We are entering the age of personalization of technology, and according to this article its ramifications on our culture are yet to actualize. “The remote control shifted power to the individual, and the technologies that have embraced this principle in its wakeâ€”the Walkman, the Video Cassette Recorder, Digital Video Recorders such as TiVo, and portable music devices like the iPodâ€”have created a world where the individualâ€™s control over the content, style, and timing of what he consumes is nearly absolute. Retailers and purveyors of entertainment increasingly know our buying history and the vagaries of our unique tastes. As consumers, we expect our television, our music, our movies, and our books â€œon demand.â€ We have created and embraced technologies that enable us to make a fetish of our preferences.
“The long-term effect of this thoroughly individualized, highly technologized culture on literacy, engaged political debate, the appreciation of art, thoughtful criticism, and taste-formation is difficult to discern. But it is worth exploring how the most powerful of these technologies have already succeeded in changing our habits and our pursuits. By giving us the illusion of perfect control, these technologies risk making us incapable of ever being surprised. They encourage not the cultivation of taste, but the numbing repetition of fetish. And they contribute to what might be called â€œegocasting,â€ the thoroughly personalized and extremely narrow pursuit of oneâ€™s personal taste. In thrall to our own little technologically constructed worlds, we are, ironically, finding it increasingly difficult to appreciate genuine individuality.”
It’s certainly a trend to watch, especially for those who are interested in the ramifications of mass media on our common culture and democracy. “When cable television channels began to proliferate in the 1980s, a new type of broadcasting, called â€œnarrowcasting,â€ emergedâ€”with networks like MTV, CNN, and Court TV catering to specific interests. With the advent of TiVo and iPod, however, we have moved beyond narrowcasting into â€œegocastingâ€â€”a world where we exercise an unparalleled degree of control over what we watch and what we hear.” Where is the common ground? How does this affect our democracy when our media doesn’t reach a mass audience.
There’s an interesting article to help you continue your thinking in this month’s Atlantic called The Massless Media. Writer William Powers writes: “For some time now Americans have been leaving those vast media spaces where they used to come together and have instead been clustering in smaller units. The most broad-based media outlets, the networks and metropolitan newspapers, have been losing viewers and readers for years. But lately, thanks to the proliferation of new cable channels and the rise of digital and wireless technology, the disaggregation of the old mass audience has taken on a furious momentum. And the tribalization is not just about political ideology. In the post-mass-media era audiences are sorting themselves by ethnicity, language, religion, profession, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and numerous other factors.”
For now, I am not going to draw any conclusions (even though it was the subject of my graduate thesis). Think about it and let me know: Will the fragmentation of our mass media hinder our democracy? Will the fractious nature of media delivered from a specific political perspective sound the end of objective journalism?
“Common sense would suggest that as the vast village green of the broadcast era is chopped up into tiny plots, divisions in the culture will only multiply. If everyone tunes in to a different channel, and discourse happens only among like minds, is there any hope for social and political cohesion? Oh, for a cozy living room with one screen and Walter Cronkite signing off with his authoritative, unifying “That’s the way it is.”