MEDIA: MASS, MINORITY, AND INTERCHANGE
It is tempting at this point to draw together some of the disparate
strands of previous chapters; to show, for example, the possible
utilization of computers in a federalizing world. But our mosaic is only
half-complete. Factors touched upon in the first chapter are yet to be discussed in richer context. The present and previous chapters are prerequisite to an understanding of subsequent explorations and conclusions. We have mentioned the telephone, cable-systems, computers, and even the multinational corporation as "communicator." We need to discuss media in some greater depth, to spell out some specifics of technology, some specifics of the potential impact of communications and transportation, which merge into our more general conclusions.
Media comes in many modes (a near tautology): information and
entertainment may be stored on paper, transparencies, magnetic tape, film,
electronic circuits, plastic disks, and other elements yet to be widely utilized. Transcription from one form of storage to another, such as videotape to film, is held back (for the individual) largely by factors of cost and lack of standardization. Transmission can involve every form of telecommunication and will probably broaden out to include lasers, and resonation techniques not yet invented.
Final presentation comes to us in print, print-out, audio- and visual
projection, including the cathode-ray tube.
Roughly speaking, we see the mass media on the one hand, and what might be
called the "minority" media on the other. Mass media is the
rotary-press newspaper, magazine, and newsstand paperback; area-wide (at
least P on the regional scale) broadcasting on the AM-FM and
internationally-utilized (SW) frequencies; and the widely-distributed
"commercial" movie. Minority media is the portable duplicating machine, the tape recorder, videotape recorder, "ham" and citizens' band, radio, the "home" movie camera, projector, and the like. The division between mass and minority media is not sharp, though obvious at its extremes. There may be and often is a point of relationship between the two: a telecasting of a graphic transposes a private view to a public audience; an "underground" newspaper flashed on the TV screen becomes, if readable to the eye, the content of a mass media form although originating as minority media. On the following page, we observe the advertised manner in which one VTR system (AKAI) can be related to mass media broadcasting.
An audio recording, such as the Beatles' "Abbey Road", can
achieve widespread distribution and the impact of mass media; a physically
identical recording of Zydeco may reach only a small community of
enthusiasts. A broadcast station can be anything from an operation in a
large city, reaching millions, to a 2500 mega-Hertz television
transmission confined to one building. In our first chapter, we mentioned
the possibility of switched, multi-channel, linked systems -- permitting
the presently passive receiver to more actively seek out specific and
perhaps distant transmission, and to offer presentations himself. Such
possibilities would narrow even more the gap, and reinforce the tendency
for media to be positioned in a continuum rather than fall into two
categories. An expanding system of cable, direct satellite transmission
(by-passing earth receiving stations), and the broader utilization of the
frequency spectrum, will have a complex impact on future communication (51). In some respects it will facilitate the
dissemination of mass-oriented programming. The second of these three will, nevertheless (receiver capabilities permitting), give suitably-placed viewers the opportunity of seeing network
presentations of countries other than their own. (The satellite also facilitates lower-cost intercontinental telephoning, a minority mode). The first and third factor could be used to provide a "postal" service for minority
media, rather than purely a further widening of the mass audience.
Mass audience/specialized audience
Mass media has been the subject of a flood of comment and research, from the perspective of many disciplines
and from the ruminations of oracles. Most of this flood has been devoted to the impact of mass media within
Western society, with a lesser emphasis on its role in the developing countries and sub-cultures. There are certain things which media can do: to paraphrase Schramm, it can report, widen mental horizons, focus
attention, raise aspirations, affect value-systems, confer status, help
enforce social norms, and teach basic skills (52). It does all of these
things through its specific content, and Marshall McLuhan's oft-quoted expression -- "the
medium is the message" (and massage) -- suggests that it does some of these things (e.g., the second) almost
regardless of specific content.
The extent to which specific presentations achieve the results listed by Schramm depends in large part on the sophistication of the producer and the sophistication of the audience. Mass media offerings may, individually and in aggregate, seem to promote and reinforce the value-system of the sender. But the message may contain unrealized counterpoints or produce results opposite from those intended. The bulk of commercial television
programming in the United States in the late Sixties, for example, tended
to poke fun at the "longhairs"; but the same longhairs, when
competent and demanded musicians, were presented in another context and
were given status in the eyes of the younger viewer. Similarly, an
explicitly propoganda message may fall flat on its face and have an
opposite effect if its over-simplification rings false with a fairly
sophisticated audience. A quite serious discussion or activity portrayed
on film may be undermined by as simple a factor as the characters wearing
yesterday's fashion in clothing. These factors not only prompt
disseminators to consider more carefully the hidden content of their
productions; they also lead them to prepare different messages for
differing audiences (even if through the same medium) and this diffraction
(even if monolithic in ultimate intent) may act as a vehicle for the
expression of specialized audience interests (as when a commercial
sponsor, attempting to reach a cultural minority, finds itself obliged to cater to the opinions of that minority). This general phenomenon, in conjunction with the technological features previously mentioned, tends to offer a countervailing force to the dominance of the blanketing network presentation of early broadcasting, particularly television. The range of expression to be found by twirling the dial of a cable-hooked television set in North America is much greater than a superficial consideration would indicate, particularly since the expansion of PBS in the United States. The videotape movie cartridge attachment, and "pay as you see" techniques, widen even further the range of specialized audiences. The satellite transmitter, in space, (given receiver compatibility) can pose one national network against the monopoly of another.
Even with the wider range of programs inherent in the multiplication of
channels, and the future potential of receivers to actively seek materials
from a switched system, there will always be programs more popular with the general public than other programming. A feedback capability in future systems could enable producers to more accurately gauge what their public wants, so that they learn not merely the rating of their package but also
the specific reaction to specific portions. A viewing
(electronic) audience reaction could be aggregated by computer for the
production staff in much the same manner as electronic voting occurs in
some jurisdictions, and like the film productions designed to permit the
audience to determine the progress of the plot (pioneered by a
Czechoslovak presentation at EXPO 1967). The
"decentralizing" potential of developing electronic technology will not, therefore, remove those economic factors which prompt mass programming (and which led to the Americanization of Canadian broadcasting, as well as the exportation of film and TV programming between many countries).
Electronic mass media is not only entertainment and network JCTV. The press brings us more than the comics. News dissemination is a vital function of our mass media. A vast flood of information is fed to news-gathering systems, only a portion of which is selected for further distribution. The present dominance of such agencies as Associated Press and Canadian Press, which feeds both print and electronic media, gives perhaps too much
uniformity of reporting (and the situation is even more monolithic in such
countries as the Soviet Union). But even with an expansion of specialized
audience servicing, there would still be "main-line" news, due to the influence of the same economic factors mentioned above. One might hope, however, for a news equivalent of programming feedback: a utilization of the capabilities of electronic technology to facilitate correction and modification of faulty reporting. It would be some advance if stories could be fed into the computer for comparison with previously ascertained fact. Here again, however, we are reminded of the caution mentioned in our first chapter: garbage in, garbage out.
Minority media/minority input
Implicit in our previous definition of the "minority media" end
of the media spectrum, is the understanding that such artifacts can be used under the relatively direct control of individuals numbering in the millions. The millions, as receivers of mass communication, exercise the passive control of on/off. As the "producer" of minority media programming, the individual exercises an active control and participation. Mass media systems with feedback permit the individual to participate indirectly in subsequent network programming. Minority media permit the individual to prepare his own package, for distribution to a limited number of other individuals (or for pick-up by other systems).
From the perspective of individual command, the artifacts of minority
media range from those which are virtually within complete individual
control to those which require an infrastructure beyond his
control. Outside a prison, virtually anybody can secure paper or something
like it and a material with which to write or draw. Securing carbon paper, however, is a further complication. Access to typewriter and portable duplicator requires fairly complex manufacturing facilities to produce them. This is even more the case when one considers such sophisticated equipment as the portable videotape recorder and movie camera.
Nevertheless, the library photocopy machine, the office duplicator, and the like, are widespread even in totalitarian countries, and are put to use by authors lacking official favour.
In this same context, the artifacts of minority media differ in the extent
to which there is a lag or intervening process between initial impression
("producing") and subsequent availability
("packaging"). The videotape or audiotape recorder is self-contained; the exposed film may need special laboratory processing. Furthermore, if
we consider the telephone or letter as a mode of individual communication, we are talking about an action which takes place in the context of a mass electronic or postal system.
It seems remarkable that media commentators have not paid more attention
to the significance of minority media. As recently as 1971, a Canadian
reader with the seemingly inclusive title of A Media Mosaic, and
eighteen contributions, manages to include the graphic arts and even the
churches as communicators, yet only one delves into ETV and none arrive at
an inclusive perspective. Understanding media requires a perspective of
all the media. Usually, however, the artifacts of minority media have been
discussed primarily in the context of educational technology and user
handbooks (53). Their social significance has
barely been explored
(54). In this sense, our view of media is
rather like an unsophisticated
mental image which focusses on the armour of the medieval knight but ignores the humble stirrup which made his professional style possible.
One of the contributions to A Media Mosaic suggests "In
Defense of Pornography" that his subject has done much to loosen
spouses out of self-punishing attitudes towards sexuality (which prompts
humorous thought of the vibrator as media). In this respect, the
widespread ownership of 8mm projectors and polaroid cameras has had as
much impact as the rotary press. Perhaps by the time VTR is as widespread
as the latter, the older generation will have nothing novel left to portray. All sorts of cultural minorities are using minority media to say their piece: a kaleidoscope which is reflected in such technical periodicals as Videorecorder World, Videoplay Report, and Radical Software and in such packaging as the underground newspaper and tape exchange. VTR is being used for its instant playback capability in encounter-groups, and by actors and athletes who want to see how they perform. CCTV (closed-circuit television) and telephone conference calls are being used for similar purposes. Yet statistical compilation of such media receivers as the radio or TV set, considered highly significant in the analysis of particular communities, is rarely extended to include the equally significant artifacts of minority media. The earphone, which makes possible simultaneous interpretation systems in international conferences, governmental and non-governmental, may be the stirrup of our era.
The expression "minority" media can be somewhat misleading if we think only in terms of its use by cultural minorities. These artifacts are readily available to the latter precisely because individuals throughout the society want them in order to record such universal satisfactions as weddings, play, travel, etc. Such productions, however, are of particular interest to very small minorities indeed: the family and circle of friends, the small group
receiving an internal memorandum, and the like. At times, such productions become of interest to a wider public and emerge to capture the interest of the mass media. The mass music (rock) of the Sixties had its genesis in the programming of small Black radio stations during the Fifties. When the videotape is fed into a city cable system, the transition from minority to mass audience has been reached.
Technical compatibilities: more about the computer
A technical problem with minority media input to larger systems is that of
incompatibilities in quality control. The degree of resolution in a
magnified photograph, for example, may not suffice for adequate use in another context. The lack of standardization in hookup modes, and disparities between modes of electronic circuitry, may hinder ready marriage of mass and minority media. Such technical barriers may be overcome on an item-to-item,
mode-to-mode basis. Increased hardware standardization would facilitate integration and give the user more variable sources of supply.
At the same time, we are finding that the computer can be put to creative use in the expansion of media versatility. For example, the computer can analyze pattern skeletons, and by calculating intermediate progressions, supply approximations of accurate detail -- the basic technique used when the computer supplies greater resolution of video shots in space. The computer can analyze a picture in terms of shade and colour intensities, translate this analysis into digital terms, and recreate the picture on the surface of the cathode-ray tube. As suggested in our first chapter, then, we can visualize the computer as a translater or transformer of media modes.
The capacity to relate the computer to a variety of input/output modems,
and to render audio-visual representations in data form, can permit us to
feed signals from one mode to store them, to modify (edit), and to extract
them in another mode (55). Thus the computer
could be used to produce
an edited film or tape, while retaining storage of the unmodified original (the computer is already used for statutory codification amendment in several jurisdictions, including the province of Manitoba). The computer as mode translater would permit the marriage of advantages found with one media as against another.
For example, with both film and videotape, editing facilities are used to
refine the final product. But a single VTR can be used without edit, in
that its operator can back-up and retake shots on one sequential tape. The
film maker, by contrast, can retake shots but each take is retained on his
negative and editing is unavoidable. A disadvantage with a single VTR
(i.e., no second machine and edit console) is that retake on the same tape
wipes out the first take, and the operator may later wish he had kept
it. A computer hookup could permit storage of each take while the VTR
operator "edits" as he proceeds with his various takes. If
satisfied with the result, the entire tape could then be run through and
converted to film, if desired. The computer becomes a switched series of VTRs, or cameras, sound recorders, etc. When the total number of takes, in a complicated and lengthy operation, is very high, the shared-time use of the computer may well be justified.
Obviously computer linkage could entail some limitations of mobility,
though such limitations may be obviated by telecommunications linkage. Cost? An underutilized computer is costly indeed; the widespread utilization of the computer for multi-access media operations could help bring down the overhead cost of computerization.
Furthermore, a linked dial-up system would permit wider access to
the stored material and thus integrate data systems with communication networks. The technical barrier in this respect is the channel width required for television transmission, as compared with that of data transmission; but it is precisely the factor of channel width which may be most advantageous if integration can be accomplished.
A note on computer storage and print
The economics of publishing has brought about a concentration of
mass-circulation dailies, so that one per city is now the usual rule. The
loss of magazine advertising to television has led to the demise of most
mass-circulation, general purpose periodicals. During this same process,
however, the variety and total copies of specialized periodicals and books
has continued to grow at an amazing rate (56). In the long run, however,
as we have suggested in our Preface, the
computer challenges this flood of print.
The future system will permit an author to feed his manuscript into
computer storage, where it would be provided with a highly complex index
of significant words (55). This would
serve to notify potential
users, who may well place a standing order for any material -- news item, monograph, booklength study -- containing such specific indicators. The computer will then, on demand, display a table of contents and selected extracts; it could, for
example, flash a picture of a traditional book as a graphic way of portraying length. The reader will follow the text on his display screen, with an adjacent screen for extraneous messages if he were willing to be interrupted, or to
hold tables and charts for comparison with sequential pages of text.
With linkages, any library (i.e., data bank) could be dialed, and the reader would not be tied to the vicinity of the
computer as such. In short, the future system would have less use of print than at present. The book would be valued more for its aesthetic and tactile feature, and for a quiet day away from all modes of electronic technology.