– ALLEN GINSBERG, POET
“Information is the oxygen of the modern age.”
– RONALD REAGAN, US PRESIDENT
“Your TV is ringing.” Maybe you saw the Verizon ad that shows a cellphone with a TV attached to it—pointing out that you can talk on the phone and watch TV at the same time, on one piece of equipment. If you saw it, you might have said, “cool,” or “I want that,” or “what a ridiculous thing to do.” But Verizon could have gone further. The ad could have pointed out that some of the company’s cellphones also let you watch movies, play video games, download and listen to music, and read a newspaper or magazine. It’s an exciting time to study mass communication. None of the activities described above could have been attempted on a cellphone (call it a mobile device) just a few years ago. They raise questions about the impact that these and other technologies will have on us, our society, and the content of TV, movies, video games, music, newspapers, magazines, and movie companies. In fact, the transformations are so great that you have the opportunity to know more than conventional experts, to challenge traditional thinking, and to encourage fresh public discussions about media and society. Consider the mass media menu that Americans have today. Instead of three or four TV channels, most Americans receive more than fifty and a substantial number receive one hundred and fifty and more. Radio in urban areas delivers dozens of stations; satellite radio brings in hundreds more, and music streaming on the Web—sometimes called Internet radio—is carried out by countless broadcast and non-broadcast entities. The advent of home computers, VCRs, CD players, DVDs, and DBS has brought far more channels of sights and sounds into people’s lives than ever before. So has the Internet and the World Wide Web, the computer network that Americans use to interact with information, news and entertainment from all over the nation and the world. Research indicates that Americans typically spend an enormous amount of time with mass media.1 Think about your own media habits. How close do you come to the average 32 hours a week (about 4.5 hours a day) of television that Americans view on the traditional TV set as well as online? What about radio? Studies suggest that Americans listen to around 15 hours a week of radio in the regular broadcast mode, via satellite channels or from their online feeds. Do you do that, or do you instead listen to recorded music on your iPod or on your MP3 or CD player? Studies show that Americans spend an average of about 3.5 hours a week with recorded music, but college students undoubtedly do more of it. And what about your time reading books, newspapers and magazines? Data show that on average Americans spend about 8 hours a week with one or another of these, both their printed versions and their websites. Just a few years ago, media such as television, radio, books and newspapers seemed pretty separate. It was clear what content from each medium looked or sounded like, and it would have been foolish to suggest that newspaper articles and television programs would show up on the same channel. Today, with the rise of new computer technologies that we will explain in the coming pages, this “foolishness” is exactly what has happened. The access people have on the Internet to content from different types of media is part of a process called convergence. Convergence takes place when content that has traditionally been confined to one medium appears on multiple media channels. The media of mass communication, then, are an integral part of our lives, occurring in a wide variety of settings. In this chapter, we will explore and define communication, media, and culture, and we will consider how the relationships among them affect us and the world in which we live. We will also consider why the term mass communication remains relevant in the twenty-first century,...