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To what extent would you agree with the statement that „rapid rates of technological change in communications media are leading to an intense need for regulatory changes, creating new media markets and affecting quite radical social change“? Is technological change the primary force of such momentous changes or do we need to look at „social change“ from a different perspective? Word count: 2603
Eleftheria Dekavalla P.O. Box 109749 - Abu Dhabi - UAE Student ID Number: 099023227 email@example.com +971 50 672 4487 Tutor: Emily Keightley
2 Introduction The development of communications media as devices is a technological one. The following part examines the question of how technological changes occur. Do they occur on their own account or are they the result of other. whether the technological change affects changes in other parts of the society. social necessities? The answer comes out of the presentation of two opposing theories. and changes in the society. accepting the positive aspects of both theories. especially the rapid ones. which combines elements from both theories in an effort to avoid dogmatisms and determinisms. The necessary coexistence of media and technology raises the question of the relationship between technological developments. At the end of the paper I give my personal opinion. however. suggesting. and the comparison of their main points of view. the theory of technological determinism and the theory of cultural determinism. the adoption of a more relaxed attitude to the issue. . based on examples taken from the media history. Is the technological development of communications media the primary force for social change? Does the rapid technological change create the need for changes in media regulation? Does it create new markets? The first part of this paper attempts to give an answer to the question.
Although the need for new regulations or for reform of the existing ones may result from other factors. such as structure. 26). distribution.) and state interests (security. Radio. Unit 11. The evolution of video and the DVD has caused concern both in terms of the exposure of minors to explicit sex scenes and violence. The regulation of communications media depends on their technological structure. Unit 11. Technological changes. infrastructure. (McQuail. p. high quality of content. 3 Technological change and media regulation. Unit 11. but not regulated at all in their content (McQuail. create the need for regulatory changes. is highly regulated in all aspects of its performance. 35). From the very beginning of their existence they are subject to strict controls to protect both the interests of the public (universal availability. creating the need for laws to protect copyright and avoid piracy (Ward. Unit 8. Technological change is regarded as a factor that simply exists and is associated with specific changes. such as economic or political. p. while telecommunication media are heavily regulated in their infrastructure ‐to ensure their proper functioning‐. 10). but also in economic terms. for example. conduct and content. maintenance of social order) (Mc Quail. p. . therefore. National and international laws against piracy of films and music is nothing but regulation of the new media. p. (The reasons for technological development are examined later in this paper). access. for the moment we will focus on the factor "technological development". diversity etc. 19). Let us take as example the emergence of radio and television.
creating a new market rather than addressing existing needs. the emergence of cinema. economic. video camera. We just have to take a short look at the development of mobile phones the last ten years to understand the gradual trend towards the concentration of many features in one device (phone.) Technological change and social change Rapid technological developments in the communications media affect the society. 9).. 56). 4 Technological change and new markets The media are a major economic factor in a society. p. every development in the communications media is associated with economy. they are industries themselves (McQuail. although the trend is towards the gradual substitution of desktop by smart mobile devices. Starting with the invention of the print. are largely influenced by the communications media available. political. etc. which is their creator and recipient. by the way they are adopted and institutionalized and by the social groups that adopt . p. Science. etc. mobile phones. All aspects of the society. all perform within a specific social context. or create new markets that coexist with the previous ones (today we still use both CDs and the DVDs. is almost disappeared). that mobilized the book and press market. desktop computers and laptops. Unit 11. research. cultural. The creation of new or advanced devices can put an end to previous existing markets (the music cassette. means of production. for example. camera. which began as a means of entertaining the public and quickly became an autonomous art and commodity (Ward 1989. a small computer with Internet access capabilities. social. until the present time with computers.
In each period one or more communications media dominate and. Through these elite groups a new social order was created (Mohammadi 2005. 33). but until the next breakthrough. 5 and institutionalize them (Mohammadi 2005). because the messages could not be transferred over time and could not survive without the physical presence of that the person who carried them (Mohammadi 2005. form the type of communication on the given societies. for example. in order to identify the relationship between media and society: it is the speed of technological developments in communication media. the invention of . raising debates and concerns about their effects on society and the individual. 26). p. The present time is characterized by an unprecedented speed of technological innovations. 24). p. Mohammadi proposes the division of communications history in three main epochs: the epoch of oral communication. in my opinion. important factor. which consisted of those persons who could write and read and who were responsible for the bookkeeping and practices related to taxes. The invention of writing was revolutionary and changed the course of the world. it created an elite knowledge community. the epoch of print and the advent of the electronic media (Mohammadi 2005. In the oral period. The discovery of writing removed these obstacles and allowed the extension of the written message over time and space. namely the distribution of technological innovations over time. Modern electronic and digital media are fully integrated into our daily lives. the communication among human beings was necessarily face‐to‐face and the respective societies were bound in time and space. p. I would like to draw attention to an. On the other hand. subsequently.
while advanced and improved versions of the same device appear within a few months. p. and is not technology‐driven? This is only a little food of thought before we go to the next part. computer.56). Today one technological innovation follows the other: telegraph. there intervened centuries. Internet. 225‐226). McLuhan’s famous sentence. p. Understanding Media. p. “the medium is the message” (Scannell 1995. 14. that society has its own “rules” of change. How can the society adapt to the rapid pace of technological development? How much "technology" can the daily life stand? And if the social changes occur with a “delay” to the technological changes. According to him. Technological determinism The theory of technological determinism argues that technology is the main force for social development. who argues that the communications media that are available in a society determine its form (Hartley 2002. they are tools that help the human beings to overcome their inabilities. a Canadian media theorist. The technology determines the form of a society and triggers social change (Winston 2005. the communications media are extensions of the human body. The breaks among great innovations are only some decades. radio. is that not a reason to think. television. Famous representative of technological determinism in relation to the communication media is Marshall McLuhan. 6 printing. New York: McGraw‐Hill) stresses the importance of the medium itself and gives less attention to the . referring to McLuhan 1964.
since it is all we have. that technological determinism. natural. political. that all human societies should have similar technological progress. If we accept that technological development is the primary force of social change. without doubt and without concern. 7 content. because the receivers concentrate on the content and accept the medium as a fact. Under which law is technological change subject? Does it take place because of a natural necessity. offers a one‐sided perspective on the relation between technology and culture. In this way the medium influences and forms us. as if they come into existence of their own accord and proceed to mould societies . this approach treats technologies in isolation. technological changes bring necessarily social changes. or is it the product of social circumstances? The theory of technological determinism seeks to explain and interpret the results of technological development but does not give an adequate explanation about its origins. Exactly at this point lies the idea of technological determinism. As Andrew Murphy and John Potts in Culture and technology argue: “ it is readily apparent. In this sense the technology is neutral and affects the society from outside. which is not the case.g. namely our inability to reject the medium. then we should assume that technology exists independently of society and that its development is subject to other laws. however. economic and cultural context in which it was created. This. The question here is whether the technology can be seen outside the social. e. would mean. In removing specific technologies from their social and political contexts. According to the theory of technological determinism. The medium itself is more important than the content. for all its insights into the specific properties of technologies.
(Culture and technology. the trend that ensures that a new invention will not disturb the given social. i. 68 ‐69). is ignored. when a technological change takes place. Winston proposes that the theory of cultural determinism as more complete theoretical basis for the explanation and interpretation of technological change. 65‐67). however. i. 59). It can only answer the question. political. economic. In the same article he analyses two forms of technological determinism. p.e. in which a change occurs (Winston 2005. p. that explains technological change as a series of major events and circumstances.” . p.e. technology plays the key role. but provides no answer to the question “how” it takes place (Winston 2005. arguing that the social and economic context. and is slowed down by the “law of suppression of radical potential”. cultural and technological context. 17) Social determinism Brian Winston in his article “How Are Media Born and Developed” criticizes technological determinism. p. 8 in their image”. situations that makes an existing invention necessary. economic and political conditions (Winston 2005. because it takes in account the social. in which technological changes occur. “Supervening social necessities are the accelerators that push the development of media and other technology. a strict one. and a “weaker” one. In both cases. technological changes are accelerated by “supervening social necessities”. According to him. that explains technological change as the biography of great men and a history of inventions.
p. Because of these. the dominance of the nuclear family .. "Railroad development required instant signaling.. when they become supervening social necessities.. an so enabled telegraph to develop" (Winston 2005. These work to slow the disruptive impact of new technology. The brakes ensure that a technology’s s introduction does not disrupt the social or corporate status quo. before "it is seen to have a real use” (Winston 2005. when they do not disturb the social and economic status quo. the device finally moved out of the limbo of being an experiment to being a widely diffused consumer product.” (Winston 2005. or another technology.. 68). p. But if there are accelerators. 68) “ . The reasons for the adoption of a new technology can be social. 9 “ .” (Winston 2005. There is a point here. and when they manage to overcome the limitations of the law of suppression of radical potential. Technological changes occur.. This statement puts technology under the influence of society and assumes that an innovation will necessarily experience a state of “delay”. that I think is worthy to be discussed: The reason of technological development is a social necessity (supervening social necessity). there are also breaks.e.. i. which could cause subsequent social changes? . political. or would it be more relevant to regard them as technological necessities? Is not in some cases the technology itself that leads to further innovations. 68). Can we regard such cases as social necessities. the supervening social necessities that influenced the development of television include the rise of the home. 69). p. economical. p.
This point of the theory of cultural determinism seems to me problematic. with emerging new markets and with social changes. Technological determinism on the other hand. in order to explain social change. ignores the social context and provides an one‐sided explanation to the issue. which develops internally and is. . The model of supervening social necessities and of the law of suppression suggests the primacy of social factors upon technology. In the first case we can talk about a revolutionary change. To the question. gradual changes (such as the improvement of telecommunication device or a new generation of computers with improved features). while in the last case of a small change within a technological process. technology determined. since it takes many factors in account. 10 I regard cultural determinism as a more flexible theory. in my opinion. I believe that technological changes are closely associated with changes in the media regulation. that there was previously the oldest) and smaller. I suggest a combination of the theories of technological and cultural determinism. assuming that social changes are always the reason for technological changes is also an absolute position. since it does not distinguish between intensive changes (such as the discovery of the internet. whether they are the primary force of all these changes. Conclusion As shown in the paper. However.
such as the individual will. in some cases. I believe that in a society with such rapid technological development. the contribution of personalities and the technological necessity. rather than absolute and exclusive. A more flexible way of thinking could be the adaption of the main points of each theory and the inclusion of more factors of influence. theoretical approaches should be flexible and inclusive. . 11 Although both theories have much to offer regarding the relationship between technology of communications media and society. there still remain questions without a satisfactory answer.
London: MACMILLAN PRESS LTD. Paul (1999) Digital McLuhan. Andrew and Potts. Ward. London: Sage. ND . London: Sage. London: Routledge. pp. (2 Edition). New York: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN Scannel. A guide to the information millenium. John (2003) Culture and Technology. Paddy (1995) Social Aspects of Media History. Themes in Comparative History. ND Ward. In Questioning the Media. Ken (1989) Mass Communications and the Moder World. Centre for Mass Communication Research. (2 Edition). 12 References Hartley. th McQuail. Cultural and Media Studies. Denis (2005) Media Regulation. Unit 9 of the MA in Mass Communications. Denis (2005) Mc Quail’s Mass Communication Theory (5 Edition). Centre for Mass Communication Research. A critical introduction. John (2002) Communication. Murphie. 54 – 74. Ken (2006) Issues in the History of Mass Communications 1970 – 2005. pp. Srebereny – Mohammadi. London: Sage. McQuail. Levinson. Centre for Mass Communication Research. Unit 8 of the MA in Mass Communications. Brian (1995) (eds) How are Media Born and Developed? In Questioning the Media. The Key Concepts. Unit 11 of the MA in Mass Communications. University of Leicester. University of Leicester. Anabelle (1995) Forms of Media and Ways of Knowing. Winston. Routledge. University of Leicester. A critical introduction. 23-38.