english and media centre| December 2009 |
In this article
exploresthe way in which the use of mediatechnologies confront audiencesexperience of reality. He argues thatfar from undermining our humanitythey often serve to reinforce it.
From the telephone to Facebook, the wayin which
appropriate new mediatechnology has, historically, been characterisedby the collapse of the distinction between thereal and the simulated: the substitution of faceto face interaction with a
experiencemediated by technology. When AlexanderGraham Bell launched the telephone in 1876 iswas not simply a revolution in
but it also sewed the seeds of a morewide-ranging transformation about the way inwhich society thought about itself and culture.In substituting the human voice for synthesizedcopy transmitted through sound waves andelectrical signals, Bell in effect invented post-modernism: the routinised use of technologyand the proliferation of the
.Indeed, the history of
in the twentieth century was built on thispremise: cinema, television, music video andcomputer games all invite the audience tosuspend disbelief and inhabit a parallel
made possible only by successiveadvancements in technology. From a theoreticalstandpoint, this concept has been recoupedby various thinkers who have characterisedthe
proliferation of media technology
and thecollapse of the distinction between the realand simulated as ‘simulacrum’, ‘hyper-reality’,‘parody’ and ‘pastiche’. And, indeed, this is a lineof fault that many media texts self-consciouslyexplore; the last thirty years has seen aprofusion of films, television and pop musicthat play with audience expectations in theiruse of
and self-reflexiveallusions. However, perhaps what marks outthe genuinely postmodern from ironic critiqueis the way in which audience appropriation of new media technologies is both naturalised andcreative.
Cinema and television
Throughout the history of
, audiences have traditionally beenvery accepting of the ways in which mediatexts invite the viewer to confront their own
perception of reality
. As the silent movieera moved into that of the talking picture,for example, audiences did not recoil withincredulity that the image projected on to thescreen was actually speaking, but acceptedthe concept as natural and unaffected.Likewise, when the first television sets becamecommercially available in the 30s and 40s,audiences embraced the new medium, invitingit into their homes to occupy pride of place inthe sitting room: displacing the fire place as thefocal point of domestic living.
By the same token audiences have beenextremely imaginative in the way in which newmedia technologies have been incorporatedinto their day-to-day existence. Who wouldhave thought that cinema pioneer
experiments with stereoscopicimages in the 1870s would develop into astaple venue for romantic courtship in thetwentieth century: even today going to seea movie is one of the most popular activitiesfor couples on a date. Likewise, television hasbecome embedded in the social fabric of everyday life: both
shaping and reflecting
society’sideas about contemporary social issues. Whilethe kind of current affairs programmingcharacterising a channel like BBC
,was probably close to what
John Logie Baird
had in mind when he began experimentingwith duotone images in the first part of the twentieth century. Formats producedprincipally for entertainment, like soap operaand sitcom, have arguably done more toinfluence popular opinion about
including abortion, single-mothers, homosexuality and immigration thananything else.
Of course the proliferation of the
from the late 1990s onwards has acceleratedand heightened people’s routine use of technology in their day-to-day engagementwith society and culture. And, indeed, it isbefitting that the proliferation of
Hyper-realityand the DigitalRenaissance