Understanding Media

“From Papyrus to Pixels” discusses how the predicted downfall of the book never quite came to be. Books never quite had a singular definition, and they are still useful, widely purchased, and don’t seem to going anywhere anytime in the near future. Electronic books offer unique advantages in some situations (lighter in weight, more discretion, etc.), but they have not replaced print books completely and it seems that they won’t do so. Audiobooks and other digital reading formats also offer unique opportunities and challenges for readers, authors, and publishers, but again have not completely replaced the print book. This reading was particularly interesting to me as a librarian, because I often get questions like: “Do libraries still exist?” “How long do you think libraries will still be around?” “How are you adapting to everything moving to a digital format?” Most of the these are poorly veiled inquiries that are really trying to get at the perceived demise of my field (and my job). These questions seem to lack the understanding that this article presented of technological mediums always being in some state of flux, with each format presenting new and unique challenges and opportunities.

The so-called digital age presents more opportunities for self-publishing as there is a relatively low barrier to entry, which is access to an Internet connection and some sort of device. While this levels the playing field to some extent (at least while net neutrality is still a thing), the sheer volume of content produced also presents its own challenges, which leads into Sardar’s work and the idea that we, as media consumers, are always behind in catching up on web content. In “Why should we study the Media?,” Sarsar mentions Lazarsfeld of the Bureau of Applied Social Research at Columbia University, who said that one of the functions of the media was to “reduce active public action” because “people are too busy consuming.” Perhaps all of us have felt burnout on social media and seen the popular idea of social media breaks or “cleanses.”  While this overwhelming consumption was discussed as a function of the media during the 1940s, its implications can still be seen in the present day media. While reading this, I immediately thought of a very recent example in the news, which was the appearance of Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to President Trump, on Meet the Press, in which she stated that the White House press secretary was offering “alternative facts” rather than admitting to lying about the size of the crowds during Trump’s inauguration. This example plays into an overarching goal of the Trump administration, which seems to be aimed at making the truth and facts convoluted and ultimately difficult to figure out. Perhaps this is all centered upon the hope that Americans will simply be too overwhelmed with all the media input to investigate and find truth, to trust any media source, and to continue any meaningful engagement in politics. Before reading this, I hadn’t thought of this truth-evasion as some sort of strategy, but it makes sense as we all probably face at least some level of technological fatigue in all of the emails, tweets, and other notifications that happen throughout our daily lives.

-Sarah Kirkley

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One thought on “Understanding Media

  1. Louise Milone says:

    Week 2 – History in our Digital Era

    In his 2005 publication, “Essays on History and New Media,” Roy Rosenzweig says, “There currently is a deep divide among historians on the direction this partnership [between history and computing] will take in the future. Will the partnership revolutionize the way history is taught and researched or will it simply offer additional tools to improve traditional practices?” I believe the latter is correct.

    Having decided that I was not eligible for, or interested in an academic career, I chose to take History 7045 at GSU as my introductory course. It would have been much more useful to have spent that time training to use technological tools to research and present history. There was no such introduction, leaving me looking for ways to evaluate and find reliable web based information sites (thank you Rosenzweig for adding to my list), how to use web based publishing programs, how to create an interesting blog, and how to effectively use social media.

    Rosenzweig goes on to makes some additional important points that are still relevant twelve years later: 1) economics, both personal and within school systems, create unequal access to technology; and 2) academia does not reward creative use of technology, making experimentation unattractive for those interested in becoming tenured professors.

    Rosenzweig’s points are amplified by Dan Cohen in his draft, “The Ivory Tower and the Open Web: Introduction: Burritos, Browsers, and Books,” (posted in 2011). Cohen explains the push back on modern technology by many in academia, including historians, “Academics have gotten to where they are by playing a highly scripted game extremely well. That means understanding and following self-reinforcing rules for success…in history and the humanities at most universities in the United States, there is a vertically integrated industry of monographs, beginning with the dissertation…followed by the revisions to that work and the publication of it as a book to get tenure, followed by a second book to reach full professor status.”

    Cohen’s story about Nate Silver’s beginnings is instructive, showing us how his creative use of technology brought him to prominence, but pointing out he also had the drive and intellect to go from surveying Mexican restaurants to being one of the most influential political columnists of recent years. Unfortunately, in 2016 mathematical calculation was undercut by gut reaction to insecurity brought on by fear of rapidly changing life experience. Actually, politics has always been about human emotion, which cannot always be accurately quantified. Sometimes deep understanding of the circumstances of people’s daily lives, of what animates their dreams and their fears, is a necessary underpinning for predicting their behavior, especially in changing times. That usually requires walking with them, as my religious friends would describe it.

    I can’t move away from these readings without commenting on Hayden White. Many academic leaders in history and the humanities credit Hayden White with monumental contributions to these disciplines. Like many who look deeply into the philosophical foundations of intellectual pursuits, White’s work is dense and tedious. His theories of narrative history, that in the end, narration takes on the ideology of the narrator, consciously or subconsciously, no matter how strictly one tries to believe they are objective, has filled books with prose similar to the 33 pages we read. Admittedly, I am automatically skeptical of its value when I must read a sentence three times just to find the subject and the verb. For me, this is a perfect example of what brings accolades and position in the traditional academic world, while leaving most non-academics catatonic.

    However, in the interest of objectivity, University of Rochester Professor Paul Duro said of White, “His central thesis that historical writing may be understood as a system of tropes, such as the metaphorical and ironic, allowed for the beneficial expansion of historical thinking into the realm of literary and critical theory. In this last sense, all of us in the humanities are followers of White.” (from “Between History and Narrative: A Colloquium to Honor Hayden White,” http://www.rochester.edu/news/show.php?id=3356, posted April 16, 2009, describing a then upcoming conference in his honor at the University of Rochester.)

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