Scientific knowledge and technology have contributed highly to societal development, shaping the ways tools and information pervaded the modern world. Science and Technology Studies (STS) aim to develop a further understanding of how scientific knowledge and technology fit into social relations. The way technologies are interpreted, accepted and implemented in users’ everyday lives have undoubtedly shaped future technological innovations and design. Rarely has technological innovation been interpreted by users exactly as the creator intended. Users often find their own ways to make technology or scientific information fit into their world, thus creating a need for a deeper, sociological understanding of innovation and its consequences and benefits in terms of the user. Previous research has offered an historical approach to understanding the stages of development in media and information and communication technologies. Historical approaches to these phenomena can sometimes, however, skim over the implications to societies, especially overlooking the inverse relationship. It is important to look at the technology-society relationship as a two-way street in order to best understand the way the technology and the user have shaped the domestication, or rejection, of various technological innovations, while understanding that both the technology and the user play a role. Recognizing that technologies have the ability to take on a life of their own beyond their designer’s original intention is the underpinning of the STS approach.
Pinch and Bijker argue it is no longer acceptable to merely say that “science is about the discovery of truth whilst technology is about the application of truth” (402), because of the interdependent relationship between technology and science that is ultimately shaped by sociological factors. The linear model of innovation is contested in this chapter, as it suggests technology today is a direct result of all the consciously directed decisions made in technology up to this point. In a way, it is easy to understand the linear model as a way to explain how things came to be, because of our natural instinct to develop and perfect current practices to better serve our needs and simplify tasks. However, it is difficult to divorce the user from the development of any technology, because even the linear understanding of technological progression points to the user as an agent of change through its acceptance or rejection of the technology. It isn’t enough to say that certain technologies have succeeded simply because of subsequent developments. Rather, we can understand the success and failures of specific technologies by the way technologies have been domesticated. The phenomenon that needs explanation is less the existence of a technology, but more how the existence of that technology is related to the user.
Different social groups associate different meanings to different technologies. An artifact could mean something completely different at various times throughout its existence depending on who is using it. As society begins to accept specific technologies as part of their everyday lives and develop thoughts and feelings towards those technologies, the technologies not only affect and change the user, but the technologies themselves will take shape. Technological innovation often lends itself to the ways users make sense of the product or technology. The way users understand the technology influences the way they use it, thus shaping the meaning of the technology to the user. This shaping happens as people find ways to makes sense of the technology within their lives. This is why different models of similar technologies can exist at the same time; for example, pickup trucks, minivans and two-seater sports cars can exist simultaneously because of the individual car owners’ interpretations of the automobile’s uses and functions. As the automobile, and other forms of transportation (such as the bicycle), quite literally transport individuals from the domestic to the public world, it can also intertwine these two worlds. Transportation and communication technologies provide a blur between the domestic and public spaces, allowing the world to get that much bigger in the eyes of the individual, and also affording the designers of technologies new problems to solve through further innovation.
In order to fully understand the implications technologies have on societal groups we must also understand how the technology makes sense within the user’s world. In their analysis of the automobile, Kline and Pinch look not only at the way that automobiles have impacted society, but the way society has also shaped the development of the automobile. In an attempt to avoid the technologically deterministic attitudes often offered by previous technology histories, “in which autonomous technological forces drive social change” (764), Kline and Pinch’s approach names the user of a technology as the agent of change. As Silverstone and Haddon explain in their chapter, “one could hardly make sense of [radio] history without understanding its status and role as a broadcast medium” (59)—an example of how impossible it is to fully understand any innovation in technology without understanding how it is used, as well as the impact that innovation had on the lives of the individual who used it. Challenging McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” theory, Silverstone and Haddon’s chapter explains that we must look at both the medium and the message to develop a sociological understanding of technological innovations to understand why some developments stick and others are resisted or rejected.
It is not enough to simply understand the intended uses or functionality of the technology itself either. People form their own interpretations of technology in ways that satisfy their individual needs, which could have been totally unrecognized at the technology’s inception. The telephone, for example, was originally designed to facilitate interactions of business but was soon accepted as a means of social interaction because of people’s natural drive to make social calls. People needed a way to stay connected to others while maintaining the life they were already living. Sure, the telephone solved a problem that could have been solved by other means (traveling to visit or finding a home closer to friends and family), but the convenience of the telephone mixed with users’ natural motivation to stay connected developed the uses of the telephone and shaped the overall success of the medium. This same user-driven explanation of development mirrors the way that the automobile and bicycle technologies were shaped and developed in order to fit the needs of the user. While technologies themselves did change the user by introducing means to ends that weren’t already there, the domestication of technology is only made possible when the user accepts the technology as necessary or fulfilling. The success or domestication of a product depends little on whether it actually executes the functions of its original conception, but rather that the technology makes sense within the life the user is already living.
Advances in technology often transform the ways humans experience communication, competition, decision-making and understanding of the self. Before paper and scissors, games and competition were limited in function.
In one way or another, each of the communication theorists who Czitrom includes in his history of media communication studies was concerned with what Dewey called “organized intelligence.” Early North American communications scholars wanted to bring rational, scientific information to the national newspapers to create a more well-informed citizenry. Charles Horton Cooley and John Dewey proposed reforms to journalistic practices, suggesting reporters include more philosophic, purely factual, idea-driven news stories. These early social reformers believed this “referential,” rather than sentimental, sensational or “expressive,” approach to news reporting would improve both citizens’ public and private lives.
Dewey (and Ford) also wondered how new media technology turned intangibles like news and intelligence into commodities to be sold and owned. This group was looking forward to a time when newspapers would report news with “philosophic insight and scientific accuracy, the trends of current events… with the same accuracy that it was then reporting the stock market and ball games” (105). They believed that this kind of high quality, truthful, well thought-out writing would create a “unity of intelligence” that, as Czitrom points out, is rather utopic.
The early theorists believed advancements in technology begot advances in general public knowledge and also allowed for a wider dispersal of this knowledge. But Cooley and others also viewed rapid improvements in technology as potential restorers of morality and civic-mindedness in a society that was being uprooted by industrialization, urbanization and immigration (91). A renewed sense of being a part of the larger living organism of existence would contribute to a sense of unity, realized in the forms of collective goals, activities and cosmic purpose.
The early social reformers were so focused on journalism because they were writing at a time in the print age when newspapers were transitioning from cesspools of opinion, speculation, sensationalism and other “yellow” journalism practices to objective, referential media. New journalism was finding its feet in the late-1800s and early 1900s. It was only beginning to develop an industry code that valued transparency, truth and the public’s right to accurate information. The concept of objective, rational journalism was a romantic dream of social reformers. The reality of objectivity’s emergence was commercial. It was prompted by advertisers’ sensibilities and sensitivities, which led to additional changes in how advertising space was rationed and sold. Dewey and Ford may have lived to see journalism become more objective and rational in principle (though maybe not as committed to philosophic or idea-driven analysis) but it was for mostly commercial, not moral, reasons that objectivity became a standard of the industry.
Midcentury social scientists were also concerned with the organization and dissemination of intelligence to the masses but instead of proposing reforms, they studied the effects of mass media. It’s imprint to note that midcentury social scientists were working at a time when television and cinema were becoming commonplace in American life, as opposed to Cooley and Dewey’s times, in which newspapers were the dominant medium for disseminating information. As the concentration of communications theorists shifted from philosophic to empiric, Paul Lazersfeld and his contemporaries measured the actual impact of media on society, adopting the now-paradigmatic phrase “who says what to whom and with what effect?” as a formula for mass communication research. The rise of social science in the mid-twentieth century was concomitant with the rise of public opinion and political propaganda research in the postwar period. Czitrom also cites social psychology and the increasing popularity of market research as influences on modern communication research.
Theorists such as Lazarsfeld and Walter Lippmann called for a more systematic approach to studying media messages that could document idiosyncratic media effects through interviews, surveys, panels, controlled experiments, changes in media use/users over time and the uses and gratifications model. Where Cooley and co. operated in the speculative, theoretical effects of mass communication, social science pioneers sought to measure and quantify real world effects to propose ways media might more responsibly create and distribute information or messages to the public.
Despite the shift to more scientific, experiment-driven research, Czitrom notes that 1940s film scholars, though still in the business of trends, patterns and quantifiable evidence, viewed film as an organized and reliable site of a society’s collective visions, dreams, struggles and fantasies. Postwar film studies “sought to explain how movies revealed deep and persistent patterns in the collective unconscious of a society or historical era” (139). Film scholars studied the impulsive but highly fabricated realm of cinema as an outlet for representations of the human experience and culture. The concept of the self as part of and contributing to a larger cultural experience is reminiscent of Cooley or Spencer, who viewed “society as an organism.” The reformers believed thoughtful journalism (their mass medium of choice) could make human experience more cooperative, empathetic and meaningful. Film scholars felt explicating movies for patterns in the way human experience or culture is represented in the collaborative, dream-like medium of cinema could yield similarly utopic results.
Czitrom also traces the persistent concern of organizing intelligence to the radical media philosophers of the 1960s. Theorists like Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan (as well as organizations like the Chicago and Frankfurt schools) were taking more radical approaches to communication theory, eschewing both moral philosophy and social science. Innis and McLuhan in particular were concerned with the nature of communication, including the long term consequences of epochal media like the alphabet, printing press and television on human consciousness and cultural experience (recall Ong’s “Writing Restructures Consciousness” or McLuhan’s “The Gutenberg Galaxy”). McLuhan’s criticism focused on literature, popular culture and the metaphysical. He examined these as sites where the effects of organized intelligence (communications / media content) had been detrimental or provoked mass, fundamental changes in the way a society studies and understands itself. Innis’s work on how price systems fluctuate when new technologies emerge and take hold of a culture is a prime example of the interdisciplinary implications of advances in technology.
For Innis, media communication’s influence on the economy and other market forces was the focus. He argued that “the character of competition varies with the communicability of knowledge” and that “the possibilities of disturbance to the equilibrium are dependant to an important extent on the press” (153). This means that how competitive a market is (prices, demand, distribution) depends a great deal on how fast the dominant communication medium can send a message (trains condense distance, telegraphs condense time, Internet delivers instantaneously). If the price of a commodity can change only as fast as the next day’s newspaper arrives, commerce is at the mercy of the dominant communication medium’s time and space constraints. For example, as we read in James Carey’s article “Technology as Ideology,” arbitrage and the price of commodities are determined by local supply and demand. The telegraph’s domination of time affected the prices of crops because the going rate of, say corn, can be equal across the nation thanks to the simultaneous communication capability of the medium.
What’s interesting about each of the time periods Czitrom examines is that they almost all seem to believe that media could have been or should have been a highly positive social force. The social reformers were, though down on their contemporary state of communication affairs, quite excited about what journalism could be with expansive structural and philosophic reform. The social scientists of the postwar era measured media effects and found them to be a contributing force to overall societal changes and therefore worthy of conscious improvement, such as more widespread access to accurate information. Reconciling citizens’ expectations of the political and social worlds with scientific, empirical realities would, in Lazersfeld’s and Lippmann’s view, create a freer, better informed citizenry.
TiVo’s Network Executives commercial (Boddy, 127-129):
U.S. Marine Corps commercial, “Chess,” with a virtual reality theme (Boddy, 74-6):
Like radio, the initial invention of television was years before its eventual take-off and acceptance as a commonplace household technology. Where radio went through many modes of use before landing most generally as commercial broadcasting, television was produced fairly fully formed, and took just a long enough time to catch on that it petrified the industry who worried it could “turn into the biggest and costliest flop in US industrial history” (46). However, this time, as well as experience from the launch and acceptance of radio, the industry was incredibly introspective about how to market and produce a television product that people would accept. There were entire trade journals, such as Radio and Television Retailing, devoted to demonstrating to consumers the vitality in integrating television into their home and how to do it. Similarly to radio (yet again), producers worried about how women, preoccupied with housework, would adjust to this new technology in their home.
Boddy breezes through several decades of television history, citing an overall period of “remarkable economic growth and institutional stability” (56). It is not until the 1990s that major shifts begin to occur, as a variety of new technologies to watch television develop and the global market grows significantly. Boddy points out that these changes also affected critical media research. The clash between cultures and generations forced scholars to examine ideas about broadcasting, television, and their relation to national identity in new ways. Discussion of the convergence of media into a global context was a popular topic overall in the decade: Fortune described a new culture of “one-world pop-tech civilization” (65).
The discussion of virtual reality provides an interesting point of examination of a technology that never took off as envisioned. Boddy unpacks the discourses surrounding the launch of VR as he considers “the historical agency of the ephemeral, fantastic, and utopian” to be as important as the reception contexts of more successful technologies (78). The introduction of VR does come at a time of turmoil, where gender roles, particularly masculinity, were seeking redefinition, and general social anxiety about the growing numbers of new technologies increased. These new technologies promised to remake (or even “kill”) television, long associated with the feminine, and remake it in a masculine tool, thanks to the new buzzword “interactivity” (69). The idea of interactivity gave the user power and control over the television, and brings to mind the advent of past technologies (such as the fantastical devices described by Carolyn Marvin) that also promised the exploration of new worlds and exciting adventures, all from the comforts of home. However, these “comforts of home” and the recurring imagery of the TV armchair reminds us that connotations of passivity and domesticity still remained underneath (77).
Boddy discusses the transition to digital television in terms of difference between the US and UK. The relative explosion of the industry in the late 1990s, with large numbers of new technologies and new players all looking to set the course is reminiscent less of the beginnings of radio, with its emphasis on user-produced meanings, and more of the beginnings of the telegraph, where numerous companies all looked to capture and define the market. Boddy sorts the competitors by their primary interest in digital television: the consumer electronic industry’s interest in a market that required all new televisions to receive high-definition picture quality, broadcasters’ interest in greatly multiplying the number of SD programs and channels, and finally many groups not as traditionally associated with television, such as computer and television companies, retail, publishing, and banking all looked to see how interactivity would help them target consumers (79).
The introduction of the digital video recorder further upset the traditional and long-standing meanings of television: “as quotidian, advertising dominated, audio driven, visually impoverished, female centered, and passively consumed” (100). TV had long been been centered on these ideas, as well as its inherent “live”-ness and its role in producing national identity. The DVR, which allowed TV to be recorded and viewed at the same time, meaning that users could select which specific content they wanted to view as well as when, “eroding the experience of simultaneity and liveness” which some considered to be the core of the TV experience (103). This, of course, also brings into question Raymond William’s conception of flow. Flows would be certainly altered and more uniquely tailored to the individual with this kind of user power. The more primary concern that made the DVR such a contentious object was it allowed viewers to skip commercials. For an industry fairly built on the relationship between the broadcast networks and their advertisers, this was no small problem. Advertisers went immediately to work creating new, more inescapable kinds of ads: more product placement, on-screen banner ads, and programming/commercial hybrids.
One particularly controversial new form of advertising was virtual advertising. Described as a “counter-weapon” to new ad-avoiding technology like the DVR, virtual advertising allowed for material to be digitally added to any program, including live events. Three main types of advertising were provided: sports enhancements, virtual billboards (used in sporting events and news programs), and virtual product placements (more entertainment programming) (110). Not only did virtual advertising eliminate the possibility for viewers to skip the ads, it also allowed advertisers to target groups more specifically, especially in a global market. The same sporting event could be broadcast in multiple countries, but with each seeing nationally specific ads (112).
However, this solution was greeted with ambivalence by consumers and advertisers alike. Should ads be discreet or obvious? Would audiences tolerate this pseudo-reality, or was it crass? The Washington Post critically stated programs were becoming “subservient” to advertisers’ needs and we were allowing them to “shape the entertainment and information content of this society” (117). The question certainly highlights the anxiety felt by many about the new technology, but it should also be noted that advertisers have shaped new technologies time and time again. It was certainly not a new phenomenon in TV, at the least.
These fears would soon be proved to be far greater than the actual fallout. DVRs were slow to catch on, labeled as having a “negligible” impact on the industry (127), as well as being primarily consumed by a small demographic of mid- to upper-class males who still viewed at least some commercials (130). The companies producing these products were faced with marketing and defining an entire new category of television, and trying to get their version out front. (TiVo seems the victor in this case, as it is to DVR what Kleenex is to tissues.) Some companies, such as TiVo, tried to get the advertising industry on board by assuaging their fears – omitting a commercial-skipping button on the remote and four “branded areas” on the screen and hard drive devoted to advertising (129).
Still, advertisers persisted in finding new and different avenues to reach consumers as the power of DVRs took hold. Virtual advertising persisted, now featured in popular syndicated shows such as Law & Order, and relabeled “product presence” indicating its inseparability from the actual content (144). The sudden popularity of reality programming also was a boon to advertisers; programs such as Survivor deeply integrated products like Mountain Dew and Doritos into the text of the show (146). Detractors of ever-present advertising were sharply put down by none other than Ben Affleck, saying, “As if you had some inalienable right to have commercial-free television! What do you think pays for this show?” (149)
Overall, new technology relating to television is both excitingly new and exactly the same as technologies to come before it. Tensions between the consumers and producers, the public and the private, masculine and feminine, utopian ideals and dystopian fears all continue to arise in discourse of new media. As historian Tom Gunning puts it, we all have technology deja vu (166).
The immediate impact of television was much like the radio– it improved people’s lives–specifically the lives of families (p. 20). However, Williams critiqued the television and compared it to cinema, calling it an “inferior” form of technology because it lacks commercials, and less commercials mean less interruptions. He continued Czitrom’s discussion of the struggle between commercial and government interests. Much like the telephone and the radio, the television was subject to consumer-business struggle, namely over what its uses should have been and what obligations, if any, this new technology had toward the public interest. Williams spent a bit of time hinting at definitions of these terms, or at least delineating what was considered ‘public’ and what was ‘commercial.’
Williams walked through the ways television permeated everyday life. He began with a look at news and its presentation, moreover its use as a platform for argument and discussion, and its framing and bias-forming capabilities (pp. 44-48). He revisited this point later on in the chapter to concede that the television’s platform for discussion, when compared with other earlier attempts, is the more improved version. Television had large influences on education, drama and film, and presented a certain catch-22: on one-hand television-viewing largely became an activity done by individuals and no a group activity, but on the other hand television’s reach to large groups was good for production (p. 60).
Branching off of this catch-22 and literally capitalizing off of it were advertisers, influencing of American leisure, from sports-watching to prostitution! Television influenced more than anything, the concept, use and reach of advertising—because of the television’s reach to large audiences it made this medium a better fit. Interestingly, Williams believed that advertisements, in a way, reflected television and called it “the reduction of various lifestyles and characteristic situations to fast-acting televisual conventions…” (p. 68). This idea of reducing the medium for pure profiteering echoed Czitrom’s sentiments about the radio; if radio was once the “Fourth Dimension of Advertising” then television may have been and currently is the trump card (Czitrom, “The Ethereal Hearth” p. 77). Television may have also further solidified the significant role of advertising in the home. However, the advertiser’s triumph may have stunted the growth of quality television.
In his discussion of the distribution of television, Williams introduced the concept of television flow, dependent largely on the type of programming which can be divided up into twelve different categories including: news/public affairs, education, entertainment, children’s programming and movies. These categories can be further broken down into sequences of programming and further into flow. Sequences and flow, he says move viewer attention from one specific show or program toward the more general (perhaps passive) idea of just ‘watching TV’ (p. 92).
Williams analyzed closely the flows of both American and British television, and concluded that Britain’s television flow was better. He wrote about the time he was in Miami and was watching TV, and though the programming was broken up with commercials, there was not much delineation between one program and the next. Williams said after his American-TV watching stint he still couldn’t make sense of what he had watched calling it an “irresponsible flow of images and feelings” due largely to the number of ‘interruptions’ due to commercial breaks (92). This analysis of television extends into commercials and news and revealed how the repetition of time and other elements, like education and entertainment, combined to reflect the values of American society.
Williams’ discussion of future media in the last chapter is particularly intriguing because of the number of mediums that have been created since the book was written. Among other new forms of media, Williams predicted the coming of ‘interactive’ television where the viewers are in control of “the flow” of what they watch, when they watch it, and are able to ‘rate it’ which sounds a lot like Netflix or Hulu (p. 144). However, he pointed out that that much of the new media is reactive in that its contents are already decided upon before it gets to the consumer, or what he says is “choice on its terms” (p. 151). One of the critiques of contemporary television is that there is no control over the exposure to images and messages inherent in commercial advertising. One of the greatest appeals to Netflix is that there are no commercials (albeit the ‘normal pauses of where they usually would be on regular broadcast TV make for awkward watching). However, using technology like interactive TV which may or may not have commercials, though, still doesn’t allow viewers to regain their agency (entirely) of what to consume and what not to. In the case of contemporary interactive television, little to no critical thinking is done regarding its reactive nature, or of the “new flow” these new technologies present.
Before the motion picture was a popular form of entertainment, the sense of Culture was in a stagnant state of intellectual elitism. The doctrine of Culture was to be grasped and taught only by understanding the classic texts, the best recorded thought of what has come before. What we refer to as popular culture today was viewed then “as a distracting and baneful influence” (35).
Old thought surrounding Culture was slowly disrupted and redefined by thinkers who advocated for a set of principles that was more inclusive and class leveling, valuing separate social divisions rather than a top-down didacticism. Emerson, for one, preached “trusting one’s own experience” (35) as more important to the doctrine of Culture than an intellectual elitism provided by the “classics” pedigree. Randolph Bourne and Walt Whitman followed by providing revisions to the tenets of Culture that likewise favored insular taste and discrimination as well as a thermometer for the “grand, common stock” (37).
Facilitating a popular culture for the common stock was the arrival of cinema. Movies used “familiar idioms of photography and narratives” yet was detached from the ilk of classic texts. As Czitrom states, “the arrival of movies meant a serious confrontation with a strange phenomenon that did not fit neatly into any of the old categories” (37). Unsurprisingly, this caused tension between the patrons and the “nation’s cultural traditionalists” who thought mere amusement was trivial, and further, a “grave cultural threat” (43). Czitrom provides the following 1914 quote from traditionalist Franklin C. Howe: “leisure must be controlled by the community, if it is to become an agency of civilization rather than the reverse” (44). Now, such claims sound like the arbitrary moral high ground that favors the familiar over the unfamiliar.
In last week’s readings, Martin mentioned the initial, and eventually dubious, health concerns that came with the domestication of the telephone. It was considered a harbor for germs and users were urged to use disinfectant before talking on it to avoid infection. Martin mentions, “[t]his perception vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, without any apparent change in the telephone apparatus” (69). This echoes Baym’s articulation of moral panic: the phenomenon of an adoption of new media bringing up a knee-jerk reaction of moral decline, thus bringing to the surface worries about children, health, and an overall corruption of society. Some of the moral panic that was met with the popularity of the cinema focused on “poor sanitation,” “inadequate protection from fire or panic,” and “[t]he darkness of the nickelodeon theatre” which could prove to be a hotbed for prostitution, teen lust, and “eye strain” among other considerations (44). These grain-of-salt considerations are still constant and have recently come up with unfound claims of iPods ruining hearing and cellphones causing cancer. Even within the last week I have read concerns of e-cigs being a gateway to real cigarettes (Popular Electronics) and selfies causing lice infestations (!?).
Czitrom is interested in the cultural integration of movie amusements as a new medium, from nickelodeons providing a respite for the blue collar worker, to the industry trying to “leave the slums behind” (50), to creating a subcultural gathering for children in the public. It was the children’s mainstream acceptance that led to what Peters refers to as the third step in the integration of new media: legal regulation. Just as there was caution about the cinema’s environment, “various social agencies” (51) felt the need to protect the nation’s youth from the films’ occasionally blue content by implementing censorship. However, no matter how concerned the social agencies and cultural traditionalists’ policing attempts seemed, Czitrom states, “[r]egulation of the films themselves thus remained the focal point for social control” (53). Beneath legal regulation, there is, at the bureaucratic level, both an uncertainty and an opportunity for control.
Eventually, movies’ penetration of Culture as a respected medium is significant for how it “altered patterns of leisure and created a new art form,” but most remarkable about the trajectory of this new medium is the constant stream of arbitrary restriction met by cultural gatekeepers, a process not particular to just cinema.
Whereas movies redefined social leisure time through visual presentations in public, the radio did the reverse. It brought “the outside world into the individual home” (60). And if movies surfaced immediate caution, radio, and the possibilities of electromagnetic waves, aroused a techno-utopian optimism. Radio can be seen as an extension of the telegraph in that its central focus was “conquering water,” (62) or as Wheeler called it, “the end of the tyranny of place” (2). The utopian discourse surrounding electromagnetic waves, which made wireless technologies and communication possible, referenced the budding of a new world that “somehow put men on the threshold of the innermost secrets of nature” (65).
However, the wireless receiver government services treasured for its most rationale uses, was adopted by amateurs. Czitrom states it was specifically adopted and mastered by “schoolboys” who, in turn, “vitally affected the evolution of radio” (67-8). As we also saw with the social construction of the phone, new media often take on unforeseen trajectories based on a multitude of different user interpretations. When radio sets became public demand, it was also not for reasons originally foreseen. Early programs consisted primarily of various types of promotion and advertising as well as religious and educational services.
Importantly, a popular subject of both advertisement and educational programs was the radio, itself. And like the traditionalist gatekeeping that surrounded the rise of popular movies, there were radio purists who “looked condescendingly on…new radio fans interested only in the content of the broadcasts and not in other aspects of the radio” (73). These purists, like McLuhan, placed the radio’s cultural significance on the medium itself, and thought of broadcasted entertainment as trivial.
Eventually, the listeners who valued entertaining broadcasts overshadowed those who considered these programs “merely the tedium between call letters” (74), just as the appeal of nickelodeons became more persuasive than classic texts of yesteryear. But as popular as radio shows were, the medium went on to be shaped by advertising men, who “recognized radio’s extraordinary power to carry them into the intimate circle of family life at home” (77). While the popular programs, news coverage, and advertisements that dominated domestic receivers were important to American culture, these functions were clearly incongruous with purported uses that receiver pioneers initially envisioned.
The juxtaposition of two media (movies and radio), which were contrastingly framed in culture, offers us clarity about knee-jerk apprehensions of a medium in its earliest stages. Whether a medium is met apprehensively, attempted to be tamed and culturally maligned, or with a revolutionary potential, these reactions symbolize an uncertainty and unfamiliarity about how new media will mold into our already existing cultural codes and behaviors.