In the advent of technology, the way people communicate has tremendously changed. Before, people mainly interact through face to face contact, written mails and other traditional forms of communication. Nowadays, people send and receive messages through more advanced media. Medium is defined as the channel through which communication is conveyed (Merriam-Webster 2010). Media (plural for medium) take the form of visual (newspaper, short message service), audio (radio, mobile phones), and audiovisual (television, internet) forms. One lead thinker on the relationship of science, technology, and society is Marshall McLuhan. Marshall McLuhan quoted the phrase, ‘the medium is the message.’ McLuhan’s focus is the effect of media to the individual, which in turn shapes the culture and society. He argues that the medium through which communication occurs defines how a message is perceived, hence the quote, ‘the medium is the message.’ This means that any modification on the type of medium creates a consequent change in the human translation of the message. For example, a person may react less negatively if he reads the newspaper, which sends information through visual sensory channels, in comparison to receiving information via television, which affects the hearing and visual senses. These varying reactions imply that messages are perceived differently according to the type of media that presents it. This suggests that the crucial aspect in the message process is the “how” or method of transmitting messages and not the “what” or content of the message (Federman 2004). Based on this, it can be inferred that technological media shape an individual’s thoughts and perception leading to its great influence on the culture that is prevailing in the world today.
Following Mcluhan’s concepts, Neil Postman’s major aspect of thinking focuses on how human culture has succumbed to technology. In his book, Technopoly: the surrender of culture to technology, he primarily discussed the negative side of technology. He coined the term “technopoly” as a “…deificaiton of technology, which means that the culture seeks its authorization in technology, finds its satisfactions in technology, and takes its orders from technology” (Postman 1993:71-72 cited in Kaplan 1995:34). According to Postman, technology continuously creates numerous changes in all aspects of human life and eradicates the sources that were once vital to humans. He creates a picture of the world in dystopia for the near future brought about by technology. He discusses that humans put all their trust in the creations of technology without even noticing it. The smooth transitional changes from conventional methods to technological innovations has put the people in so much ease that they rely and depend primarily on these new methods. According to Postman, this is scary and dangerous for humans because they lose control and power over their lives and instead put it on these technological innovations (Murphy 1996). In a nutshell, he mainly argues that technology should not replace humans in running the world.
It is a fact that advancements in technology paved the way for communication to become more convenient and accessible for humans. New innovations, of which computers are popularly used, made life easier for humans. People can now send and communicate with people from other places in just a few clicks. They can now buy things from the internet without the hassle of mixing into a big crowd in shopping malls. These are few of the many benefits that modern technology and media provided for this generation. However, it also hindered the progress of some of the most basic yet important traditions in the world. In this aspect, I agree with Postman that human’s increasing dependency on technology is dangerous because what used to be vital are now disposed. Less and less people use their own penmanship to write and send letters. Few people take quality time to interact on a personal basis. Even in offices, people stay behind their desks and chat through electronic mails/ messengers even though they are just a cubicle apart. The society and culture has changed a lot since the dawn of technological advancements. Unfortunately, there is a struggle to preserve traditional cultures that will remind us of the historicity of the world’s past. In addition, some people are unable to keep up with the increasing supply of information from various available media. With these new challenges, the question is, are humans still in control of their own technology, or is it the other way around?
On this note, I believe that media created from the modern technology has a great and vital influence on human’s culture and society. What is crucial here is that media affects us in both ways—positive and negative. However, I do not say that we should not develop any new technologies anymore and go back to conventional methods. My opinions against technological advancement are not as strong and aversive as Portman’s. Yes, there are drawbacks to increasing number of media that affects our culture but as I have initially stated, there are also benefits. Hence, what is important is that people become aware of the interrelationship of science, technology, and society. People should be reminded that eveything used in excess will have detrimental effects in the future, hence a moderation and correct usage of technology should be recommended.
Another key thinker in media and culture is Stuart Hall. Stuart Hall’s major aspect of thinking focuses on the meaning created by people as they receive messages. His published work, Encoding/Decoding, discusses that people do not simply accept a given information or text, rather, a process occurs in the decoder that affects the meaning they attach to messages.
Hall (1980) wrote the following:
The codes of encoding and decoding may not be perfectly symmetrical. The degrees of symmetry – that is, the degrees of “understanding” and “misunderstanding” in the communicative exchange – depend on the degrees of symmetry/asymmetry (relations of equivalence) established between the positions of “personifications”, encoder-producer and decoder-receiver. (cited in Durham and Kellner 2006:166)
This passage means that there is a difference on how a receiver perceives the context of message from a sender, who also has his own perception of the message. People’s varying reactions, refusal or acceptance, to a piece of information is greatly affected by their cultural background.
I agree with Hall’s point of view that people process the information they receive and decode it based on their cultural and social background. For example, an American may react very enthusiastically regarding a picture poster about Thanksgiving while a Japanese may simply ignore it because he has no personal meaning attached to it. These varying reactions to the same information are caused by their cultural diversities. In relation to McLuhan’s concept of the medium as the message, it can be deduced that the cultural background serves as the medium through which message is transmitted to people.
List of References
Federman, M. (23 July 2004) What is the meaning of the medium is the message? [online] available from <http://individual.utoronto.ca/markfederman/article_mediumisthemessage.htm> [9 May 2010]
Hall, S. (1980) ‘Encoding/Decoding.’ In Culture, Media, Language. ed. by Hobson, D., Love, A., & Willis, P. London: Hutchinson: 128-138. Cited in Durham, M. G. & Kellner, D. M. (2006) Media and Cultural Studies. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd: 166
Merriam-Webster (2010) ‘Medium’ Merriam Webster Online Dictionary [online] available from < http://mw4.m-w.com/dictionary/medium> [9 May 2010]
Murphy, E. (1996) Technopoly: the surrender of culture to technology by Neil Postman, 1993 [online] available from <http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~emurphy/stemnet/technop.html> [9 May 2010]
Postman, N. (1993) Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books: 71-72. Cited in Kaplan, N. (1995) ‘What Neil Postman has to say…’ Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine [online] 2,(3) 34. Available from < http://www.ibiblio.org/cmc/mag/1995/mar/hyper/npcontexts_119.html> [9 May 2010]