Monday, January 31, 2011

M&Ms: Metal and Mass

... Communication, that is.

I'm surprised that no one's latched onto Adorno's "A Social Critique of Radio Music." It remains shockingly accurate almost 70 years later, perhaps indicative of the sort of "commodity listening" (p. 212) which radio technology has permanently instilled. His claim that the "commodity attitude" of radio-friendly music occupies a space which is veiled "under a cloak of culture and erudition" (p. 212) is decent, especially considering how lauded some of our more contemporary popular music icons are despite their often-limited musical abilities. Nonetheless, they establish precedent within a market of fickle consumers. The concepts of "good music," or music with the most number of listeners (radio play), and good music, requiring a degree of musical acumen beyond which would be marketable, are not the same things.

I want to make a clear demarcation here between Adorno's "good music" and good music. I might point to the myriad three-distorted-chords bands who have come and gone with various degrees of success over the decades, though a more recent example might include Lady Gaga (admittedly an oft-employed example). She's certainly no slouch on the piano, but to compare her playing to the complexity of a Liszt or a Chopin is to veer far away from popularized notions of music-that-sells; it works because it's simple, and the persona is interesting to many. And she would not be popular today were it not for many years of precedent set by radio-friendly artists who came before her, who they themselves would not have been popular without the mass communication enabled by the radio itself.

So, in terms of its implications for mass communication, we can reasonably surmise that good music to Adorno, as opposed to "good music," is that which is likely nowhere near the radio airwaves. We could draw similar parallels to messages through any mass medium; by simple virtue of their accessibility, their quality is inherently diminished, and we lose the ability to distinguish between "good" and good. My public speaking students are often shocked when I show them the difference in quality between any of the "big three" (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News) and sources of independent, non-profit journalism. Both transmit through mass channels, but one is bereft of syndicated cable channels, and what it trades in terms of accessibility is returned in the form of significantly more depth and cognitive reward.

Adorno concludes by asserting that, "Entertainment may have its uses, but a recognition of radio music as such would shatter the listener's artificially fostered belief that they are dealing with the world's greatest music" (p. 214). It may be a function of seeing my favorite late-80s thrash band Rigor Mortis for their 25th anniversary reunion show in two weeks (OH GOD I CAN'T WAIT) but what better way to show this than through everyone's favorite misaligned genre of music: death metal. This level of musicianship is exceedingly rare on popular radio (the occasional Rush song, Metallica once every, like, 10 years), but it's expected in metal circles, especially thrash/black/death subgenres. It requires a certain level of appreciation for camp, irony, and technical proficiency, often prevalent not just in its listeners but the bands themselves. Surely we can draw numerous connections to public discourse through mass channels with this.

Yes, the song is called "Frantic Disembowelment." Like I said, camp and irony.

What’s an Internet? LOL

I tried my best to be really fast and hoped that no one beat me and found this on but I stumbled upon a video of the “Today” show where it was taped in 1994 the title being “Katie Couric, what’s an Internet?” and the discussion that went on about the @ sign and what is internet. I mean if you think about it is only been 17 years since this was televised but to some it doesn’t seem that long ago at all. It is really funny to listen to this, but then again as Matt Lauer says: “It was a mystery to all of us.” And indeed it was. Lets us think about where we were in 1994? I was in 4th grade then and had never even seen a computer. I could not stop laughing when Bryant Gumbel was saying that people in California were scared and were going to bed with their gym shoes on and a flashlight.

This goes back to our dialogue in class from last week where we talked about the “why the patterns of communication change?” when we know the patterns change because of Technology, Culture and Communication. All of this tying directly to the fact that because of Internet which is the technology part, our culture and communication has dramatically changed. It also touches on internet evolving every day, for example on the YouTube video its show the “Today” show’s new email which then had the “at” letter which was enclosed in a circle where as now it’s much more modern in a cursive writing. They also talked about how they thought the “@” was pronounced “at” and not “about”. But this is not the first time I am surprised to know what exactly the “@” means in English. When I was learning Russian they informal name of “@” is “Sobachka” literal translation to English it does not mean “@” at all. It means “puppy or doggie” it doesn’t even look like a dog. There you have it, the evolution of internet and how it runs our daily lives. I am sure our kids someday going to laugh at us when we are still using Mac Airs where we can be using some new technologically advanced gadget to stay in touch or waste our time on.

Here is the link below if you'd like to watch it:

What do you want in a newspaper?

Our final reading of the week, Berelson’s “What ‘Missing the Newspaper’ Means,” brought to mind the many reader surveys I’ve been a part of in my career in newspaper journalism. Why do people read our products? What are our strengths and weaknesses? And most important, what should we do more of to attract more readers or keep them happy? Can we cut back on anything?

And again, I was struck by themes detected in 1940s (or earlier) research that are still true today -- even as the newspaper / journalism industry goes through this major change from broadcast to networked communication.

One illustration of the similarities between more recent reader research and the Berelson piece is to discuss a survey done by the Readership Institute (a division of the Media Management Center at Northwestern University) in 2004 called the New Readers survey. It was done at a time when a lot of media were trying to find ways to engage new, especially younger, audiences, but its findings still are applicable to a wide variety of audiences. There’s a bulletin board at the Lincoln Journal Star spelling out these experiences prominently; they serve as a good reminder for editors and writers.

The survey looked at the various “experiences” readers said they had with their newspaper that cause them to read more or read less. It looked at editorial (news) and advertising content, and it broke down those experiences into “motivators” or “inhibitors.” The survey found 34 experiences but focused on eight that it found to be the most “actionable” for newspapers:

The newspaper:
-- Looks out for my civic and personal interests (motivator);
-- Makes me smarter (motivator);
-- Gives me something to talk about (motivator);
-- Offers good service (motivator, especially focused on delivery and access);
-- Offers value for my money (motivator);
-- Has useful advertising (motivator);
-- Offers too much (inhibitor -- this can be stories that are too long, the newspaper has too many pages or special sections, or it tries to cover too many topics);
-- Discriminates and stereotypes (inhibitor).

The first two experiences reflect Berelson’s “serious news” findings. Berelson also found an aspect of “gives me something to talk about” in his research, pointing out that the paper offered a “tool for daily living” and social prestige and social contact. His research also pointed out a “too much” factor, in people who were relieved to not have to read the paper every day.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The history of 'content'

A friend of mine posted this link on Facebook, and I saw it during our class break on Tuesday night. It's a great complement to the discussion we'd had in class about the changes in mass communications historically, and it's quite attractive for those of us who appreciate visual display of information!

I found it interesting that it's called "history of content." It seems to me that it's very much about the media and distribution, not the content. (Although the subhead explains much better that it's about the history of circulation and consumption.)

Enjoy. (Click on it to zoom in.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sample entry for group projects

As promised, a sample for the group project:

1. Charles Cooley, "The Process of Social Change"

“[T]his enlargement of [communicative] intercourse has affected the processes of social change…within the past fifty years there have been developed new means of communication—fast mails, telegraphs, telephones, photography, and the marvels of the daily newspaper—all tending to hasten and diversify the flow of thought and feeling to multiply the possibilities of social relation” (24).

  • The history of communication is the foundation of all history (21).
  •  Speech has limitations; lacks range in time and place (22)
  • Writing enables cooperation, social enlargement, and specialization (22);  Printing makes communication yet more democratic (22)
  •  Individuality and association are mutually enforcing (24), thus communication is the way that people become people, like the seed becomes a tree
This is just one model; you could very well have more explanation in each bullet point. The real purpose of this exercise is to give people a reference that they can look back on when writing their final papers, so try to make it as useful as possible.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Web right now....

After considering the ideas presented in the readings this week, I keep coming back to a cartoon posted on one of my favorite websites, The Oatmeal, and wonder what these sociologists would say about "The State of the Web Right Now?" Would writers such as Edward Sabir scoff at the many diverse, yet similar, mediums we use now all available on the internet? When he wrote "The multiplication of communication channels only added to the obstacles and lack of communication between people," there were only comparatively few mediums emerging in the cultural landscape. In today's world, we must be quick to catch on to new mediums emerging almost daily, all with the help of interconnectivity from smartphones, laptops and the Web. What sort of social, cultural and political life changes would Cooley observe with these new mediums? Have they connected people as he said the written word does, or have they, in some sense, isolated people? People don't have to make a phone call and talk to a live person to find store hours, or stop at a gas station to ask for directions. They can simply log on to the Web and avoid sometimes annoying human-to-human interaction. In today's society, these are the simple type of questions Sabir wrote about on page 77, "Because language is extraordinarily rich in meaning it sometimes becomes a little annoying or even dangerous to rely upon it where only a simple this or that, or yes or no, is expected to be the response." The Web content is far less complex than language would be if the person got the information directly from another person. There is no body language or voice tone to interpret, for example.

Even in the early part of the 20th century, new media competed for attention and led to the growth of individuality, Cooley wrote. With 1 in 13 people globally on Facebook, I think we've seen unprecedented acceptance of individuality. From the introduction by Peters and Simonson, we learn why newspapers had and continue to have success. It's partially due to the documentation of events and discoveries that eventually led to the advancement of society. It's also due to the idea that people like to know what's going on with their neighbors. They are socially curious, which is why people use Facebook. Ultimately, today's society shares the same sort of hope and progressive spirit when Americans and Europeans were on the brink of a new information era at the beginning of the 20th century. Will it stay that way, or are we riding a wave that will eventually crash?

How do you get your news?

Everyone I am sure has different ways which they get their news daily, whether it’s Journal Star, USA Today, Daily Nebraska, Omaha World Harold, or Google News. Some even might get their news of off Facebook; I wouldn’t be surprised of that. One of the things that I come across is that not everyone gets their news from actual news source. It has nothing to do with not wanting to read the news but also with how busy our daily lives are with work, school, family and other responsibilities that we don’t necessarily have time to read about what is going on around our town, country or the world.

For example today, I was busy with school and work I hardly had time to even check my e-mail. So after coming home from class my husband said, “did you read about what happened at the Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow?” Of course I said no and asked what had happened. Now, some people also might not care to know about what had happened in Moscow Airport especially is they never traveled their or have family that live in Moscow. That is the airport I have been to at least 10 times if not more while traveling, I had sat in some of those chairs while waiting for my connecting flight.

The first week of class we touched on the subject of how fast news travels now versus decades ago where it would be months before we heard the news let alone have the list of people who are injured and dead the day the bombing took place. The reason I wanted to blog about news and how we get news and how fast was because it can be detrimental to how we react or perceive daily news. When the earthquake happened in Haiti, within hours there were monetary donations set up along with volunteers leaving their work or house to go over and help. News Media from newspaper to Anderson Cooper were their no shorter than a day to give us the latest of what the situation looked like from Haiti. Also, when the 9/11 happened I was in Lincoln East High school on a lock down within the hours of what happened in New York City, no one was to leave the school unless otherwise decided by the principal it was safe to leave.

The way we get our daily news today it’s much faster than anyone would want to get it. But it’s also beneficial for those who would want to make decisions based on what is going on around them. I am just glad that no family of mine was in Domodedovo Airport when the bombing took place, but I also know that a lot of Tajik people got hurt or died and my prayers go out to their families.

Monday, January 24, 2011

How Much You Need to Know

I'd like tackle the inquiry of how much information responsible adults are, or should be expected to know in order to be informed citizens. I hope my interpretation of the question is accurate; if not, I apologize profusely.

I might first suggest that evaluating such a threshold from a purely quantitative perspective (volume or amount of information, i.e. how much) is impossible. But, as Lippmann suggests (and documents having experienced), modern society mandates that we have a knowledge base developed at least enough to function within individual circumstances; we're all busy, and besides, “Modern society is not visible to anybody, nor intelligible continuously and as a whole. One section is visible to another section; one series of acts is intelligible to this group or another to that” (Lippmann 39). Conflating quantitative and qualitative measures of "enough knowledge" might be appropriate here; the plumber presumably doesn't have, nor do they need, the same "amount" (or type) of knowledge about interest, credit, and private equity that the accountant does. Similarly, the accountant doesn't need an intricate understanding of pipe laying or water pressure systems.

By the way, plumbers make remarkably similar (if not more) amounts of money to accountants, but one occupation requires "more knowledge" in the form of a four-year degree. Take THAT, meritocracy!

I digress. To provide a blunt answer, I'd say that "knowing enough" to distinguish issues in the public forum which affect one's individual circumstance from those which don't, along with the ability to think critically about them, is adequate. Lippmann makes a distinction between private and public opinions: "A private opinion may be quite complicated, and may issue in quite complicated actions, in a whole train of subsidiary opinions, as when a man decides to build a house and then makes a hundred judgments as to how it shall be built," whereas "a public opinion has no such immediate responsibility or continuous result" (Lippmann 40). The result, "whether an idiot or genius has voted," is "a pencil mark on a piece of paper" (Lippmann 40).

Given this, while still cumbersome, the reasonable parameters of what one could be expected to know narrows considerably. Unless one writes professionally about popular culture, my guess is that Nicki Manaj is somewhat irrelevant in scope compared to, say, health care reform (which should really be called health insuance reform, anyway). It's not particularly laborious to form an opinion about the latest prefabricated pop icon; they're literally designed to be as consumable, marketable, and accessible as possible. Health insurance, on the other hand, is nowhere near as simple in its mechanics or underpinnings, but as Lippmann explains, the very few who guide public opinion on the matter, in any direction, would have you believe that it's an up or down scenario; agree or disagree, not necessarily with reform's long list of specificities, but with the entire idea.

Put simply, Nicki Manaj is inconsequential to one's rights and livelihood in public space. An individual's ability to access quality health care at reasonable cost is not. Yes, it's complicated, and requires broad understandings of many subjects (economics, history, civil liberties, political science; the list is endless). However, in this instance, a citizen's ability to follow the discourse surrounding the reform of its access could have a profound affect on whether or not one supports it, and the scope of its impact is undeniable: every American citizen. Such an opinion should not, nay, must not be based on a straightforward process that those who legislate would have us adopt. It could potentially betray the ideals of a free and just society, and is ultimately to no one's benefit but theirs. Apply this to other hot-button civic issues (gay marriage, abortion, gun control, take your pick), and I believe a similar conclusion is reached within respective nuances.

Certainly, the majority is susceptible regardless, but the individual doesn't have to be complacent. What I'm providing is admittedly normative in its cultural assumptions, but my answer is thus: it should be reasonable to expect an American adult to know enough about issues of personal and public import to distinguish, understand, and think critically about them. How these individual qualifiers are defined, I think, would be an interesting discussion.

The world wide web in the words of Jane Addams?

While reading through Jane Addams'selection from "The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets," one theme of present day came to my mind, the internet. While this may be a broad concept, with every word I read it just seemed to fit into this theme that was brewing in my mind. Addams writes about the theater acting as a "house of dreams" for young people, "...a place where they can satisfy that craving for a conception of life higher than that which the actual world offers them," (pg. 26). I thought of the way that some websites also do this for people, such as Second Life, Farmville, etc. These activities offer some sort of satisfaction to people who use them regularly, possibly fulfilling a need they possess to catch a glimpse of something outside of their world. Another idea that Addams explains is that, "...while many people go to the theater if only to see represented, and to hear discussed, the themes which seem to them so tragically important, there is no doubt that what they hear there, flimsy and poor as it often is, easily becomes their actual moral guide," (pg. 28). This idea led me to social media (and, just to mention, reality television shows like Jersey Shore). If young people see posts from their role models (whether these be celebrities or not) on Twitter or Facebook, do they start to believe these are the values and opinions they feel that they should find important? Also, are things that young people read, watch, and interact with online, '"literally making the minds of our urban populations today?"'(pg 28.) Addams goes on to explain that theater,'" a place of culture, a place where people learn to think, act, and feel."'Is the same true for the websites young people are saturated with today?

This may be a broad comparison, due to the infinity of websites, but nonetheless, I saw a connection. :) I suppose it could be less generalized and make comparisons specifically to social media, however, I felt that when comparing it to Addams' selection, it could hit on many areas.

Mark Twain Strikes Again!

Throughout the readings I was reminded of the famous Mark Twain quotation, "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme."  I felt that the readings did a great job of illustrating the utopian excitement of the progressives slowly dissolving into the dystopian views of Lippman and Lasswell, and I would argue that this very model of utopian excitement about the progression communication technology dissolving into dystopian hysteria about the "future of the children" can be seen in our shift from traditional journalism (radio, television, and print) to more fragmented electronic representations (blogs, youtube, wikipedia, the Daily Show, etc).  For example, if one were to substitute out some dates, or an occasional women's suffrage comment, one could easily see Lippman's (p. 38) rant about voting being a lead story on Fox News and MSNBC.

This poses the question of how this will all play out.  Is reality closer to the excitement of Cooley and Dewey or has "the multiplication of communication channels only added to the obstacles and lack of communication between people" (Sapir, p. 74)? As for myself, I am looking forward to the rest of the readings because I have a sneaking suspicion that we are somewhere in the middle where media are not terrible dredges upon our society, but at the same time will never be able fulfill all of our hopes and aspirations.  Essentially, I feel like I am a fan of Cooley's metaphor of waves.  We have progressed out of our primitive society, where our lack of interaction (intercourse via Cooley) led individuals to be restricted by the limited nature of their individual or small group’s marsh or shallows.  While modern society is more akin to the “uninterrupted ocean, upon which the waves of change meet with no obstacles except on another, and roll as high and as far as the propagating impulse can carry them...[allowing] light ripples to now run far: the latest fashion or books permeates the back counties and encircles the earth" (p. 24-25).

Interesting Information

For those of you who are big Aaron Sorkin fans (West Wing, Sports Night, Studio 60, and The Social Network) I thought you might be interesting in a play that he wrote 3 years ago called "The Farnsworth Invention." It is the story of Philo Farnsworth, a kid in Rigby, Idaho, who by many account invented television only to have it stolen by David Sarnoff (who was mentioned in the readings a couple times).  And it was Sarnoff and NBC who perfected television leading some to say, "The turning point of the 20th century wasn't on television, it was television." Check it out if you are interested, it is a quick and great read!

The Farnsworth Invention Trailer  

When is too much information too much?

How much are we to know? I mean, let’s think about it; how much information are we suppose to process each day to be fully informed adults?

As for my self, I probably don’t know half of what I should or what society should think I should know. But, it is nice to know Walter Lippmann was in the same boat as me, because in his own words, “I cannot find time to do what is expected of me in the theory of democracy; that is to know what is going on and to have an opinion worth expressing on every question which confronts a self-governing community.”

On any given day, we are supposed to have opinions, on Health Care Reform, explosion in Moscow, the Superbowl contestants, and what outrageous outfit Nicki Minaj stepped out in today. It’s too much, no one person can know this much information all the time, but mass media demands that we do.

What would Lippmann say about our society? He was arguing back in 1925 that our society was already on information overload. He would probably say the same thing he said back then, “ it’s bad enough today…to be condemned to live under the barrage of eclectic information.”

So, what does one do? Do we continue as well always have; selfishly knowing only what concerns us, or do we attempt to know everything to consider society as a whole (less one Nicki Minaj clothing choices)?

For me, I think I will take the advice of Lippmann, “life is too short for the pursuit of omniscience by the counting in a state of nervous excitement of all the leaves on all the trees.”

NPR: "Common Cultural Ground Getting Harder to Come By"

Hey y'all,

I heard a story on National Public Radio today that touches on a lot of what we talked about in our first class meeting and in the readings. The basic idea is that the networked aged in which we now live has created a "fractured culture." The fragmentation is a result of the overwhelming amount of choices we now have in how we consume media and interact with each other in relation to it. This story talks about how technology has fundamentally changed the way we communicate with each other in the sense that there is no longer "one dominant cultural conversation." This is not completely a negative thing, just the evolution of what was once mass market. You can listen to the story here:

"Common Cultural Ground Getting Harder to Come By"
By Elizabeth Blair -- January 24, 2011

You might notice that "fractured culture" idea conflicts with Dewey's idea that communication works "not by transporting the private thoughts of people's minds but by making people share in the making of a common life (pg. 35)." While there are certainly dominating forces in pop culture that capture the attention of the masses and dictate what we end up talking about around the water cooler (American Idol *cringe*, Jersey Shore *double cringe*), those moments of cultural unity are much more rare.

A Flexible Response to the Collapse of Society (Jessy)

One reoccurring theoretical theme in many of the early 20th century writings on the advent and expansion of mass communication was the fear such approaches disseminated morally subversive and intellectually bereft material. Sherwood Anderson argued the ability to quickly circulate materials contributed to a social situation where “[b]ooks, badly imagined and written though they may be in the hurry of our times, are in every household” (Peters & Simonson 30). For Anderson, the collective emphasis on haste undermined the ability for individuals to participate in self-reflection and produce works of nuance and depth. Many of Anderson’s thoughts are paralleled in Jane Addams’ earlier 1909 text The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets where she asserts the rise of cinema was a corrupting influence for young Americans longing for the means to escape their social realities. According to Addams, “[i]s it not astounding that a city allows thousands of its youth to fill their impressionable minds with these absurdities which certainly will become the foundation for their working moral codes and the data from which they will judge the properties of life?” (Peters & Simonson 27). From this perspective, cinema’s potential to divert the attention of the audience from worldly interactions threatened the moral social fabric.

The writings of Anderson and Addams exemplify a prevalent argument made throughout the history of social criticism. From Plato to Kenneth Burke, theorists have repeatedly argued that new advances in technology (the printing press, industrialization, and the internet to name a few) threaten our ability to connect, to rationalize, and to grow. In short, our very humanness. It is somewhat comical today to read the level of concern in Addams’ piece over the growing popularity of movies, which certainly have not lead to the moral disintegration of civilization she had envisioned. However, it is important to ask if we are not also falling into similar traps when we frame the use of technological advances such as text-messaging, 24 hour news cycles, or social networking as substantial symbolic and material threats to our longevity. Instead of discussing the ways mass media potentially threatens civilization, I believe it is time we begin to theorize how such changes in communication lead to a more “flexible” human subject. An individual who is symbolically equipped to prosper in multiple diverse social environments with relative ease. Despite the fears of many conservatives, humanity has been able to survive even after the development of print, radio, television, and Twitter, because of our ability to adapt to evolving social and rhetorical contexts. By providing expansive access to knowledge and experience, it is quite likely mass media (and currently networks) have constituted a maturing social flexibility.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Comparing a 1929 writing to today

The “From Middletown: A Study in Contemporary American Culture” reading of the 1924-25 study of Muncie, Ind., stuck with me most in our readings this week because of its timelessness. Many of the concerns and criticisms of the new media of the time (magazines, books, and movies) are still general concerns of society about media and specifically entertainment today.

Many of the general statistics and trends could be reflected in surveys taken today. For example, romantic comedies tend to be more popular with women than men today; women at the time of the Muncie study seemed more interested in the tales of “heart interest,” the study states. Several times throughout the piece, the authors note concerns among townspeople of the effects on society that these leisure activities might cause. Some feared movies could cause “early sophistication” in teens and a relaxing of social taboos -- a concern about modern movies, music and writing throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. One mother’s reaction to some of the “sex adventure” films and magazines of the era rings true to comments you could hear today: “‘Children weren’t bold like they are today when we were young!’”

There’s also a lament in this piece that enjoyment of leisure time had become more passive. People didn’t learn to play music anymore; they instead sat and listened to it on radio or phonographs. They sat and read; they didn’t go to speeches. As obesity becomes a health problem today, our passive use of media has been cited as a possible cause.

Similarly, Jane Addams’ concerns in “The House of Dreams” also reflect so many criticisms today about youth and mass media. I was just about expecting to read that Addams would urge youth to put down the Wii controller to get outside and play. She also raises the concern that we still hear often about the violent influences of the “heroes” of the media and how they affect the moral development of youth.

The last section of the Lynd and Lynd piece about what people do with their leisure time broken down by class -- and what they would do if they had more leisure time -- was most striking. The study notes that business (upper class) men play golf with business associates, and they use it as a business asset, while women of all classes say they would read more if they had more time. Working-class women, more so than business class women, say they would use the time for more rest. I would theorize that studies today, 80 years after this was published, would find similar results.

The final conclusion also seems to foreshadow some of the isolation criticism some have about our current networked society: “In view of the tightening of social and economic lines in the growing city, it is not surprising that the type of leisure-time organization which dominates today tends in the main to erect barriers to keep others out.”