Posted by Tom Foremski - November 28, 2009
"I'm not sure if we think about society, or that society thinks us," that's what I heard Malcolm Muggeridge say, when I was about 10 years old.
Malcolm Muggeridge was a British journalist and philosopher and I often saw him on British TV when I was growing up, talking about serious subjects.
That quote has stuck with me because it says something about us, it says that we are part of a society, and that we are a part of its messages. And society's messages and its thinking is done through media.
Today, we have more media, in more forms, at anytime of the day -- than at anytime in our history. Wow. What's that going to do to us?
These are extraordinary times and I'm thankful for being here right now because we won't see changes on such a scale ever again in our lifetimes.
(BTW I'm counting social media as Media - it's all about publishing.)
Our media helps us to make decisions about important things: presidents, global warming, health, ecology, morality, and washing powder.
We live in societies because we are social by nature. We respond to each other and we influence each other.
Today we can influence each other more easily than ever before because our media is digital, it can reach anything that has a screen. And nearly anything with a screen can also be published from -- we have a two way media.
Media is influential
Do you sometimes wonder about the "echo chamber" aspect of Techmeme, where it seems everyone is obsessed with the same stories, the same thinking? Well, that's because they all read the same things and they all take part in the same media.
Media influences people, and people use media to influence other people.
The more exposed you are to the media the more likely you are to be influenced by it. That was the great insight of Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at MIT. He said that intellectuals were more prone to propaganda because they read more, they were exposed to more media than others.
Now that we have more media than ever before, the likelihood is that we will all be prone to being more influenced than ever before.
And who is interested in doing the influencing? Antonio Gramsci, the Italian philosopher said it was the government. He coined the term cultural hegemony to describe the activities of state governments in the 1920s and 1930s.
You can see this most easily during political campaigns, where choosing the right word, the right phrase, is done with great care because it can make or break campaigns. But it goes on all the time -- governments seek to exercise their influence at all times.
Today the concept of cultural hegemony includes corporations, many of whom have greater power than state governments.
Fragmenting the echo-chamber
With the fragmentation of media we might find an escape from the echo-chambers and the influence of society's special interest groups. It could lead to a new flowering of culture, original thinking, unique ideas, and philosophies.
That's what seems to happen when you have a revolution, when the cultural hegemony is overthrown. You see it in the English revolution, which led to an explosion of new thinking and beliefs, with the Diggers, the Shakers, the Puritans, etc. You had new communities, some believed in free-love, some in castration, some in communal sharing of resources.
You see the flowering of the arts after the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Revolution, and Hungarian Revolution... It sometimes seems that the fragmentation of media could be revolutionary and smash the cultural hegemony of our times.
Or it might not. Fragmentation of media is no protection if the messages are all the same, which is what they seem to be. The new media world might lead to closer control and tighter influence on our thinking. It might lead to narrow thinking and expression simply because everything digital can be tracked, measured, and logged.
The best way to stop being influenced by media is to cut yourself off from all media.
But that's very difficult. In today's always-on world we are obliged keep checking into the media every few minutes: emails, Twitter, SMS, headlines, Facebook, etc. These are all avenues of influence.
There's probably no escape.
Which means that we either get our thinking right, and we prosper, and enter a new golden age of humanity, thanks to our media.
Or we don't, and we end up with one massive echo chamber of crap and a tightly controlled society, thanks to our media.
We seem to be heading into challenging times.
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