Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Media Technologies in the Information Age

The number and variety of media technologies seem still to be growing exponentially as the internet’s technical capabilities enable new technologies to take form. Traditional media – television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, and other stalwart, pre-information-age methods of delivering news and entertainment still exist, and though they are struggling to adapt to the online era, some are finding ways to flourish.  Innovative, user-friendly technologies such as the weblog (“blog”) have redefined what it means to be a professional writer, enabling anyone with a computer and internet access to publish his writings in a forum accessible to billions. The brave new media technologies of today are only in their infancy and likely will expand and diversify even more in coming years.

Media technologies important today include:

- Television.

Television is still relevant as a means of conveying news and information, airing discussion and debate, and presenting entertainment programming. Part of the appeal of television is that the viewer is not in control of the timing of each broadcast, giving the user a sense of occasion and reassurance as the network provides for its viewers the way it always has, since back in the day of tiny, flickering cathode ray tubes. In this age of large-screen, high-definition televisions, the audio-visual power of the moving image onscreen, which so captivated the viewer when the technology was new, still remains compelling.

Since broadcast television (and even, to a lesser extent, cable and satellite) is the simplest and most user-friendly of technologies, it is aimed at the broadest possible audience. According to Marsh et al (2009, p. 145), “Television is the most powerful and widely used of the advertising media.” It appeals not only to the technologically savvy, but also to those whose age and generation or lack of technical expertise lead them to feel more comfortable being led by the hand into their programming, with others doing the planning, producing, and scheduling, while the viewer merely checks the newspaper TV-guide (or, for those truly advanced, the on-screen cable guide), and tunes in. Nonetheless, television is adapting to the internet era via websites that stream their programming to viewers who would rather tune in with their computers.  I predict an age in the not-too-distant future in which the networks will webcast their entire schedules online, supplanting or even outright replacing traditional airwaves broadcasts.

Though television does have room for detailed, scholarly discussion programs and for longer entertainment works, most communication on TV is tailored to specific time constraints, from a few seconds for an advertisement to a half hour- or hour-long program. (ibid.) Messages and entertainment for television must be vivid, punchy, and tailored to those who will seek nourishment in the refrigerator if too many demands are made on their attention spans.

- The Internet Blogosphere.

A fast-growing media technology (and the central topic of this class), the blogosphere provides anyone with a computer and internet access with a means of self-expression via brief, incisive discussions, reports, and other types of communication as posts in a user-owned blog. Whether anyone else actually reads one's blog is a function of the writer's ability to grab an audience quickly using a style of writing that expresses the individual's unique voice in an intriguing way. Blog posts tend to be on the short side, with the presumption that the main audience for blogs - those who have surfed in on the internet, through a search engine of a topic, for example - are most entertained and enlightened by concise writing with a vivid voice, which they can digest quickly, and which is provocative enough that the casual internet surfer stays, writes comments, and eventually subscribes to or becomes a member of the blog. According to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, the scholarly blog my soon replace the formal journal as the favored area for student self-reflection. (Jensen, 2010)

Blogging has also provided a career choice to many writers, who have found a way to attract advertisers and other sources of revenue to their blogs. Such bloggers have re-defined what it means to be a published, professional writer, since they are the publishers, editors and masters of their own work.  Now, some bloggers find themselves being paid to write traditional books for major publishing houses; in the future, the blog may have a tremendous impact on traditional op-ed column publication.

- The Book.

Imagine - the book! If ever there were a media technology that would seem quite dead as a doornail, it's the book. After all, the major bookstore chains such as Borders are dying and/or going under. Surely that means that the internet has taken the place of the book as a favorite form of written entertainment and enlightenment for our time. But wait! The newly-introduced electronic readers such as Amazon's Kindle have become one of the best-selling holiday gift items in recent years, and downloads of books for Kindle have now outpaced the powerhouse internet bookseller's hardcover book sales.(Miller, 2010) 

Books tend to appeal more to those hungry for detailed information, with long attention spans. They require patience, as their treasures may take some time and energy to unearth. Still, that new generations of book-lovers are busily downloading not only modern works, but old, public-domain classics, the book will continue to be an important media technology in our contemporary society.

- The Theatrical Film.

The film industry may rest easy - they are still an extremely popular form of entertainment around the world. Though documentary films, short films and other forms of cinema are produced, major-studio, high-budget entertainment films dominate the market, with independent films also making their mark. The audience for films in general is broad; the film industry tends to cater to niches, such as young, teenaged boys 14-18, for whom many action films and other less cerebral fare are aimed.

Other subgenres of film include the sentimental and romantic Chick Flick, the kids-and-animals-dominated Family Films (also a major market for animation), and the costume drama, which often contains many actors of British background, and which tends to be aimed at Americans who consider themselves among the intellectual and cultural elite. Films may serve a higher social purpose and may educate and inform the audience, but the primary reason for being in the movie industry, even for high-aiming films, tends to be to generate the largest audience and revenue base possible. 

All media technologies, new and old, must find a way to function in this era of internet dominance over every area of entertainment, documentary and news production.  Television, books, and the film industry must battle with new technologies such as the blogosphere and social networking for the hearts, minds and time of the consumer. The way in which television, print media, and other older entertainment and information formats are adapting to online use will ensure their survival in the future alongside the blogosphere, social networking, and other new technologies on the scene.


Miller, C. (2010) "E-Books top Hardcovers at Amazon," New York Times. July 19, 2010. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/20/technology/20kindle.html on January 19, 2012

Jensen, R. (2010) "Can Blogs Replace Journals? Using New Media to Stimulate Pondering and Self-Reflection among Undergraduate Students," AEJMC.org. June 29, 2010. Retrieved from http://www.aejmc.org/topics/archives/1295 on January 19, 2012

Marsh, C. et al (2009) Strategic Writing: Multimedia Writing for Public Relations, Advertising and More. New York: Pearson Education.

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