Discussion of Extracts; In Response to ‘Theories of Mass Communication’

by Beauchamp Art

Defleur, M. and Ball-Rokeach, S. (1989) Theories of Mass Communication. New York: Longman.

Whilst reading ‘Theories of Mass Communication’, I took note of a number of extracts [for academic purposes] which I thought could be useful, or were especially relevant or interesting to my research and investigations surround the themes, ideas, and concepts that I find most engaging to respond to in art. With a number of these quotes/extracts, I decided to respond to a number of points that the author made, most frequently with regards to the modernisation and developments of various networking technologies and unprecedented sociological changes from the date of the original publication, 1989, as there has been a considerable amount of change, development, and integration of new mass communication platforms and networking capabilities into the societies and communities especially Developed nations, not limited to Western countries.

As the developments have affected Russia, China, Japan and other nations equally, if not more – as in the case of South Korea – than Western; European and North American states], with a lesser impact on Developing/Less Economically Developed countries, with less access to such technologies [such as in large areas of Sub-Saharan Africa – where there is a potential historical irony given the linguistic and communication developments of early man thought to have originate they; the Cro Magnon and so forth; now being one of the areas with more limited access to the new technological communication, due to poverty, a lack of investment in infrastructure, and countless societal and economic factors. That is not to say that these areas are disconnected from these new networks, but that their integration into everyday life is lesser than in Britain or the USA. However, one could argue that this polarity in the role of mass communication in the 1st to 3rd world nations has more of a long-term impact on the peoples of those areas without current access; as they may become the people left behind the modern means of social exchange, much as, and as a consequence of, the financial contrast with ‘poor’ and ‘rich’ nations.

With regards to developments in mass communication, global integration of the network society, and the ‘lagging behind’ of Developing nations, Jan van Dijk observed that:

“The connection of Third World countries to the global information superhighway is a clear case of combined uneven development.”

[230, Jan A G M van Dijk, 1991. Network Society, Social Aspects of the New Media. 1999 Edition. SAGE Publications Ltd]

As is clear, this text provoked a great deal of thought, which I hope to incorporate into my later writing an works, some of which can be read here, as feedback directly to the text itself, though not used comparatively along sides other texts in the form of an essay, report, or another form or article, formal text and so forth; this is merely a collection of thoughts in word.

“A radical change occurred, probably rather suddenly […] when human beings moved into the Age of Speech and Language. Compelling evidence now exist that this era began rather recently with the sudden appearance of the Cro Magnon, a new form of homo sapiens. Although this conclusion is not universally shared, it appears that theses, our most immediate ancestors began to talk somewhere between 90,000 and 40,000 years ago, by about 35,000 years ago, language was in use. The implications of living in a society where the fundamental communication process is speech are not a mystery to use. There are still societies today that are not literate and remain in the oral tradition. Obviously, all people today live in an oral society, but most have passed beyond the limitations of this age by adding writing, print, and modern media.” [Pg 9]

Age of Signs & Signals, Age of Speech & Language, Age of Writing, Age of Print, Age of Mass Communication

– Could one suppose that this last step has lead to an Age of Constant Connection, beyond Mass Communication, to the point of another level intellectual interdependence previously impossible without modern technological developments; a form of post-industrial internet culture?

“It seems inescapable […] that people who were not able to use speech/language communication for interpersonal exchanges were also unable to store and recall the kinds of ideas needed for interpersonal communication – the internal processes of abstracting, classifying, synthesizing, inducing the general from the specific, and reason from premises to conclusions.” [Pg. 14]

– Developments in language and communication culminate in a progression of society, and the sharing of ideas, as evident in the increasingly complex pragmatics of linguistic exchanges; such as the use of metaphor in everyday speech, without which all communications would be literal, basic, and without the ability to extend one’s ideas and thought beyond the immediate and the physical.

“The Mass Press: The basic culture traits later to be combined into mass newspaper extend far back into history. The modern newspaper is a combination of elements from many societies and many periods of time.” [Pg 49]

– However, despite of all that lead up to the development of the Newspaper that would see fit for it to extend long into the future, with the advent of the internet, and online news sources (often in association with printed of television news outlets), the newspaper could be seen as growing increasingly obsolescing and redundant where online news articles can be updated instantaneous from around the world to be seen internationally instantly – what is news and fact is very much what is the most current portrait of news and fact, in theory, the internet allows for the most current rendition of ‘truths’, though has newfangled problems involving the authentication of information, and the consequences of misinformation being widely available and potentially unchecked.

Online media are generally cheaper to maintain, without the costs of printing, but with the same financial input of advertising and private investments, that can maintain new websites more cost effectively, with the same level of influence as with printed media, thus theoretically with the same level of bias, as with printed news. This low-cost means of publishing also means that a greater diversity of groups can report on news and events, however this does not necessarily mean that the actual truth of events is any more likely (due to the larger number of perspectives allowing the audience to see things from a broader point of view), as misinformation can also be peddled just as easily as truth, and if those individuals or organisations (amateur or otherwise) are in position to push their version of events (for their own benefit, or the benefit of those with vested interest) without any imperative to not; such as libel and other legal statutes that could resolute in the producer/reporter being persecuted or punished; as it is considerably easier to remain anonymous online, and therefore get away with mis-reporting new, than as a media giant in the public eye whose has to answer to their employees, employers, and has to be in the position to pay for printing, and keep their advertising. The Internet, as compared to Newspapers, is no less or more fraught with problems when reporting the news, rather it faces new difficulties; for the public who may simply want the truth of events.

“The movie industry struggled mightily to slow the rate of decline. As competition with television increased, numerous experiments were tried At one point, moviegoers were issued with special glasses so that they could see the picture in three dimensions. Screens widened […] Special sound effects […] in various parts of the theater, were tried. These gimmicks did not help much; the decline continued.” [Pg. 80]

– It is amusing to see the return of this 3D televisions in recent years, though whether it will survive this resurrection is debatably, what seems likely is that its benefit to the entertainment experience will be so minimal that it will not warrant a sustain increase in the profits of those whom produce the media, so will be discontinued again, for the time being – holograms are becoming more complex, though still function primarily in the 2D field.

[Ivan] Pavlov’s remarkable [‘Dog’] experiment laid the foundation for the development of numerous variations of theories of ‘classical conditioning.” [Pg. 175]

Inherited/Environmental learning

– Learning is inherited, so the understanding of the environmental knowledge acquired goes through the ‘instinctive’ learning process. What is learned may be wholly ‘new’, but how the information is interpreted, stored and subsequently used in individual though and within society has to come from a non-environmental, inherited factor; such as described by Chomsky in his proposition of the ‘Universal Grammar’ principal.

“Ambiguity is ‘the inability either to define a situation or to choose between competing definitions of a situation.‘ Under such conditions, knowledge is problematic. This is so because ambiguity is primarily an information problem; people lack enough information to create stable meanings of events. In those numerous instances where neither we nor our opinion leaders can directly experience or observe the events that we seek to understand, the mass media becomes the primary information system that has the resources to creating meanings.” [Pg 316]

It is especially interesting when people’s first source of information is not even a formal news media, but may be more casual, social media environment – such as learning of events through a blog – though this is comparable to gathering one’s news through speaking to others, peers and so forth, and gathering information through their mediation, or even by reading editorials or comments pages in newspapers or more historically established news media; though this plays heavily on the narrative content of a news ‘story’ being the driving factor in the audiences sustained attention, rather than the actual significance of events and their potential impacts, hence the abundance of trivia in the press, and people’s discussions of everyday events. Without a clear narrative element for people to establish themselves within a news event, people may more easily disassociate themselves with it, or forget it in favour of something more ‘dramatic’.

Moreover, media fills in the gaps in information exchange [on a large and small scale], and embellishes the truth in its publicity and indirectness. It creates the illusion of understanding by selective exposure, glossing over the ‘dis-interesting’ parts.

“In a society […] where change is the order of the day, where social life is always in some degree of flux, there is a chronic ambiguity that leads people to developed ongoing dependency relations with the media. This is very different condition from that of many societies of the past, where people could count on things staying the same from day to day, even generation to generation.” [316]

– There has always been change in society, but modern technologies enables change and progression to happen more quickly, more exponentially. Therefore the distribution of these new developments and new knowledge has had to hasten in order to sustain an understanding society, more of the new and novel elements of life, though with this haste there is a risk of compression and the loss of [potentially important, but short-sightedly overlooked] information, so the ‘new’ may render the old obsolete more rapidly than society can adapt to the developments within its social dynamics and technical infrastructure – like a reservoir fed by too slow a stream, consumed before it is replenished.

Soon personal computers will have memories that will handle far more than any possible amount of information that could be generated by a homeowner.” [Pg 330]

Multiple computer families are becoming increasingly common.” [Pg 330]

– This may seem amusing in hindsight, given the rate of developments, individuals often have one or more computers alone (PC, Mac, Mobile ‘Phone, Tablet, E-Book, etc.) though many computer systems are being recombined into other singular, mulch-purpose, multi-media devices (Smart Phone, iPhone, new games consoles; XBOXONE, PS4, and so forth) storage moving from hard disk to Cloud or other online storage media, in doing so integrate themselves further into (1st World/Developed) society.

“Will the rising use of personal computers by individuals at home, and the extensive use of computer-based information systems in society be enough to create new mass media? This does not seem likely. In order to have a new system of mass communication, the average person would have to both the hardware and the skills to be able to use computers in daily life as we now use other media.” [Pg 335]

– The author, nor anyone else, could have fully anticipate the whole hearted integration of social networks and portable computers into [Developed] society, and its the various facets of the on-line communication technologies dominating TV, Radio, Newspaper, Literature, Filmography, Land-Line and Mobile telephony – and to a certain extent, the Network’s growing presence in art, music, and so forth; in its production, distribution and consumption.


“A […] likely prospect is that new mass media will developed by coupling computers to modern variants of cable television.” [Pg  336]

– Thus, websites and online media like YouTube and LoveFilm were predicted in 1989 – what hath God wrought indeed.

“Interactive communication technologies. Interactivity generally refers to process of communication that takes on some the characteristics of interpersonal communication. In interpersonal communication, sender and receiver alternately share the role of communicator, and each partner receives immediate and full feedback in the form of verbal and nonverbal messages.” [Pg 341]

– This coupled with the Internet bred e-mail and social networks; connecting the two concepts is development of combining the two new technologies that birthed radio; the creativity that this gap was communal. It has brought together to enable ‘bringing people together’. One could also see a link with the commenting on YouTube videos; resulting in a modification of the programming and content – i.e. direct feedback affecting production; audience and producers being more directly linked.


“Critics soon became concerned about the political consequences [of the Biarritz 2-way cable/videophone, videotext and teleshopping fibre-optic system]. They feared that such technology could by employed by governments to ‘watch’ private citizens. The common practice of security guards watching […] public places could be extended to the home. The videophone […] could be used in a manner reminiscent of Orwell’s ‘telescreen’…” [Pg 345

– One sees this in various technologies though the recent ‘XBOX ONE’ games console has a built in ‘Kinect’ system, that not only has video and audio facilities [for interaction, recording, etc.] but has potential body-activity monitoring capabilities and software, such as a video heart-beat monitor, as well as voice activation commands; as this includes the console’s ‘On/Off’ facilities, the console and device cannot be turned off, unless explicitly severed from the mains powerline. It also has to be connected to the internet daily to register the console, or it is unusable. In the name of being a user-friendly interaction, the potential for further invasion [of the privacy of the individual at home] is great.

We volunteer away our privacy rather than having it taken from us.