Media and Technology in Society

Media and Technology and the media are interwoven, and neither can be separated from contemporary society in most developed and developing nations. Media is a term that refers to all print, digital, and electronic means of communication. From the time the printing press was created (and even before), technology has influenced how and where information is shared. Today, it is impossible to discuss media and the ways that societies communicate without addressing the fast-moving pace of technology. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to share news of your baby’s birth or a job promotion, you phoned or wrote letters. You might tell a handful of people, but probably you would not call up several hundred, including your old high school chemistry teacher, to let them know. Now, by tweeting or posting your big news, the circle of communication is wider than ever. Therefore, when we talk about how societies engage with technology we must take media into account, and vice versa.

Technology creates media. The comic book you bought your daughter at the drugstore is a form of media, as is the movie you rented for family night, the internet site you used to order dinner online, the billboard you passed on the way to get that dinner, and the newspaper you read while you were waiting to pick up your order. Without technology, media would not exist; but remember, technology is more than just the media we are exposed to.

media and technology

Categorizing Technology

There is no one way of dividing technology into categories. Whereas once it might have been simple to classify innovations such as machine-based or drug-based or the like, the interconnected strands of technological development mean that advancement in one area might be replicated in dozens of others. Utility patents are the first type. These are granted for the invention or discovery of any new and useful process, product, or the machine, or for a significant improvement to existing technologies. The second type of patent is a design patent. Commonly conferred in architecture and industrial design, this means someone has invented a new and original design for a manufactured product. Plant patents, the final type, recognize the discovery of new plant types that can be asexually reproduced. While genetically modified food is the hot-button issue within this category, farmers have long been creating new hybrids and patenting them.

Types of Media and Technology

Media and technology have evolved hand in hand, from early print to modern publications, from radio to television to film. New media emerge constantly, such as we see in the online world.

Print Newspaper

Early forms of print media, found in ancient Rome, were hand-copied onto boards and carried around to keep the citizenry informed. With the invention of the printing press, the way that people shared ideas changed, as information could be mass produced and stored. For the first time, there was a way to spread knowledge and information more efficiently; many credit this development as leading to the Renaissance and ultimately the Age of Enlightenment. This is not to say that newspapers of old were more trustworthy than the Weekly World News and National Enquirer are today. Sensationalism abounded, as did censorship that forbade any subjects that would incite the populace.

The invention of the telegraph, in the mid-1800s, changed print media almost as much as the printing press. Suddenly information could be transmitted in minutes. As the 19th century became the 20th, American publishers such as Hearst redefined the world of print media and wielded an enormous amount of power to socially construct national and world events. Of course, even as the Canadian media empires of Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook) and Roy Thomson or the U.S. empires of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer were growing, print media also allowed for the dissemination of counter-cultural or revolutionary materials. Internationally, Vladimir Lenin’s Irksa (The Spark) newspaper was published in 1900 and played a role in Russia’s growing communist movement.

With the invention and widespread use of television in the mid-20th century, newspaper circulation steadily dropped off, and in the 21st century, circulation has dropped further as more people turn to internet news sites and other forms of new media to stay informed. This shift away from newspapers as a source of information has profound effects on societies. When the news is given to a large diverse conglomerate of people, it must (to appeal to them and keep them subscribing) maintain some level of broad-based reporting and balance. As newspapers decline, news sources become more fractured, so that the audience can choose specifically what it wants to hear and what it wants to avoid. But the real challenge to print newspapers is that revenue sources are declining much faster than circulation is dropping. With an anticipated decline in revenue of over 20 percent by 2017, the industry is in trouble (Ladurantaye 2013). Unable to compete with digital media, large and small newspapers are closing their doors across the country. Something to think about is the concept of embodied energy mentioned earlier. The print newspapers are responsible for much of these costs internally. Digital media has downloaded much of these costs onto the consumer through personal technology purchases.

Television and Radio

Radio programming obviously preceded television, but both shaped people’s lives in much the same way. In both cases, information (and entertainment) could be enjoyed at home, with a kind of immediacy and community that newspapers could not offer. Prime Minister Mackenzie King broadcast his radio message out to Canada in 1927. He later used radio to promote economic cooperation in response to the growing socialist agitation against the abuses of capitalism both outside and within Canada (McGivern 1990).

Radio was the first “live” mass medium. People heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as it was happening. Hockey Night in Canada was first broadcast live in 1932. Even though people were in their own homes, media allowed them to share these moments in real time. Unlike newspapers, radio is a survivor. As Canada’s globally renowned radio marketing guru Terry O’Reilly asserts, radio survives “because it is such a ‘personal’ medium. Radio is a voice in your ear. It is a highly personal activity.” He also points out that “radio is local. It broadcasts news and programming that is mostly local in nature. And through all the technological changes happening around radio, and in radio, be it AM moving to FM moving to satellite radio and internet radio, basic terrestrial radio survives into another day” (O’Reilly 2014). This same kind of separate-but-communal approach occurred with other entertainment too. School-aged children and office workers still gather to discuss the previous night’s instalment of a serial television or radio show.

The influence of Canadian television has always reflected a struggle with the influence of U.S. television dominance, the language divide, and strong federal government intervention into the industry for political purposes. There were thousands of televisions in Canada receiving U.S. broadcasting a decade before the first two Canadian stations began broadcasting in 1952 (Wikipedia, N.d.). Public television, in contrast, offered an educational nonprofit alternative to the sensationalization of news spurred by the network competition for viewers and advertising dollars. Those sources—PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) in the United States, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), and CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), which straddled the boundaries of public and private, garnered a worldwide reputation for quality programming and a global perspective. Al Jazeera, the Arabic independent news station, has joined this group as a similar media force that broadcasts to people worldwide.

The impact of television on North American society is hard to overstate. By the late 1990s, 98 percent of homes had at least one television set. All this television has a powerful socializing effect, with these forms of visual media providing reference groups while reinforcing social norms, values, and beliefs.

Film

The film industry took off in the 1930s, when colour and sound were first integrated into feature films. Like television, early films were unifying for society: As people gathered in theatres to watch new releases, they would laugh, cry, and be scared together. Movies also act as time capsules or cultural touchstones for society. From tough-talking Clint Eastwood to the biopic of Facebook founder and Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg, movies illustrate society’s dreams, fears, and experiences. The film industry in Canada has struggled to maintain its identity while at the same time embracing the North American industry by actively competing for U.S. film production in Canada. Today, a significant number of the recognized trades occupations requiring apprenticeship and training are in the film industry. While many North Americans consider Hollywood the epicentre of moviemaking, India’s Bollywood actually produces more films per year, speaking to the cultural aspirations and norms of Indian society.

New Media

New media encompasses all interactive forms of information exchange. These include social networking sites, blogs, podcasts, wikis, and virtual worlds. The list grows almost daily. New media tends to level the playing field in terms of who is constructing it (i.e., creating, publishing, distributing, and accessing information) (Lievrouw and Livingstone 2006), as well as offering alternative forums to groups unable to gain access to traditional political platforms, such as groups associated with the Arab Spring protests (van de Donk et al. 2004). However, there is no guarantee of the accuracy of the information offered. In fact, the immediacy of new media coupled with the lack of oversight means that we must be more careful than ever to ensure our news is coming from accurate sources.New media is already redefining information sharing in ways unimaginable even a decade ago. New media giants like Google and Facebook have recently acquired key manufacturers in the aerial drones market creating an exponential ability to reach further in data collecting and dissemination. While the corporate line is benign enough, the implications are much more profound in this largely unregulated arena of aerial monitoring. With claims of furthering remote internet access, “industrial monitoring, scientific research, mapping, communications, and disaster assistance,” the reach is profound  (Claburn 2014). But when aligned with military and national surveillance interests these new technologies become largely exempt from regulations and civilian oversight.