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William Bennett

Professor Heuman
COMM 350 500
5 May 2015
Mass Society Theory As Seen in Our Everyday Lives
As Americans on a daily basis we are exposed consistently to popular culture, smart
phones, and social media. If you were to walk into any given food establishment and observe
your surroundings you will see the prevalence that smart phones have in our life. There will more
than likely be many groups of people where the majority of the group is on their phone. The act
itself is quite contradicting, people set a destination and time to meet up and spend time with one
another yet when they arrive there, and they just spend more time on their phone. What is the
purpose of spending time with one another when we focus our attention away from those who
are surrounding us? We are isolating ourselves while in the midst of others, which is paradoxical
but is something that reigns true in modern culture. As a college student, I’m exposed to and
surrounded with this atmosphere every day. Students are thirsting for attention, identity, and
belonging, much of which is found in our current culture through social media. Instagram,
Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook plague our everyday lives, you pull out your phone when
you’re waiting for others so you look busy and important. It may be hard to admit, but we always
tell others that we’re busy and have a lot going on because we’re too afraid to look like we don’t
have our lives completely together. When we’re alone we’ve become scared to face the
impending silence and true nature of the world that remains with the removal of smart phones.
We’ve grown fearful of the quiet and afraid of sitting still. This device has become attached to

our minds, we are anchored down by such an insignificant, yet life-giving, piece of technology
that was intended for ease of communication but has progressively destroyed basic human
communication. Humans have become pieces of clay, aggressively molded through our constant
consumption of social media. Mass society theory is an excellent supplement to this claim,
isolation through smart phone consumption even in the presence of human interaction has made
us defenseless to the control of those who will it. The Wiley Online Library defines mass society
theory as “a complex, multifaceted perspective… the basic idea is that people who are socially
isolated are especially vulnerable to the appeals of extremist movements” (Wiley-Blackwell).
The theory originated with fascist and communist movements in the early twentieth century but
can still be applied to modern society effectively. In theory, while a human may be engaged in
social media in the presence of others they are still isolating themselves. While in this virtual
world they are in passive interaction with other beings if they are looking through their Twitter
timeline, they’re actively isolating themselves from the real world surrounding them. Humans
become products of materialism and consumerism, advertisers are constantly bombarding us
with products, images, and messages that seek to point our thoughts towards their ideology.
Many are too naïve to notice it and too foolish to recognize it, it is a reality in every
technologically active Americans life.
Commercials and advertisements are the easiest way for humans to be shaped into the
mold that corporations seek for us to fill. Take the Super bowl as an example, with millions of
people viewing it every year, millions are equally exposed to the control corporations seek to
obtain. Sympathetic, comedic, and mentally controlling images are used to direct the viewer
toward a certain mindset. With each of these humans experiencing the same set of messages
whilst simultaneously creating different interpretations. Some are easily controlled and

manipulated while others may not be so easily molded, but the exposure is completely equal. The
Super bowl uses commercials to expose audiences to their products, beliefs, and opinions.
Corporations can use Aristotle’s basic rhetorical strategies to manipulate, appeal, and affect
audiences. A beer company will use a sympathetic animal control to appeal to a members Pathos,
or emotion. With a combined use of logic, emotion, and credibility the corporations take full
advantage of these rhetorical strategies to influence consumers. While a paradigm shift has
occurred amongst media with the new replacing the old, the ancient principles of persuasion and
appeal are still prevalent and effective to this day. Likewise, this allows for mass society theory
to be just as prevalent today as it was in its origin. Social media is one avenue for mass society
theory to not only exist but thrive.
Twitter is a social media platform that allows for simple messages, known as tweets, to be
distributed instantly to other people’s timelines given that they follow you. Twitter has become
increasingly popular in the past few years but is meeting slower growth, in fact is’ uncommon for
a person not to own a Twitter. On Twitter’s website you can see just how active their website is,
with 302 million monthly active users and 500 million tweets sent daily the statistics are
overwhelming (About Twitter). Twitter uses a system of retweets to create an easy and simple
way to share messages. If you follow somebody and they retweet another person’s tweet, it will
show up on your own timelines similar to other sharing methods. What makes Twitter so unique
is the people who are using Twitter. Famous celebrities use Twitter as a way to keep fans
engaged in their personal lives, large companies also use Twitter to create a voice for their
business. By replying to people on Twitter, it gives the company a much more personal and
human interaction with its customers. With these companies and celebrities having hundreds of
thousands to even millions of followers allows their message to be distributed so simply and

efficiently to the audience. Twitter states that 80% of active Twitter uses are doing so on a mobile
device. Twitter thrives on smart phones, and with a never-ending pursuit, the active Twitter user
always has a reason to check back. It keeps the consumer engaged, there is always something
new to be seen, and their Twitter timeline is always evolving and changing. It allows you to see
what friends are doing currently in their lives as well as celebrities and anything else you could
wish for. Arguably, this seemingly flawless connection of people would allow for a wider range
of human interaction. While this in theory is true, with over three fourths of Twitters population
accessing it on mobile devices, it creates the opposite intention. If we’re constantly
disconnecting ourselves from the human presence surrounding us and engaging in our Twitter
timeline, we are missing the actual interaction we seek. Twitter is one of many things people will
look at to pass time, humans love to appear busy and that there is always something better they
are striving for. What is it that humans are striving for in a virtual world where the pursuit is
endless? Twitter never ends, there will always be something new to engage the user. While the
average user may be pleased by their constant gratification with unlimited and accessible use, as
use increases so does dependency. A website called Geekwire compiled some data involving
American smart phone usage, they claim that the average American spends 162 minutes on their
cell phone daily. Out of the twenty four hour day, nearly three of those hours are spent looking at
this little device that plays such a monumental role in people’s lives. The study states that 82% of
that time is spent using applications on the phone, features which weren’t even in mind for a
telephones original purpose (GeekWire). Landlines and home phones are dying off as well,
smartphones have become so much easier and more efficient that many families have done away
with the traditional home line. The smartphone has practically become the primary device of

communication for many people, it’s able to serve every form of communication necessary for a
modern American, talk, message, social media, e-mail, as well as other methods.
In application to mass society theory, the smart phone is the main advocate for the
individual to be immersed in the cultural industries of the world. Though separated, we are held
together through the same methods. The world is slowly becoming a global village, we’re
becoming interconnected more and more each day as technology continues to progress. This
unites separated humans through a cultural norm, that which is the rise of social media, this
generation of social media has not only decreased attention spans but has arguably made us more
selfish beings. Prospectively we’ve morphed into a body that seeks instant gratification that
smart phones have given us, of course this is not obtainable in real life. Smart phones allow us
control and instantaneous anything, the world is accessible from this small piece of technology.
Impatience becomes a trait in many people’s lives as smart phones have progressively decreased
their patience and care for the situations surrounding them. While the claim may seem drastic,
it’s become evident in schools as studies show. The Guardian released a very interesting article
regarding a study by The Pew Research Center on student’s research methods in school. The
article reveals from the study that teachers believed that it contained mainly positive impacts on
students, but also “87% felt modern technologies were creating an easily distracted generation
with short attention spans”. The survey was composed of nearly 2,500 teachers which gives
credibility to this percentage, teachers who have direct interaction with youth on a daily basis
have noticed the effects it contains. The article also raises a relevant question that this could just
be the “latest variation of 'the Elvis Hypothesis' – because something is new, popular with young
people, and challenges existing hierarchies and traditions, it must be bad” (The Guardian). First
hand, when I’ve discussed my perceived problems and lasting effects of smart phones with

others, they use a statement such as this to dismiss the conversation. While there has been a
pattern of problems seen with youth of their time to have lasting negative effects, they always
seem to work out alright and it appears to just be another generation of new ideas and opinions.
However, with attention spans being actively lowered, the fact is clear that there will be lasting
effects from this generation. Short attention spans are in theory rooted by impatience and
selfishness. The desire to amplify oneself, and only give care and priority to your own problems.
Of course, there is no absolution in these statements as each person is vastly different and
approaches smart phone use in different manners. Contrary to that, with the vast majority of
youth approaching and using smart phones in the same way supports the observations being
made. Since smart phone does in fact challenge and differ from existing traditions and behaviors
it is subject to the Elvis Hypothesis, but if approached with thought you can see this is much
more than just a fad amongst youth. As a college student, I’m fully immersed into this
atmosphere and smart phone culture but I can also see how it has dwindled down into younger
generations. The Pew Research Center did another study concerning smartphones titled “Teens
and Technology 2013”, an interesting finding from this study shows that 78% of teens own a cell
phone (Pew Research Center). A shocking survey reported on by Child Guide shows that most
American children have a smart phone by age seven. This data seems unreal, but with 2,290
American parents interviewed the results seem all too real (Child Guide Magazine). The age of
children getting phones has drastically decreased and it seems impossible for the minimum age
of children owning smartphones to go any lower.
The smart phone generation seems all too fitting of a title given the studies that support it.
Not only has it become a necessity for the average child and young teen, it has become an
integrated part of modern culture. This culture has unified an alienated being, embodying the

concept of mass society theory. Americans have become unified under this one cultural
institution. Through avenues like social media and popular culture, media delivery devices such
as smart phones pave the way for a new normality of low attention spans, impatience, and selfpursuit. Social media outlets give purpose to smart phones, allowing people to be constantly in
touch with one another but equally disconnected at the same time. United on the web, but
separated in our daily interactions with one another. Mass society theory plays a consistent role
to this day in our current culture, impersonal relationships maintained through unconventional
and inhumane methods of communication. My personal challenge is that you may put down your
phone when you’re waiting for a friend and observe your surroundings. When you are spending
time with one another, you don’t have to Snapchat it, why produce fading and temporary content
of the experience when you could cherish the memory of it. When you are surrounded by others,
be present in that time and do not check your Twitter timeline because you become bored. Our
time spent with others is fleeting, your timeline will always be there to welcome you back in
your endless pursuit of temporary fulfillment. I once had an English teacher named Ms. Peebles
who said something that will stick with me for a lifetime, “don’t let technology become a cocoon
that imprisons you in a virtual world so that at the end of it all you missed the real one”. Seek the
real world and flee from this fake virtual one, embrace the world around you with your own
senses rather than attempting to capture the memory. You don’t need to frantically grasp at the
opportunity to gather each memory as if it’s a collection that you’re racing to fulfill. Live in that
moment, experience that memory, and live a life where you are no longer tethered to the device
that will make you miss it all.

Sources
"Mass Society Theory." - The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements.
N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.
"About Twitter, Inc. | About." About Twitter, Inc. | About. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.
"Study: Americans Spend 162 Minutes on Their Mobile Device per Day, Mostly with Apps GeekWire." GeekWire. N.p., 01 Apr. 2014. Web. 06 May 2015.
"Is Technology and the Internet Reducing Pupils' Attention Spans?" The Guardian. N.p., n.d.
Web.
"Teens and Technology 2013." Pew Research Center (2013): n. pag. Print.
"Most American Children Have a Cell Phone by the Time They Turn Seven | Child Guide
Magazine." Most American Children Have a Cell Phone by the Time They Turn Seven | Child
Guide Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.