When publishing changes, so does society. Investigate and compare the impact of two publication technologies, one pre-1900 and one post-1962, on a specific aspect of society
Publishing refers to putting something ‘out there’, and to make it ‘public’. Generally, people in this time are very unaware of the amount of publishing that they consume every day, and how these publishing are an important factor in shaping the society. Innis (1950) proposes, ‘different cultures and practices are formed depending on the kind of media people use’. As stated in the quote, the society has been shaped and always has been influenced by publishing and media throughout history. People did, and still are relying on improving publishing technologies to gain the information they need. This essay will compare and analyse the influences newspapers and iGoogle had on the society, to verify that when publishing changes, so does society.
Newspapers were first used in 59 BC by the Roman Empire and in 715 AD by the Chinese Tang Dynasty. These papers had messages of government announcement and were posted in a public area where people could come and read off these copies that were either handwritten or carved into metal or stone. As it was publically posted, only a small number of copies were produced and had information on topics that were very limited. Following on from this time, the more contemporary form of newspapers appeared in 1600. The form and style of newspapers have changed over time, but its core role always was to distribute necessary information. Eisenstein (1983) emphasises the printing press as an important factor in effecting the societal change in the Western population. Eisenstein further explains the evidence of printing press (which newspapers is a part of) in our lives and how it was a large factor in determining social change which made the ‘most radical transformation in the conditions of intellectual life’. The newspaper’s power was immense to society, as newspapers itself became the cultural values, practices and habits. It also allowed mass-reproduction of ideas, provided access to information to wider audiences, standardised language, grammars and spelling, and preserved knowledge (Balnaves, Donald & Shoesmith 2009:24). The existence of newspapers in the modern era shows that it is still an important form of media tool people use to publish, thus showing the impact and influence it has had on society for the past 400 years. However, with other emerging publishing technologies, newspapers have become somewhat ‘old’. The consistent decline of subscribers support this point, as since 1947, daily newspaper consumption for each 100 U.S. households have declined from 140 newspapers compare to less than 50 newspapers in 2010 (Fallows, 2010).
The mediascape in modern society is very complex and hard to navigate. To suit the broad range of needs, both traditional and new forms of publishing exist, but movement from broadcast media towards network media is significant, which fundamentally altered the conventional structure of information flows (Boyd, 2009). The trend at this time is that new publishing forms are online and old ones entering online. The CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer said that ‘there will be no newspapers, no magazines, that are delivered in paper form’ by 2020 (Whoriskey, 2008). The newspapers as a platform must adapt to web economics for better performances and should satisfy the needs of individual audiences (Blossom, 2010). The online publishing is the general trend around the world, but only within already developed countries. In fact, the newspapers are actually growing in developing countries (Blossom, 2010).
A new way of collecting and distributing information, iGoogle is a customizable homepage or personal web portal. It allows users to create their own personalized homepage with choice of any number of gadgets which include Google search, Gmail, Google News & other top news sources, weather forecasts, stock quotes and many more (Google, 2010a). The product was launched in 2005 and later renamed to the now iGoogle in April 2007. It was the fastest growing product of the Google in 2006 (Millis, 2007). Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience at Google, argued that iGoogle is the one of the biggest advances that Google made (Millis, 2007). The two main goals of iGoogle is emphasised by Mayer, which is to make it easy for people to create customized homepage and access information (Millis, 2007). What makes iGoogle so unique is the absence of advertisements. Considering the fact that most past modes of publishing relied on advertising for its profit, iGoogle’s decision can be seen as a step towards a new generation of publishing to exercise power on society.
Impact on Society
The base for newspapers was text only and later moved onto adding visual aid such as photos as the technology improved over time. When new forms of newspapers were available and published, it would have been a complete new notion of publishing within the society thus making it a powerful tool for conveying information. However, it still would have had limitations to it. Compared to this, iGoogle is web-based. This means there are less limitations than the newspaper as iGoogle provided aspects of publishing such as text, videos, emails, pictures and many more in just one platform of publishing. It provides access to information from all around the web, without ever having to leave your iGoogle page (Google, 2010a). In the transition between newspapers and iGoogle, some middle stages existed – e.g. news websites – that slowly allowed people to understand and adapt to the integration of content and convergence of publishing forms. Therefore from this the society could easily adapt to the iGoogle without much resistance.
For newspapers, the small number of so called media elites control what information is provided to the people and what stays out of the paper. The editors can be said to have more power over the society as they could manipulate what the people see, thus determining what is right and wrong in the society at a specific time. iGoogle turned this around completely, shifting power over to the people by allowing them to publish. Power is no longer in the hands of those who control the channels of distribution, but in the hands of those who control the limited resources of attention (Boyd, 2009). Users are inside the information flow and actively adding, consuming and redirecting it (Boyd, 2009).
Freedom and Control
As the materials on newspapers are selected by editors, unwanted information is always present. iGoogle in contrast allows users to control what they see and what they publish, by only displaying entertainment news for example. Derrida (1996) argues archives of information like this decide what is inside or outside of culture. Users have choice what to display on the screen from over 160,000 gadgets (Google, 2010b). However, Boyd (2009) warns people of ‘psychological equivalent of obesity’ and outlines people to consume a broad range of information, not just selective ones provided by iGoogle but a balanced one like the newspaper.
The traditional sender-receiver hierarchical communication model is used by newspapers, where people are treated as passive consumers. Being interactive is strongly encouraged by iGoogle where people can ‘navigate their way across uncharted seas of potential knowledge, making their own sense of a body of material’ (Lister et al, 2003:40). It is more open and has multi-directional model of communication (Flew, 2008:31). Users can further interact with it by creating their own gadgets and enjoy capability to expand more (Millis, 2007).
Content & Distribution
When newspapers were the top form of publishing, distribution was for the editor to do, and only content was valued by the society. However content is overflowing in today’s society and the value of average information is near zero (Salvo, 2009). Barnett (2010) also suggests aggregation is a form of expression which is an important part of people’s publishing experience. Therefore the focus moved on to filtering and aggregation, and our society is being shaped by the publishing technologies which can find and organise relevant information (Salvo, 2009). Also, the ownership of content becomes less valued as people always have access to it thus they no longer have to own it (Salvo, 2009)
Different layout changes how people experience things, as stated by Derrida (1996) different publishing platforms structure data and the modes of access to that data differently, which make people to experience differently. In the case of newspapers, the portion an article took on a page pretty much determined the importance of it. Whether it was placed in the corner, in the middle, has a picture to it and many more things determined how the reader should react to the article. In contrast, iGoogle allows users to freely arrange layout, creating a new relationship between content. There are no regulations on what content goes where, so users can express what they want to in a straight forward manner.
The mass production and distribution of newspapers made it impossible for it to satisfy the needs of every individual who access it. Because of this, individuals had to select what they wish to read by self-filtering. Newspaper’s role was to generally satisfy the needs of the society, not the individual which resulted in the above outcome. iGoogle focuses on users choosing what information they intake, thus reducing the filtering required. Also iGoogle does not treat individuals as groups or masses, but focuses on individual experiences (Millis, 2007). This focus on individualism led to iGoogle providing users with the function to personalise to suit specific needs. Newspapers only distributed one style to every consumer, but iGoogle’s strategy to broaden the range of choices the user gets increased the experience gained, reflecting the various lifestyles and identities of the society.
Flow of information was very slow in the time of newspapers. Information was only provided once a day, and that was all people got. In today’s society though, information flows rapidly and the speed of aggregating and distributing information has increased significantly (Salvo, 2009). A sense of immediacy was created as the Internet generated 24 hour news cycles where new information is constantly updated (Flew, 2008:34). Compared to newspapers, through iGoogle information can be accessed at any time. From this the society’s view of time in daily units is gone, but a view on the ‘present’ is established.
Publishing is highly integrated with our daily lives. Habits and individual practices are formed through what archives of information allow users to do. It constitutes people’s modes of living, sense of identity as an individual and as a society (Derrida, 1996). Newspapers connected the society together through its distribution of information. Everyone read the same news, thus common knowledge was established for people to gossip about. iGoogle though impacted society to lessen these connectivity, as people intake what they wish and may not have the same knowledge as others would have.
Publishing is a must in order for society to gain necessary information, thus encouraging the rise of new and upgraded modes of publishing to be continuously developed causing new experiences and cultural change within the population in the society. Different forms of publishing have different structure, aggregation and distribution of information, which lead to different consequences (Derrida, 1996). An argument can be made that due to publishing, society is changing. However, upon deeper thought, publishing can be said to be changing due to the improved needs of society. There is no answer to the technological determinism verses social determinism argument, but it is important to take both ideas into account.
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