content theories focus on the content of the media and how it affects the audience.
Uses & Gratifications theories consider the audience as an active participant in the influence of the media.
Some theories mix the two and suggest that both the technology and the content influence the audience.
Next week, we will be examining the political, economic, social, and technological factors that modify these influences. But for now, we will focus on theories about media effects for this week's essay.
On the other hand, in this required TED Talk, philosopher Michael Patrick Lynch argues that the problem of knowledge polarization is fundamentally rooted in the way we think and the things we value, not simply in our media choices. He challenges viewers to actively wrestle with their preconceptions.
Michael Patrick Lynch:
Seeing Past Your own Perspective
Required Video
Our electronic devices take a toll on people and the environment, particularly in developing countries. Greenpeace has been rating electronics companies on their environmental records for several years now. As this October 2017 scorecard indicates, no one is earning an A.
Thus, framing theory suggests that the inevitable and unavoidable process of selecting certain events to show in the media can distort the audience's understanding of what actually happens.
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