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Unformatted text preview: SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Fall 2010 Textbook:
Volti, Rudi. 2009. Society and Technological Change. 6th edition. Worth Publishers Inc.
REVIEW, PT. V: COMMUNICATION.
CHAPTER 13: THE ELECTRONIC MEDIA. (224-252) During the 450 years that followed the invention of movable type in the West, the printed word was the
dominant form of mass communication. Toward the end of the 19th C., new forms of communication began to
emerge as scientists and engineers in several countries learned how to send and receive signals through
empty space — telegraph, radio, television, Internet-based media. The social, cultural, political, and economic
effects of these media have been at least as great as those of printing (224).
In 1844, Samuel F. B. Morse invented the telegraph. Morse Code was used
to transmit combinations of dots and dashes — representing individual letters
— and required large numbers of trained operators to encode and decode
messages, plus large amounts of capital to string up telegraph wires between
communication points (where geographically possible). Telegraph communication took on vital importance — tied together far-flung communities,
facilitated running of railroads, brought news from far-off places (224).
[Continue reading: The Invention of Radio (225-6).]
Military forces also made extensive use of radio communications, and WWI
Nov. 25, 1919, College Station:
stimulated a good deal of technical progress, especially in development of
First play by play football coveragemass-production techniques for the manufacture of radio components. During
Aggies and Longhorns-sent by Morse
Code and translated to fans around
the 1920s, throughout the U.S., amateur radio operators began to broadcast
Texas by Ham radio operators.
news, weather bulletins, musical recordings, and live musical performances.
In 1920, the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company constructed a broadcasting station atop
one of its Pittsburgh headquarters buildings, and radio station KDKA went “on the air,” giving up-to-the
minute results of the 1920 presidential election to an audience of several hundred. Other entrepreneurs
followed and by 1922, more than 500 stations were transmitting music, sporting events, speeches, and
news programs (226).
At first, most live performers appeared free of charge but then the American Society of Composers, Authors,
and Publishers (ASCAP) began to demand payment for the broadcast of recorded music. In 1923 it backed
this demand with a successful lawsuit. Similarly, live performers began to expect payment for their services.
In Great Britain, a national radio system was established and broadcasting expenses were defrayed by
licensing fees paid by owners of radio sets. In the U.S., free enterprise endured and radio broadcasting
was sustained by companies sponsoring programs in return for airing their commercials. Listening to radio
programs became an integral part of American life, and listeners were subject to a steady barrage of
commercials exhorting them to buy the sponsors’ products. Thus, as with other advances in the ability to
communicate, impressive technological achievements were put into the service of the mindless and the
Dreams of electrically transmitting and receiving visual images existed before even radio was a practical
reality. Illustrations of people watching television screens appeared in Punch (English magazine) in 1879,
and by a French artist in 1882. The word “television” appeared first in print in Scientific American in 1907.
A substantial amount of inventive activity took place in the 1920s on both sides of the Atlantic as inventors,
government agencies, and private firms sought to make television a practical reality. The British Broadcasting
Corporation (BBC) took an early lead in 1929, transmitting 1/2-hr. TV programs five days a week. In 1939,
the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) began regular broadcasting of TV programs to a few thousand
receivers in New York City (228-9).
Development of radio and television in the U.S. was largely the work of private enterprise. Even so, the federal
government gave a substantial boost to the electronic media — military contracts, national security leading
to creation of a unified radio industry. Also, the federal government used its regulatory power to ensure an
orderly environment for broadcasting, requiring each broadcaster to remain on a single frequency. In 1912,
the Department of Commerce and Labor required the licensing of all broadcasters, thus stipulating the exact
frequency on which the station could broadcast and its times of operation. This was successfully challenged Page 1 of 2 SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Fall 2010 in court and chaos ensued when, in the mid-1920s, many broadcasters transmitted all over the frequency
spectrum. As a remedy, in 1927, Congress created the Federal Radio Commission and, in 1934, government
oversight of communications media was consolidated through the creation of the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC). And when TV went into its period of rapid growth in the late 1940s and early 1950s,
some of its success could be attributed to the uniform technical standards that were developed under FCC
Read: Problems of Regulation and The Television-Viewing Public (230-3).
On TV, violence is a programming staple — 61% of TV programs contain some violence, and children’s
programming is more violent than prime-time shows aimed at general audiences. Critics have indicted TV
for contributing to rampant violence that plagues American society. Conclusions drawn from miscellaneous
studies [read p.233-4] indicate that, for some children, watching violent acts on TV may lead to aggressive
or violent behavior. Nevertheless, there is a fair amount of evidence that exposure to TV violence dampens
a child’s emotional response to the witnessing of violent acts, and diminishes his/her concern about such
acts. The majority of studies have found a connection between on-screen violence and real-world violence,
and TV violence has been identified as a significant social problem (233-5).
On-screen video games now constitute a significant portion of leisure activity for many individuals. The
average age of gamers is 35, with nearly 50% between ages 18 and 50. Women now comprise 40% of
gamers, and women over age 18 now comprise 33% of gamers while boys age 17 and younger comprise
18%. Mayhem and carnage depicted by some video games go far beyond anything seen on TV. Concerns
about a possible connection between violent video games and real-life violence bring us back to some of
the issues voiced by critics of TV violence. However, gaming preferences differ. Males are more likely to
choose action games (not all of which are violent) while females generally prefer traditional arcade games,
puzzle games, and board games like Monopoly in video format (235-6).
Today’s video games have reached high levels of realism, so that some are now being used to prepare
soldiers and police to operate in dangerous situations. In 2001, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a report
which speculated that video games might stimulate more aggressive and violent behavior than TV since the
player is a participant in on-screen violence and not simply a vicarious consumer of it. In recent years, video
game addiction has emerged as a serious psychological disorder and may become self-destructive (237).
Read: Television, Information, and News (238-9), and Television and Politics (239-242)
To Marshall McLuhan, the TV image is indistinct and requires the viewer to “fill in the blanks” in a way that
involves all of the senses. TV viewing is not a single-minded, linear process as reading is. For McLuhan, a
TV-based culture is less concerned with sequence and more with complete, all-at-once involvement, and
these changes in perception are transforming every aspect of our lives. But his conclusions lack clear proof
and the basic thesis is virtually unprovable…. Finally, one might speculate that the lack of concentration
and the short attention spans that seem so common today are at least partially the result of growing up
with TV programs that are constantly punctuated by commercial messages and other distractions (242-3).
Since the late 1990s, a new electronic medium, the Internet, has come to the fore, bringing with it potentials
for social change equal to or greater than those brought by radio and TV. Today’s Internet can be described
as a giant network of smaller computer networks that allows users to access files located anywhere within
these individual networks. The invention of the computer network began with the needs of the military [read
p.243-4]. Tim Berners-Lee at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (French acronym CERN)
was the primary developer of a software system for accessing files within computer networks, released in
1991, and the basis of a network called the World Wide Web (WWW). Two years later, the WWW team
announced that CERN would not attempt to patent or claim any copyright fees for the technology underlying
the web. Thus, there would be no restrictions on becoming part of the web and, as a result, it became a
virtually universal repository of computer-based information and entertainment. The web underwent
explosive growth — in December 1993, there were 623 web sites; by 2000, there were 7.4 million sites,
with hundreds being added every day. Growth of the web was paralleled by growth of the Internet as a
whole. By 2008, more than 1.46 billion people were “netizens,” 21.9% of the world’s population (243-4).
Read: The Digital Divide (245-5), Computer Networks and Intellectual Property (246-8).
A major reason for the success of radio, television, and the Internet is the solid financial support that they
attracted. However, the electronic media has allowed us to retreat into worlds shared with fewer and fewer
people. So can societies thrive amidst so great a degree of individualization and privatization? (248-9). Page 2 of 2 ...
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This note was uploaded on 11/15/2010 for the course SOC 415 taught by Professor Swift,d during the Fall '08 term at University of Hawaii, Manoa.
- Fall '08