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9.1: Mass Communication - A definition

  • Page ID
    108050
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    We define communication as the process of generating meaning by sending and receiving verbal and nonverbal symbols and signs that are influenced by multiple contexts. Mass Communication does that on a grander scale as it is the imparting or exchanging of information to a wide range of people. Even a brief history of media and mass communication can leave one breathless. The speed, reach, and power of the technology are humbling. Evolution can seem almost natural and inevitable, but it is important to stop and ask a basic question: Why? Why do media and mass communication seem to play such an important role in our lives and our culture? According to the website Chron.com we see that the four functions of mass communications are: surveillance, correlation, cultural transmission, and entertainment:

    • Media provide entertainment acting as a springboard for our imaginations, a source of fantasy, and an outlet for escapism. 
    • Media provide information and education. Information can come in many forms, and often blurs the line with entertainment. 
    • Media provide public forums for the discussion of important issues. 
    • Media provide watchdog services to monitor government, business, and other institutions. Online journalists today try to uphold this role. 

    Thinking more deeply, we can recognize that certain media are better at certain roles. Media have characteristics that influence how we use them. While some forms of mass media are better suited to entertainment, others make more sense as a venue for spreading information. The 1960s media theorist Marshall McLuhan took these ideas one step further with the phrase “the medium is the message.” McLuhan emphasized that each medium delivers information in a different way and that content is fundamentally shaped by that medium. 

    We do not have to cast value judgments but can affirm: People who get the majority of their news from a particular medium will have a particular view of the world shaped not just by the content of what they watch but also by its medium. Or, as computer scientist Alan Kay put it, “Each medium has a special way of representing ideas that emphasize particular ways of thinking and de-emphasize others.”Alan Kay, “The Infobahn is Not the Answer,” Wired, May 1994. The Internet has made this discussion even richer because it seems to hold all other media within it—print, radio, film, television, and more. If indeed the medium is the message, the Internet provides us with an extremely interesting message to consider.

    Key Takeaways

    • Media fulfill several roles in culture, including the following:
      • Entertaining and providing an outlet for the imagination
      • Educating and informing
      • Serving as a public forum for the discussion of important issues
      • Acting as a watchdog for government, business, and other institutions

    9.1: Mass Communication - A definition is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Lisa Coleman, Thomas King, & William Turner.