Term paper for Communications Studies

The Medium Is the Message
University of Calgary, COMS 201, FALL 2010
Dr. S123456789
Sanuja Senanayake

We communicate in many different mediums. Modern communication is predominantly shaped by the advancement in technology. The human race has come a long way from “tribal epoch” to the “electronic epoch”. (Wood 305-308) However, the electronic approach to communication has grown exponentially during the last decade. Most communication mediums we use today such as cellular phones, the Internet and television are all associated with advancement in technology. In many ways the electronic mediums are similar to the natural form of communication, while they are different on other levels.

Modern mobile cellular phones deliver messages similar to the traditional phones, but this new medium has changed the nature of communication. The modern structure of wireless global communication was predicted in 1945, with the “geostationary” radio communication “satellite”, long before the cell phone was ever invented. (Clarke 305-308)The geostationary satellites are positioned on a specific Even today cellular phones use radio technology similar to FM or AM radios. The invention of the traditional landline telephone has created an “interpersonal medium” (Burkell 312-323) with which one person can communicate personal messages to another person verbally. Today because modern cellular phones have revolutionized the device, now it can do much more than just two way communication between two individuals. The wave of smart-phones introduced to the market has created a new era of telephone based communication. For example not only can the Blackberry device be used for voice and text communication between two individuals, but also can be used for mass text messages, emails, Internet and can even to stream live television and radio. The Blackberry has significantly changed the way we approach our social, personal and academic life. It is not just a phone that provides convenience of portability, it is a “multipurpose device” (Burkell 312-323) performing many different functions. From early in the morning to the end of the day, people utilize their smart-phones for dozens of tasks. Most students who own a smart-phone do not own an alarm clock. The phone comes equipped with an alarm and an automatic Global Positioning System(GPS) based clock that seamlessly change the time and adjust the alarm settings, whenever the user travel across a global time zone including daylight saving. The logical mechanism of this electronic clock is exactly the same as traditional mechanical clock. However, because this is software driven, the clock can be manipulated to fit the user’s needs such as the automated GPS based time change. This digital clock also works with the digital calendar schedule of the phone. For many years one had to use printed or written hardcopy to make time management tables and monthly schedules. Then in the recent past most people have used electronic computerized monthly schedules. But with the use of smart-phones, one can use built in or third party calendar applications to make schedules, update them and even sync them to a computer for backup and printing. Most technologically proficient students use their cell phones for class schedules and upcoming due dates. As a result of the cell phone being a medium that is extremely flexible and programmable, the medium itself has significantly changed the traditional definition of a schedule. For instance users can set up reminder alarms for due date of this essay, categorized as COMS 201 and set it to go off at different user generated intervals such as a week before, a day before, or matter of minute. This would not be possible to do on a traditional written or printed schedule. Also, this type of electronic schedule can keep records of activities and events at the user’s fingertips for a extended period of time for future reference, and allow the user to pull up any past events in seconds by electronically searching for them. To some extent, the content of new mediums such as smart phone is exactly the same or similar to the old traditional mediums such as “printed epoch”, (Wood 305-308) but the delivery is far more advanced and convenient to the users. Users of cellular phones often read their Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds from news media such a CBC, CNN and BBC, while one wait for the C-Train to arrive at the station, for instance this is a very common place practice among young people today than compared to ten or even five years ago. In the past most young students look for weather forecast on cable television in their parents’ basement. Today most teenagers owns cell phone and receive the same weather data using phones like Blackberry while they eat their breakfast on the kitchen table. This information we receive is similar to a radio broadcast, however the technology has significantly changed the medium with which we receive the information. The cellular phones also improved the quality, quantity and the frequency of data a user can receive. A smart phone like a Blackberry can update a weather report in minutes and provide complex weather data such as driving conditions, depending on the area of where the phone is being used.

The rate of change is evident when most students used to read their emails in computer labs in schools. At university majority of students now receive instant emails through the University of Calgary email system to their phones instantly. The second Dr. Sutherland clicks ‘send’ on his device, they receive the email through Research In Motion (RIM)’s push messaging system. The medium through which the email is delivered is often dependant on the system that delivers the message as well. Even though the medium is fast moving electronic mail, the speed of the delivery may change depending on the system. The Blackberry’s automated push email system is always faster compared to other systems. The same email that Dr. Sutherland send may be delayed a few minutes on other phone with no push email systems such as iPhone. The push email system is a very popular electronic automation tool in Blackberry devices. The system is growing so fast that RIM, a Canadian based company that makes the smart-phone, built the majority of their revenue on the secure push email system. This push email system allows people to receive email messages in a timely manner without having to access a computer and it has enabled users to keep on top of their academic life. Many individuals in the business industry use Blackberry for the primarily because of this email system. Recently this was widely used by highly skilled or professional individuals. Today even the management at retailers such as BestBuy Canada use electronic means to communicate to their employees. Often supervisors for hectic university students send text or email messages to inform the students of the availability of work. This allows most students who have complex time tables to manage to stay on top of their academic schedules while working at the same time. The use of this type of smart phone can integrate sudden changes in time tables as soon as there is a new event such as work.

Using modern cellular phones, a person can send a text message to multiple receivers at the same time or even talk to multiple people at the same time, which is known as teleconferencing. The use of telephones as a mass communication media has both positive and negative effects. People use their smart-phones to communicate with teachers and friends. However, the messages are sent and received so quickly in an instant, that a user may sometimes regret sending the intended message. This is a major problem not only in business and academic life, but also in personal life. Recently Google Inc. which operates the Gmail email system modified their software program, which allows users who send an email by mistake to retrieve it within a few minutes of the action. There are many other issues associated with smart-phones, one of which would be the exclusive use of the technology itself. This can lead to health such as texting addictions, personal and social problems such as less time with family and friends. The texting could takes away the personal touch that a person’s voice has and replaces the it with just digital digits.

In addition to the world of smart phones, in the last decade, there has a been a huge boom in personal Internet industry. This is well known among technological theorists as the “dot com bubble”, at one time composed most of American technology based market, which eventually burst. (Clarida 465) As opposed to traditional mediums of communication, the Internet expanded the audience an individual or a group can reach. With the development of cheap technologies and the rapid expansion of digital networks communication is no longer targeted to a specific group, but rather targeted to a wide audience. One can reached such as audience using specialized tools available through either the use of their own personal websites or by using many different companies and organizations that provide social media services. The founders of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and his co-founders, know the power of Internet as a medium of communication. They built an empire out of Facebook’s social media network. In addition to social media systems such as Twitter and Facebook there is a growing number of personal web sites on the Internet. Web pages as a medium to communicate have changed the way people communicate on many different levels. Specially personal websites are a strong medium to communicate your ideas to a larger public. It allows the owner of the web site to communicate messages as well as to receive feedbacks from the visitors to the site through email or blog comments. In the past, websites used to be a one way communication system which allowed only one person to send data to another by posting data to an online datacenter. But today the world wide web is far more complicated with the development of new Internet systems, such as blogs, that streamline the interaction among web users. The online blogs allow the visitors to communicate a message instantly to the author of the web site and/or the entire world. For example, if a person publishes an article on Prime Minister Mr. Stephen Harper, a visitor can respond to the article with a positive or negative counter argument. Recent data shows that there is a significant increase in personal domain name registrations by young educated individuals over the last few years. In 1998, over “one third of college students had personal websites” (Vazire, and Gosling 123)and it keeps growing with exposure to knowledge on technology in schools. People utilize personal web space for different reasons, ranging from academic information to keeping in contact with distant family members. Most personal websites reflect the “personality” (Vazire, and Gosling 123) of the site owner. This is because most personal website owners post updates on personal life by posting personal information. Often these websites are used to communicate with relatives and friends by simply posting personal “photographs” or writing a paragraph that reflect the current state of personal affairs. (Chandler, and Roberts-Young)

As with the positive side of any medium, there is also a negative side to personal websites on the Internet. Many students who operated their own websites and/or blogs such as www.sanuja.com, often times face difficulties in dealing with visitors to the site. A common problem associated with personal websites operated by teenagers and youth is cyber bullying and online trolls. The sanuja.com website drew people from all walks of life with diverse political, social and economic backgrounds, which includes extremists. The comments on blogs as well as personal websites can be extremely negative, abusive and often illegal according to the laws of Canada. The impact on one’s social and personal life can be extreme enough to the point that some teenagers have committed suicide as a result of online web use. (Baume, Cantor, and Andrew 73-79) In addition, there are many people in the recent history who have had their jobs terminated or were demoted due to the loss of judgement on what they post on their personal websites and social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Politicians have been forced to resign for posting their personal thoughts or government documents to the Internet. The recent WikiLeaks is an excellent example of how people from high ranking positions within the Government of United States have breached security protocols with a click of a button. It is important to point out that fast moving, highly accessible mediums such as Internet can have severe social, political, economical and personal implications. It is crucial for human beings to understand and analyze the risks and benefits of online based social media before it’s too late.

The television is one of the popular forms of mass media of modern day and has played a major role in shaping our community. While the smart-phones and the Internet are very popular among youth in many societies, still Canadian youth watch television for 20 to 25 hours per week. (“Television viewing, by age and sex, by province”) In addition a significant portion of the older generation preferring television for news and specialty channels over watching them on the Internet and on the smart-phones. The main medium of entertainment for a majority of audience is still television. The medium of television also has technologically evolved from analog UHF system to digital VHF and then to digital cables and satellite based systems. This has diversified the reach of communication to the public. If you live in the middle of nowhere in rural Alberta, you still have the ability to watch national and international shows by using a satellite dish. Even though the medium has changed, the message of the new generation of television has similar properties to the original black and white television. With the development of colour televisions and 3D screens, the details of information the receiver can absorb has significantly increased, but the information itself is the same. For example, BBC News service on black and white television in 1950s had the same underlining communication goal as the new high definition BBC News service. The television has effected how people think, analyze and interact with society far greater as compared to other mediums. As opposed to entertainment, in Canada, significant number of Canadians receive their news and weather information through either satellite or cable television. This has changed the way people communicate information compared to more traditional forms of media such as radios. The weather data a Canadian receive is not only descriptive, but also graphical enough even most elementary school children can understand weather patterns to some degree. The television technology as a public communication medium has simplified the literate epoch, which is mostly targeted to educated audience. The use of television has also changed the reaction of people to events in the news as well. During the infamous 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, New York, it was the television that played a major role in distribution of information to the American public and the world. This medium of communication is extremely powerful at creating an impact on the viewers. The graphic images of people suffering mixed with the echoes of helplessness created a strong impact on the American people. Research lead in to post 9/11 attack proved that the racism and bigotry has increased with the distribution of audio visual data through television. (Mitchell 576) Even in Canada these graphic images have resulted in social disturbances. How the medium of television is interpret by the general public cannot be controlled by anyone. In modern day, if it happened to be a radio communication, then the impact on the audience will be insignificant in comparison to the effect if it had been graphical television. The television also has creep in to the modern day smart phones as well. Smart-phones like the Blackberry and iPhone have the ability to receive the television channel through mobile networks. This makes it easier to access television without having an access to a television unit and also reach younger audience.

Moving from traditional communications tools and phones to digital time tools, people have replaced the medium which they use for communication throughout the history. Communication among people has remained the same; it is the methods and mediums which have progressed. The new medium takes over the same data that were once being transmitted through the old medium. (Burkell 312-323) The technology has improved our communication efficiency while lowering the true human touch we otherwise would have from tribal epoch. These new mediums are woven in to our society, that we are dependent on them to communicate in daily life. With the rapid development in science and technology, the medium itself has changed the meaning or communication itself. We are so used to technology, that the new medium quickly seep in to our “fabric of everyday life”. (Burkell 312-323) We are increasingly depend on these new types of medium to communicate. The change from “tribal epoch” (Wood 305-308) to the electronic digital level may cause the true human touch of communication to lose in the translation. Without the development of cell phones, the Internet and television we as human beings may not have progressed our communication abilities to the fullest extent.

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