Review – Communication Technology: The New Media in Society
Communication Technology: The New Media in Society by Everett Rogers’ is an interesting book that focuses on the importance of the new technologies and their relationship to the old technologies. The author thoroughly discusses the uses of technology and their significance to any research in communications.
The book is divided into eight chapters. The first two chapters do survey specific communication technologies and their characteristics and applications. After giving an idea of technology and its advancement, the implications of the new technologies for theory and for research methods are examined.
While defining the communication technologies and other relevant aspects, the author is seeks a justification to explain the failure of traditional communication research models to accurately measure the social impact of new communication technologies. Besides this, the author goes on to explain the different alternative research methods available that would be more practical toward the new communication media and how they are impacting behavior amongst individuals.
Communication technology is defined as the hardware equipment, organizational structures, and social values by which individuals collect, process, and exchange information with others. The author effectively explains how the human series of touching, tasting, smelling, seeing and hearing, has a link with communication technology and how electronics plays a leading role.
The introductory part of the book takes the reader into a discussion on the three communication channels. These are: face-to-face (known also as interpersonal communication), mass media communication, and interactive communication. Face to face or interpersonal communication refers to the process whereby two or more individuals exchange information. Secondly, mass media communication refers to all those means through which messages are transmitted through means such as radio, TV, and newspapers. Lastly, interactive communication involves talking back to the user through new technologies such as teleconferencing, computers, and interactive cable television.
The author believes that the new communication technologies have features such as interactivity. This is very beneficial and it allows user to exchange information through computer-based communication systems. In addition, the new technologies are de-massified. This simply means that a special message can be exchanged with each individual in a large audience (the opposite of mass media). On the other hand, such new technologies are also asynchronous; therefore a message can be sent or received at a time convenient for an individual.
It was interesting to read a brief history of human communication. The author describes these eras in four main parts:
Writing: (4,000 BC to 1456 AD). This was the in which both reading material and writing were limited. The rate of literacy was also very low.
Printing: Gutenberg’s invention of the printing machine in 1456 and the invention of making paper from textiles in china, started a new era of communication that brought a revolution. However, it was 380 years after Gutenberg’s invention that reading materials were widely available. On September 1833, Benjamin Day started the actual mass medium in printing when he launched the New York sun.
Telecommunication: This started with Morse’s invention of the telegraph in 1844. This “transformed the newspaper from a personal journal …….into primarily a disseminator of news” (Rogers, 1986, p. 30).
Interactive communication: This is the current era of communication technology. Communication networks are mainly based on computer technology such as microcomputers, teleconferencing, teletext, videotext, interactive cable TV, and communication satellites.
The new media is fast transforming. It has truly given more choice and access to individuals. The format or the manner of display of information is also changing. This phenomenon started in the 1980s and changed lives.
The author also sheds light on another historical aspect. He talks about “the forefathers of communication” John Dewey, Charles Cooley, Robert Park, and George Mead. The author believes that these forefathers of communications considered a social approach to define communication. They emphasized that the individual subjectivity of how a message is perceived is an essentially human quality. The author, Roger rightly gives credits to Dewey, Cooley, Park, and Mead and acknowledges their unparalleled effort “in recognizing communication as the fundamental process affecting human behavior” (Rogers, 1986, p. 82). He also believes that those four thinkers “were before their time in recognizing communication as the fundamental process affecting human behavior” (Rogers, 1986, p. 82).
Basing his beliefs on pragmatic philosophy, John Dewey thinks that mass communication is a tool for social change and that the latest communication technologies to have the capability to restore the community values at the level of society.
On the other hand, Charles Cooley was interested in the socialization aspect of individuals. He was of the view that the base of socialization comes by interpersonal communication with family, friends, and other primary groups. . He was thus more focused on interpersonal communication than on the mass media. Some of his famous works were: “Human Nature and the Social Order (1902)” and “Social Organization (1909)”.
Another important figure in communication history, Robert Park investigates mass communication from a number of perspectives. He was the pioneer in empiricism and was the first who conducted mass communication research. He further defined communication as “a social-psychological process by which one individual is able to assume, in some sense and to some degree, the attitudes and the point of view of another.” (Rogers, 1986, p. 79).
Similarly, George Meal viewed communication as a human process. He thought that interaction was the key to knowing each other. His famous theory “the self” emphasized that the self begins to develop in a child when the individual learns “to take the role of others”. During this process he learns to imagine the roles of others, and to anticipate their responses to individual’s actions.
Claude Shannon and Norbert Wiener are viewed as the founders of the mathematical theory of communication. They formulated the cybernetic theory that concerned continued flowing of current information. Shannon and his colleague Weaver provided the crucial turning point in the history of communication science when their model of communication leads communication scientists into a linear, effects-oriented approach to human communication. However, the author believes in this book that the new communication studies originate mainly from the researches of Lasswell, Lewin, Hovland, Lazarsfeld, and Schramm. All these studies focus on the effects and behavior of individuals upon receiving messages.
For example, Lasswell investigated the effects of propaganda messages used in World War I. His famous expression, “Who says what in which channel to whom with what effects?” summarizes the scope and nature of communication research. On the other hand, Lewin mainly dealt with how an individual’s attachment to a group affects that individual’s conforming to groups’ norms? His famous concept was of “gatekeeping” – controlling the flow of messages in a communication channel. Hovland dealt with “persuasion research”. He elaborates on source credibility, one-sided and two-sided presentation, and the use of fear appeal. Hovland’s studies focus on the “effects that measure by the degree of attitude change”. The fourth researcher Lazarsfeld was mainly attracted to radio research by employing techniques such as sampling, surveys, and content analysis to investigate interpersonal influence, effects on individual’s knowledge, attitude, and behavior. On the contrary, the book reveals that Schramm concentrates his efforts on studying the effect of TV on children its role on communication in the progress of the developing nations.
The author also discusses the adoption and implementation of communication technologies. He refers to the diffusion of new ideas and gives examples of new media that rapidly diffused during the 1980s are microcomputers, VCRs, and cable TV. The author also believes that the main focus of communication research has been on the changes in an individual’s behavior (knowledge, attitudes, or actions) that occur as the result of mass communication messages.
An important view of the author is about the categorization of the social impact of adoption or rejection of innovation. This has been categorized into three dimensions. He first discusses the desirable impacts of an innovation on an individual or social system besides the undesirable impacts. Second, he explains the direct impacts or the changes in an individual or social system as an immediate response to an innovation and the changes that result from such impacts. Third, the anticipated impacts or the changes caused by an innovation are discussed. These innovations are recognized and intended by the members of a social’s system.
The author then indicates some important impacts of the new technologies, such as unemployment and social inequality. The interesting point to note here is that these are correlative to differential access to technologies. There is also a problem of information overload that results from the excessive communication inputs that cannot be processed. In the new communication technology there are also threats to personal privacy. On the other hand, computer can be a powerful tool for teaching the skills needed for children. In addition, the use of computer can also widen the gaps between the “information-poor” and the “information-rich”.
New technologies are very exciting as they can be used for a number of purposes susch as information, entertainment, banking (ATM machines), and teleshopping (by credit cards) etc. The author finally mentions the technological situation in the Third World (Latin America, Africa, and Asia). According to him, TV did not reach a very large audience in most Third World nations Latin America, Africa, and Asia. However, radio has proliferated much more than TV.
I found this book to be very informative. It greatly enhanced my knowledge about various issues. I would not hesitate in saying that it is an excellent book in a way that it defines communication technology in a clear and easy manner. It provides great ideas that will greatly aid me in doing research in mass media communication.
The book was balanced in explaining major communications developments. However, the author’s discussion of application of new technologies in the Third World needs more attention. His views were quite general. The developing world constitutes millions of people and a variety of political and economic systems.
It is a fact that the new era of communication technologies is shaping our lives. A revolution has been made possible due to the emergence of new technologies. These technologies have made our life easier than any time before. The advancement in the field of communications has enabled us to control the type of information we want. For example, we simply have a choice of hundreds of channels to view and hear programs of our interest. In fact, it is the communication technology which has also helped in making the world a smaller place. New technologies are also enabling feedback to the information. I believe that the future holds much more than we can expect.