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The Digital Revolution - Dissertation Sample

15 Mar 2017Dissertation Samples

What way will 'the digital revolution' transform the media?

In The Media and Globalisation, Tehri Rantanen (2005, pp. 5-10) suggests that there are three main types of globalisation theorist; the hyperglobalist, the sceptic and the transformalist.  The hyperglobalist is utopian in outlook, insofar as s/he is concerned with the end of history and progress, suggesting that globalisation has brought death to the nation state and completely liquefied and homogenized cultural identity.

The sceptic, logically enough, is more sceptical about the concept of globalisation, suggesting that globalisation effectively occurred when Reuters built cables that facilitated instant communications back in the 19th century.  The transformalist suggests that globalisation is a transitory phase, a passing through to another epoch for mankind, and that we are not quite there yet.  These views are important when considering the nature of future transformations of the media and the extent to which they will transform, as each offer different paradigms with which to consider media and globalisation.  Terry Flew suggests that “[t]here are three dimensions to this centrality of media to globalisation. 

First, media constitutes the technologies and service delivery platforms through which international flows are transacted.  Second, the media industries are leaders in the push towards global expansion and integration.  Finally, the media provides informational content and images of the world through which people seek to make sense of events in distant places.” (Flew 2005, p. 183)  Therefore, it is important to consider the media and globalisation as an intrinsically linked phenomenon, and postulate how the current developments of globalisation are likely to impact on the relationships between the media and consumer, the media and economics, and the media and politics.  In the following essay, I will discuss the implications of these various factors, and postulate as to how these differing views will change the role and the function of the media in the future.

“At the heart of nearly all […] technological innovations […] is the capacity to reduce complexity.  This means that more and more information can be compressed and carried more quickly […] .  With so much information capacity, individual consumers will be able to interact with any of the services they are offered, adjusting what they receive to what they want.” (Curran & Seaton 1997, p.242)


Developments are constantly being made technologically, mathematically and statistically concerning the distribution and the organisation of information.  This has potentially radical implications across the media, as the Internet has proven and, as bandwidth increases, will continue to change the ways in which we view, and access that various media.  It could be assumed that this democratization of the media - the choice, via hypertext, for consumers to pursue any informational path, has radically altered the ways in which we synthesise and interpret information, supposedly bringing death to the enforced culture of the state and the nation in favour of more free-floating cultural identity based on consumer choice.  This has radical implications for the ways in which the media functions.  In New Media: A Critical Introduction, it is suggested that “[w]here ‘old’ media offer[s] passive consumption, new media offer[s] interactivity. 

The term stands for a more powerful sense of user engagement with media texts, a more independent relation to sources of knowledge, individualised media use, and greater user choice.” (Lister et al. 2003, p. 20)  Indeed, the notion of interactivity is important when gauging the nature of the development of the media over the coming years.  But it is also important to look at the sweeping changes in the ways in which the media is financed, the ways in which the media relates to the public and, as the socio-economic principles of “globalisation” are realised, how this trend towards democratization and interactivity mutates. 

It is also important to consider the number of dissident voices that the Internet has spurned; the alternative news, film, music and anti-advertising (culture-jamming) communities, as well as piracy through file-sharing networks, are beginning to play an influential role in affecting the media, that will question and problematize the way in which people interact with mediated resources in the future and, whether sceptical or not about the nature of globalisation, will certainly change the ways in which the media tends to disseminate information, even on the relatively benign level of simply using different technologies to push essentially the same views and values.

“Fewer journalists produce more stories more frequently. […] Understanding requires time, time costs, and reporters everywhere may be becoming more […] vulnerable to the well-packaged official lines produced.” (Curran & Seaton 1997, p. 258)

We are already seeing sweeping developments in the field of interactive TV, where viewers can choose between camera angles, gain access to an abundance of statistical information, access other stories and lines of investigation, effectively choose what to extract and when, and to tailor our footage according to our lifestyles and / or preferences.  Ultimately this does provide us with increased interactivity and choice concerning how the viewer consumes available media.  But does this merely offer a chimera of increased choice; a glaze of opportunity pasted over an increasingly impoverished, spectacular but depthless media world?  The internet could be seen as the epitome of this outlook, where information of questionable quality can be attained about almost anything.  An interesting recent phenomenon has been the news aggregator.  Websites such as www.danwei.org and www.newsnow.co.uk scour thousands of internet sites for new news every minute, using newsfeed technology that instantly updates the site every 30 seconds or so.

It is also possible, via sites such as www.blogspot.com for the reader to write articles herself, and thus contribute to the glut of information that is constantly being fed to the aggregator.  Arguably, this empowers the consumer, who is no longer a passive force in the media, but is more active in what information is consumed, and even of what is produced, than ever before.  Of course, as the quote suggests, the victims are reliability and rigour.  Martin Bell said that “more news is bad news”.  What is certain is that the lines between consumer and mediator are set to change and blur even further in the future, which affects the economics of news, and the nature of mainstream news, primarily televised news, placing it more in the realm of  entertainment rather than information.  As James Curran and Jean Seaton suggest:

“News values are becoming more sensational, local and personal. […] [I]ssues which matter apparently die as fast as the trivial and absurd.” (Curran & Seaton 1997, p. 259)

With the continual deregulation of television, coupled with a superabundance of alternative news sources available on the Internet, there are now more news sources available than ever before.  However the pool of money available, gained from an increasingly shallow, increasingly specialised set of markets, is now being spread more and more thinly.  Naturally, this argument has two sides.  On the one hand, globalisation seems more concerned with “service delivery platforms”, to use Flew’s terminology, rather than the accumulation of fact, which used to be the case with institutions such as the BBC and the broadsheet media (both of which are arguably in decline). 

Curran and Seaton suggest that “all public, publicly owned, publicly accessible, available knowledge, research constructed around the pursuit of knowledge not profit, ways of manipulating data and understanding […] [a]re, all over the world, in crisis.” (Curran & Seaton 1997, p. 257)  So, it is likely that in 15 years, the development of the profit-oriented market will continue to develop, putting investigative journalism, being expensive, slow and not always successful, under serious jeopardy.

The media has become quantitative rather than qualitative and, at least with mass-media and TV news broadcasting, this trend will inevitably continue.  The poststructuralist school of thought tend to see this in its more negative light, using terminology such as Baudrillard’s “information blizzard” and Lyotard’s “message glut” (Curran & Seaton 1997, p. 258) to describe the inevitable confusion of information overload, and stress that the role of the media will be simply to promote a specific lifestyle, giving people “the news that matters”, rather than conducting extensive research and exposing truth via in depth investigative journalism.

However, the quantitative nature of the Internet in particular has also seen a resurgence of outsider voices that now get more exposure than ever before.  Investigative journalists such as Greg Palast, despite the financial duress of independence, now arguably enjoy more exposure than they ever would if they were working for giant news organisations.  As well as this, grass-roots journalism is occurring via websites such as www.indymedia.org, www.schnews.org, www.cursor.org, and many more, providing an anti-corporate alternative to mass-media news dissemination. 

Paul Kingsworth suggests that “[t]he internet engine of financial and corporate globalisation has become the engine, too, of the globalisation of resistance, a vital tool for the creation of a global network of dissent that could probably not have been created without it.”  (Flew 2005, p. 183)  Also, in other industries, such as music, blogs and cheap advertising via web space and culture-jamming, the Internet has proven to be a useful way to distribute alternative information, and mass-media organisations are increasingly outsourcing and using “coolhunters” to gauge up-coming trends, in order to market and exploit certain facets of alternative cultures and identities. 

DJs that started life in the cultural underground have, via the digital revolution and the availability and relative cheapness of equipment, been able to, in some ways, change the way in which the music business works, with less concern about the economics of production, and more concern with distribution… another step from the production sector into the service sector.  With the Internet, this is taken a further step, as DJ Dangermouse’s infamous “Grey Album” proved.  This album was essentially a cut-up using illegal samples taken from The Beatles’ White Album and Jay-Z’s Black Album.  With file-sharing technology, the distribution of this album (and other commercially copyrighted material) on the internet is virtually unstoppable, and has made DJ Dangermouse into a star.  The implications that piracy has for the ways in which music is marketed is twofold, and can be seen as a positive way of promoting bands cheaply, or as a catastrophic drain on the financial resources available to fund alternative music in the first place.

To date, ‘the digital revolution’ has already shaped and manipulated the way the media works beyond recognition.  Although it is impossible to predict accurately how the media will transform, it is obvious that the effects of transparency that the new technology has brought will cause mass-media organisations to adapt accordingly.  The relative cheapness of new technology will facilitate more D.I.Y. products being made across the media, from music to news and film and even television; thus, coupled with illegal file-sharing, which is changing the way the music business works, and with interactivity, the role of mass-media will be more as homogenizer or aggregator rather than creator of various strands and developments. 

Although this has potentially catastrophic results for areas such as investigative journalism, and other non-profit oriented markets, the abundance of material available will hopefully subsume the thinness of the market, where the focus will be on promoting loyalty to a specific product rather than shoving it down our throats with mass-marketing.  Overall, the continual process of deregulation will change the flow of finance in the media sector, which will therefore change the entire dynamic of the media industry.  This will be more about adapting to new markets, spotting trends as they develop, and capturing talent that is already there rather than producing it.

Bibliography

  • Curran, J. & Seaton, J. 1997, Power without Responsibility: The Press and Broadcasting in Britain, 5th edn, Routledge, London
  • Devereux, E. 2003, Understanding the Media, Sage, London
  • Flew, T. 2005, New Media: An Introduction, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford
  • Lister, M., Dovey, J., Giddings, S., Grant, I. & Kelly, K. 2003, New Media: A Critical Introduction, Routledge, London
  • Louw, E. 2005, The Media and Political Process, Sage, London
  • Rantanen, T. 2005, The Media And Globalisation, Sage, London

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