Internet: The Newest Mass Medium Essay, Research Paper
Internet: The Newest Mass Medium
In order to analyze the Internet as a mass medium, we first have to look at the original intentions of the Internet. Originally the Internet was utilized strictly by the government and educational institutions. Its primary purposes were research and education, although it soon became a form of entertainment for a portion of the population through games, chat, and email. The idea of using the Internet for entertainment and commercial use was outrageous to the current users of the technology, and when listservs began posting advertisements, they did not respond well. These users wanted to keep the focus of this particular media very narrow and two-dimensional, so to speak. However, commercialization of the Internet allowed for exponential growth in for-profit and subsidized sites, which generated a greater demand for a larger user base. Profitability became an issue as soon as the Internet became commercial.
In the 1990s, the Internet wielded a significant impact on people and businesses of all types, and there were many organizations and individuals that grew concerned of this impact and new issues arose. From a business aspect, telecommunications companies began to worry that the Internet would take away their customers because people were now able to place phone calls online with no long distance charges. From an individual, or general population aspect, people were concerned with the social implications of the Internet, and the negative impact that certain content could have on individuals or groups, such as children being exposed to pornographic content. There is also the growing concern of security and privacy, because not only can personal information be used for illegal purposes, it can be used without someone’s knowledge, for marketing purposes, which some people find to be an infringement of their privacy.
The Internet is a breeding ground for freedom of expression and freedom of speech, which is why certain countries such as China and Germany, have done everything in their power to restrict the content made available to citizens. However, because of the Constitution, American government is finding it rather difficult to set up a ‘gatekeeping’ system, which will restrict content available within the United States. To allow the government to do this would completely defeat the purpose of such a versatile and expansive medium.
In order to research the societal effects of this mass medium on the population, it is more convenient to break the audience up into groups, rather than look at the individuals. Because of the expansiveness of the Internet, it is not easy to ascertain the demographics of the average users in an accurate way. Surveys can be created, but it is even more difficult to gather demographic research for the Internet than it is for television or radio, and acceptable samples of Internet users are not easy to obtain.
Internet users can be broken up into groups of gender and age first, and further down the line, by social class. Ethnicity is generally not a good way to analyze the ‘average’ user because within the US there is a very small portion of non-whites using the Internet, so generally, targeting a particular ethnic group is not commonly done by sites on the Internet.
The difficulty of breaking up the Internet audience into ‘manageable’ groups has been a source of some debate among researchers and academics. Leslie Regan Shade noted in a talk, Community Internetworking: The International Free-Internet Conference, ‘One of the characteristics of computer mediated-communication (CMC) is its lack of easy social contextualization.’
Most current researchers tend to analyze the Internet through the critical approach. Rather than attempt to look at the influence on individuals using the Internet, they study the influences on society, or the whole audience of the medium. Also, because of the commercialization of the Internet, some researchers believe we are controlled by the medium, as with television in its earlier days. Researchers also believe it is important to look at the owners of the content on the Internet, most of which are large companies competing for our attention and money. As members of the Critical School believed, so some current researchers believe, that if restrictions are placed on this medium, the Internet will be no more than a means of profiting corporate America and publishing government propaganda. In a nutshell, the Internet would be used to ‘brainwash’ society, and there would be no real individual needs being fulfilled. Frank Beacham, a writer and media producer in New York City states, ‘ The fact is the Internet is a threat to any institution – government, corporate or otherwise – that tries to enforce conformity of human thought. Such conformity of thought was easily manipulated by the corporate/government cooperative that ran (and still runs) traditional ‘old’ media in the United States.
The versatility and multidirectional communication makes the Internet one of the most exciting mediums because content can be very diversified and users are not only able to receive messages, but they are able to respond as well. The Internet is an interactive medium with potential to expand even farther than it already has. The Internet defies the controlled, one-way broadcast model of information distribution and empowers the user with the capability to talk back to the sender.
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