Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Mass Media

The first things that come to mind when thinking about mass media are radio, television, movies, books, iPods, cell phones, newspapers, blogs, the internet and magazines. I feel most people would probably think of those mediums as well; what differentiates those items is how we feel about them. While many people worship new media, I feel a little more spectacle about them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my blackberry just as much as the next person, and I can’t imagine my life without my television or laptop; I can’t help but wonder, however, how beneficial these mediums are. Sure they can give us hours upon hours of entertainment... but why are they here? What is the real purpose behind new media?

All of the mediums I listed from radios to television and cell phones to magazines seem like they help humans communicate and become social with one another. The television gives us something to discuss with co-workers and classmates; cell phones help us keep in contact with friends and family; radios bring us information about people and places all over the world; magazines bond us together with those who are also, oh-so-concerned about Britney Spears’ babies. Right?

Neil Postman said in his keynote speech, The Humanism of Media Ecology, “In Democracy in America, de Tocqueville worried that the printed word would lead Americans away from a sense of community and toward what he called egotism. De Tocqueville could not know of radio, television, or the Internet, but if he could, I’m sure he would ask of them, Do they help maintain a balance between a sense of social cohesion and individuality, both of which are necessary to a humane democracy? I do not think he would be impressed by media whose formats encourage isolation.”

This is an amazing, eye-opening point. Isolation.

As we move forward and embark newer and newer media, humans are distancing themselves further and further away from each other. Now we can buy groceries online without having to step a single foot in the local grocery store! We can purchase clothes on eBay instead of shopping at malls. We can video-call our friends instead of really seeing them. We can order movies through cable instead of going out to the video store. We can even “poke” people through facebook. We can virtually do just about anything we want without leaving our homes. This is a frightening reality and it is happening now!

So while I understand why people value new media, I encourage them to also step outside into the real world. This is where they can really smell fresh air, feel and touch real objects and communicate face-to-face with each other!


Information Junkies

In Neil Postman’s keynote speech he mentions a quote from Henry David Thoreau Walden that really moved me.

We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate... We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.

This statement jumps out at me for being so true to our world today. Postman later referred to us as information junkies. Humans today have the world at their fingertips and while this may seem enticing and brilliant many of us have somehow slipped through the cracks of our keyboards and can’t seem to get out. We are obsessed with our computers... our personal private investigators; whether it is the latest news on Brangelina, the hurricane in Texas, Sarah Palin’s impregnated daughter, or your next-door-neighbour’s boyfriend’s sister’s friend, we are fixated on news and people that really don’t affect us. Because it is all “at our fingertips” however, we find ourselves trapped behind our computer screens discovering information that is high unnecessary. The form of media I feel endorses this obsession most, in my life and the lives of many, is of course: facebook.

Facebook has become overwhelmingly popular in the last four years; and while some try to kid themselves into thinking it is just a “social networking website” the truth is that it is a human search engine. I cannot count the amount of times I have seen received friend requests from people I do not even recognize. After sending a private message to them asking them who they are and how they know me, often I receive a message back explaining either “we met at that party!” or “I’m Amanda’s friend’s brother!” After reading this most people, inlcuding myself, just accept the invitation and get on with their lives, leaving Amanda’s friend’s brother and that random guy at that random party on your “friend’s” list.

Another term that facebook tries to fool us with: friend.

To me, my friends are the ones that know practically everything about me and truly care for me and, well, who I’ve conversed with for more than 15 minutes! Facebook uses this familiar and warm term to describe perfectly anonymous strangers. It is because they are so mysterious that we find ourselves creeping their pictures, comments and statuses to find out more. We always want more! With the click of a button we can find out what they wear, what their friends look like, if they’re in a relationship (if so, what kind? Married, engaged, dating, it’s complicated?), if they are partiers or home-bodies and even what they did last Friday night. Because of the vast number of “friends” everybody has - usually anywhere between 100 and 700 – humans can find themselves on facebook for hours, even days lurking the lives of others.

My point? I feel this is the greatest waste of time known to man! This is the definition of insignificant information. We shouldn’t be aware of what everyone has done on their own time, or if they are in a relationship or what their sexual orientation is. Those pieces of information should only be known by those who are truly friends. Those that do not require facebook to find them out.

People are fascinated with facebook so much so that it is corrupting our lives. I was shocked to find so many facebook screens appear in my lectures. University is thousands of dollars and people are paying attention to facebook instead of their professors! Tasks like assignments or even doing the laundry seem to take so much longer because of our “facebook break times”. This seems insane! Why is it we feel so compelled to log on to facebook every time we are on our computers? Why do we accept friend invites when we do not really know the person? Why do we feel obliged to post pictures up every few weeks? Why do we feel the need to comment on others’ albums and facebook defaults?

You may ask yourself why I still have facebook if my feelings are so strong. The answer is simple. I too, have fallen through the cracks of my keyboard.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Social Uses/Implications of Technology and Media

Put on your head phones and you’re in the zone. The sounds from your white head phones blast through yours ears and pound at your ear drums. You feel the music in your head; in your soul. The sound buzzes through your body. It can make you move; it can make you stay perfectly still. There is no pressure to be friends with your iPod; you are automatically compatible the second you connect the USB port to your computer. You do not have to impress the iPod or feel shy around it. The iPod does not judge you. You sing if you feel like singing, dance, cry, laugh – you can do whatever you want. He’ll fit in your pocket, coat or hand. He can grab a hold of you and pull you out of time. He can crawl into your thoughts and tease your ideas. He can make you look at things differently and impair your judgement on everybody and everything else going on in the real world.

The real world: something that enters your mind when the teacher nags, “hey, can you take those things out and pay attention?” or when a parents yells on the family drive, “turn those things down, you’re going to wreck your ears”. You lose focus to the words you are listening to. You lose sense of rhythm and you are conscious again. Your parents try with all of their might to hold on to their cognisant child but you loose eye contact and go back to starring out the window and carrying on the tunes.

How has this tiny mp3 player influenced and taken over society? For one thing, four of five people reading this know what I am talking about. If you do not own an iPod, your brother, sister, friend, cousin or even teacher does. So great! Now everybody has something in common to chat about! The question is: do we chat? Do we still know how to communicate now that these iPods have so comfortably moved into our lives?

Some feel no need to talk or communicate with others for they have their loyal iPods tucked inside their pockets. Why start up a conversation with someone when you can listen to your favourite song? Isolation. We are conforming to the feeling that there is no pressure of conversing with others or paying attention during a class as long as we’ve got music playing in our ears.

This small object can affect our society in more ways than one. The music we chose to listen to truly does affect our views and outlooks toward society. Listening to heavy, angry music when at a park might cause the listener to become interested in a deep dark area of the park with lots of trees; whereas listening to light, happy music may cause them to find significance in the swings or light blue sky.

Consequently, music affects our moods which affect our actions which, in turn, affect society. Can we control this? Next time you go for a walk or take the bus home, attempt to turn off your iPod and listen to and examine the things and people around you. Do not isolate yourself – those bright white wires are no excuse. If the desire to put those headphones back in your ears arises, go for it; but make sure that your tunes stay in tune.

Decoding/Deconstructing Advertising

Well ladies, if any of you ever had questions regarding how to get handsome young men to wait on your hand and foot – your problem is solved! All you have to do is own an expensive pair of sketchers shoes and your wishes will come true.

Reality? Of course not, but that is most definitely the message that this advertisement is sending.

If we examine the photo we notice that there is an attractive female being waited on by five handsome men. I do not know about your reality, but I find it hard to get one salesperson to help me when shoe-hunting, let alone five.

I also find it ironic how neither the customer nor any of the five salesmen are paying attention to the many pairs of shoes or her feet. None of the men have even bothered to measure their customer’s feet with the foot scale that is anxiously waiting underneath the bench. I am surprised a grumpy, middle aged woman isn’t tapping one of the salesmen on the shoulder and asking for assistance in this harmonious scene.

The message that is being sent in this ad is that if you are a beautiful girl with bleach blond hair, life will be easier for you because men will be attracted to you.

In this ad we are not even drawn to the half a dozen pairs of shoes! Due to line and rule of 3rds in this photo, our eyes automatically focus on the customer’s gestures and facial expression.
The influence that this ad has had on me is not to go out and buy a brand new pair of sketchers shoes, but to get a brand new hair colour. I am more drawn into the customer’s hair than anything else therefore I am tempted to imitate her example.

Whether or not Skechers was selling shoes in this ad, they were sure selling something. Perhaps they will focus more on their merchandise next time.