My ResearchInterests support, for the most part, my primary research goal of tearing down the artificial divide that seperates the study of mass media from the study of proximate (interpersonal, small group, rhetorical, organizational, etc) interaction environmnents (InterpersonalAndMassMedia). I seek to accomplish this through a paradigm shift in our fields use of the term media, which is most commonly applied with the context of mass communication and "the media". A medium, within this perspective, is a system and process that enables people to share messages. Viewed this way, face-to-face interaction, as it is normally enacted, is no less a medium than a newspaper is. This generalized notion of medium, emergent in my own work in the late 1980's (see Foulger, 1990) and seperately suggested by Cappella (1992), provides an entry point to a much wider range of perspectives through which it is possible to view the continuum from interpersonal communication to mass communication as a continuous theoretical space.
Expanding the concept of medium to encompass the concerns of both mass and interpersonal communication is not about creating a hammer with which one can hit a wider range of topics. It is about treating the many hammers that we already use in studying communication as contributors to a continuous theoretical space and understanding how each contributes to the whole. If one treats messages, language, and media as the three primary unifying concepts within our field, much as the figure below illustrates, one might as easily treat either messages or language as organizing constructs.
It is more appropriate, however, to regard language and messages as common constructs. All forms of communication, whether proximate or mass, entail the use of language (NatureOfLanguage and CommunicationAmongAnimals) to create messages that are enabled by media. Aside from the specialized jargons that insiders use in various media (as examples: "What's your 20" in C.B. Radio, "key grips" and "best boys" in movie making, and "32" in the newspaper industry) language does not vary significantly across either individual media or across the general divide between interpersonal and mass media. Language is generally culturally determined, with the language choices of a culture reflected in all of its media.
The same can be said for messages. The rhetoric of writing a newspaper article may differ than that of a speech or a television news story, but message content is commonly repurposed across different media. At the extreme, this is a statement of what many would consider obvious. When we say that new media are built from old media, we aren't just saying that television took over and transformed much of radio's content, but that both radio and televisi on content incorporate a variety of proximate media into their messages, including theatrical presentation, rhetorical address, and interactive conversation. The conversation may be between two talking heads on a screen, and the audience may remain passive consumers of that content, but the interaction model still plays an important role in the structure of the medium. The same might be said for the conversational form of Plato's dialogs ("books").
Where language and messages provide a weak differentiation between the mass and proximate media constructs, medium not onlyl provides a strong differentiation, but shows a set of continua against which this and other differentiations can be framed theoretically. It is this strong differentiation, and a set of associatable social implications, that gives resonance to McLuhan's "The Medium is the Message" and frames much of current media theory. We have been so busy chasing the social implications of these differences for the obvious big ticket media, however, that we have failed to notice the dimensionality that makes them a continuum or hundreds of less obvious media that fill in large portions of the middle ground for these continua.
| -- Last edited September 18, 2015 |
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