Concentration of ownership, globalization of media, audience fragmentation, hypercommercialism, and convergence are forcing all parties in the mass communication process to think critically about their positions in it. Those in the media industries face the issue of professional ethics. Audience members confront the issue of media literacy. But before we can understand media literacy, we must understand why literacy, in and of itself, is important.
The Development of Writing and the formation of literate culture An expanding literate population encouraged technological innovation; the printing press transformed the world. Other communication technology advances have also had a significant impact; however, these technologies cannot be separated from how people have used them. The skilled, beneficial use of media technologies is the goal of media literacy.
Oral or preliterate cultures are those without a written language. Virtually all communication must be face-to-face, and this fact helps to define the culture, its structure, and its operation. Oral cultures share these characteristics: 1. The meaning in language is specific and local. As a result, communities are closely knit, and their members are highly dependent on each other for all aspects of life. 2. Knowledge must be passed on orally. People must be shown and told how to do something. 3. Memory is crucial. As repositories of cultural customs and traditions, elders are revered; they are responsible for passing knowledge on to the next generation. 4. Myth and history are intertwined. Storytellers are highly valued; they are the meaning makers, and, the elders, they pass on what is important to the culture. What does the resulting culture look like? People know each other intimately and rely on one another for survival. Roles are clearly defined. Stories teach important cultural lessons and preserve important cultural traditions and values. Central over communication is rarely necessary, but when it is, it is easily achieved through social sanctions.
The Invention of Writing
More than 5,000 years ago. Alphabets were developed independently in several places around the world. Ideogrammatic (picture-based) alphabets appeared in Egypt (as hieroglyphics), Sumer (as cuneiform), and urban china. Ideogrammatic alphabets require a huge number of symbols to convey even the simplest idea. Their complexity meant that only a very select few, intellectual elite, could read or write. For writing to truly serve effective and efficient communication, one more advance was required.
The Sumerians were international traders, maintaining trade routes throughout known Europe, Africa, and Asia. The farther the Sumerians traveled, the less they could rely on face-to-face communication and the Sumerian cuneiform slowly expanded, using symbols to represent sound rather than sound and ideas. Appearing around 1800 B.C., these were the first elements of a syllable alphabet – an alphabet employing sequences of vowels and consonants, i.e., words.
The syllable alphabet as we know it today slowly developed, aided greatly by ancient Semitic cultures, and eventually flowered in Greece around 800 B.C. Sumerians had used clay tablets, but the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans eventually employed papyrus, rolls of sliced strips of reed pressed together. Around 100 B.C. the Romans began using parchment, a writing material made from prepared animal skins, and in A.D. 105 midlevel Chinese bureaucrat Ts’ai Lun perfected a papermaking process employing a mixture of pressed mulberry tree bark, water, rags, and a sophisticated frame for drying and stretching the resulting sheets of paper. This technology made its way to Europe though various routes some 600 years later.
Among the changes that writing brought were:
• Meaning and language became more uniform.
• Communication could occur over long distances and...