Media refers to the channels or tools used to store and transmit information or data to an audience for any purpose. For an ideal society to exist, as argued by George Mead, a form of communication must be developed to allow individuals to appreciate the attitudes, view points and positions of others, and also allow that individual to be understood as well. This human communication through artificial channels dates back to ancient cave paintings, drawn maps and writing.
Media not only propagates ideas, but it seeks to influence others in a certain line of thinking and action. For example, many psychologists regard television as nothing more than a tin box generating visual stimuli while the rest of the world is constantly digesting and regurgitating its contents. Media is a key element in cultural socialization as a whole, looking at the way in which individuals grow up in a society in which media help shape our understanding of the world. Social development is when a society grows or changes and becomes more advanced.
This is not referring not only to physical or infrastructural growth, but the development of individuals’ character in that society. This development continues throughout the entire life span of society. Character and social development also contribute towards a society or an individual becoming competent in their interaction with others, where the difference of the individual is what gives them value. Development is therefore dependant on their response to the stimuli one receives, especially from the environment they are in.
In the 21st century, the predominant form of stimuli which contributes in social and personal development is the media. Media has at its heart the power and ability of influence. Attitudes, mindsets and perceptions are shaped by what the people accept to be reality. Fashion trends, latest consumer products, current affairs and so on are propagated through the media. The print media, along with radio and television broadcasting have even become the means through which children and grownups learn on a variety of topics ranging from violence, racing through to playing sports such as golf.
In the United States, it is reported that children nowadays spend 75% of their time in front of the television set, either playing video games or watching the latest programming. Through this we see that society has taken a back seat in the training and nurturing of children, leaving them to fall into the hands of the television set, the internet, radio and the print media. Information transmitted through mass media sources can and does influence societies and individuals.
Most researchers agree that the increasing presence and impact of mass communication will continue to play an important role in the formation of social and political consciousness and attitudes. More-so, this is becoming evident in the time we are living in now as the world is being referred to as ‘a global village. ’ The past few years has witnessed an increase in how information is being gathered and disseminated, beyond cultural, social and political divides. Behind the evolution of media are those with the financial muscle who are able to set the tone of what the people are fed.
For example, as the media developed through the decades, all participants in the First World War (1914 – 1918) used the media as instruments of propaganda and used the new techniques of advertising and public relations to manipulate their citizens to follow war aims and to conform to their government’s policies. One of the pioneers of public relations Edward Bernays coined the expression the ‘engineering of consent’ to describe the importance of manipulating the public mind to support the status quo and advanced ways to do this that included government policies, using advertising and commercial interests and promoting social conformity.
Even though advances in media technology, especially during the inter-war years were considered by many to be revolutionary means to provide citizens with the information necessary to develop knowledgeable opinions, a number of those in positions of power believed that the masses were too stupid to make ‘rational’ decisions. The elite characterized the working and underclass people as passive dupes who were highly susceptible to manipulation and hence could be whipped up into frenzy. As academic communications studies started to emerge in the 1930s and 1940s, and as theorists noted the power of propaganda in World War 2, a wide range f studies began appearing of the social effects of the media, promoting debate over the media and seeing the media as a social problem. Some of the first empirical studies of the effects of film, for instance, criticized the cinema for promoting immorality, juvenile delinquency and violence. A model known as the ‘bullet’ or ‘hypodermic’ theory assert that the media directly shape thought and behavior and thus induce social problems like crime and violence, sexual promiscuity, rebellious social behavior, mindless consumption or mass political behavior.
The media has influenced the perceptions of the various individuals and groups which make up society. The film industry has played a major role in stereotyping people groups, for example, white people are viewed as rich, highly organized, smart and faultless, whereas other people groups such as blacks are portrayed in movies to be very poor, deep into crime and other social ills, and are regarded as second class citizens. These messages constantly resonate in most of the content broadcast especially through the major networks and stations and have resulted, to an extent, in social segregation.
Human beings learn through imitation, and if certain social acts are rewarded in films and even cartoons, people will imitate those acts in real life. And this, sad to note, has become somewhat of a reality in most minds and behavior of most people in our day-to-day living. The popular children’s television show Sesame Street, broadcast since 1969, was designed to educate preschool children from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds about the alphabet and the number system.
After several years of civil unrest in the United States, it was also part of a drive within the media to promote racial harmony (by featuring groups of children drawn from different ethnic backgrounds and was set within the inner city, in an attempt to create an environment that would be recognizable to urban viewers. ) It encouraged parents to watch with their children by incorporating “adult” content such as satirical material and characters with adult appeal like Bert and Ernie. For children, viewing television is a process.
Anyone who has observed young children for more than a few minutes can identify much verbal and gestural material that has its roots in television content, perhaps through peer interaction. Even in front of the set, much activity is taking place, especially watching any show that involves musical content or dancing, or where a presenter directly addresses the viewer. Sesame Street is one of the few examples in which the media has had a positive influence where education and social harmony are concerned, especially in the minds of children.
As they grow up, they will uphold such values of oneness and acceptance, irrespective of race or background. In the United States, for example, the black woman laments the aberrant of her singlehood and how terrified she is about her future as an unmarried woman. The media then further validate her terror by reminding her that not only do black women outnumber black man, those black man that do exist are not marriageable. This can also been seen in how certain products are advertised.
In 2004, the leading diamond company, De Beers started using pictures in its advertising campaigns, in which single black women had empowered themselves economically enough to buy diamond rings, but to be worn on their right hands. This economic and or social empowerment was a result of the women wanting to better their lives and families because of the absence of their black men who were either in prison or just irresponsible and unfaithful.
Again we see how the wealthy have used their influence over the media to propagate the message of instability with regards to family life in the black community. Media has also had a positive influence in national development. Governments have used the media to rally their citizens together in order to build up their nation. Investors from foreign countries have also been lured to engage in business in other countries through advertising.
This has led to social integration and the sharing of skills, values, expertise and experience, which continues to further advance communities and nations. Education and literacy have improved with the advent of the internet and smart phones and other personal gadgets such as the IPad. Information is now readily available to anyone, free of access. Amidst the negative influences of media, it is left to an individual to make the choice of how they are influenced, and how their character is developed.
Karl Erik Rosengren, (1994) MEDIA EFFECTS AND BEYOND: CULTURE, SOCIALIZATION AND LIFESTYLES, London and New York, Routledge. David Giles (2003) MEDIA PSYCHOLOGY, London, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. James P. Steyer (2002) THE OTHER PARENT, New York, Atria Books. Asa Briggs, Peter Burke (2002) A SOCIAL HISTORY OF THE MEDIA, FROM GUTENBERG TO THE INTERNET, USA, Blackwell. Burton St. John III (2009): CLAIMING JOURNALISTIC TRUTH, Journalism Studies, 10:3, 353-367 Blake Te’Neil Lloyd (2002) A CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK FOR EXAMINING ADOLESCENT IDENTITY, MEDIA INFLUENCE, AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT. Educational Publishing House