In 2001, Steven Chaffee and Miriam Metzger wrote an article entitled “The end to mass communication?” I read this article for a graduate school class a few terms ago and of everything I have read, this really resonated and made complete sense to me. In it they discussed the blurred lines in this field because of the developments in computing and information technologies. “Mass” communication implies that one media system reaches a large, diverse audience. That media system need not look for subscribers, viewers or readers, for it is well-known, and consumers naturally seek news from this system. Newspapers, for example, were once considered the most reliable source of news information. If a consumer was looking for news, they would turn to a newspaper for the most reliable information instead of asking a neighbor, a friend or a stranger. In today’s “asset-light generation” society, consumers are turning to everything from blogs to tweets to receive their news. There is not one source that is the “speaker of the land.” It is because of this that newspapers are having a difficult time staying afloat. They are neither “of the moment” or easily accesible. This (well, admittedly, my) generation wants news as soon as their brain registers that they want it. The time between forming the thought of wanting information to getting the information has been reduced to mere seconds.
When Chaffee and Metzger published their article on the decline of the “mass” in mass communication in 2001, they had no idea just how right they would become. Their argument in 2001 was that with Internet developments such as user-created websites, media were becoming more focused on the viewer than the creator. People were able to decide what they wanted to watch or read, and even create this themselves. Mass communication was no longer controlled by large medium conglomerates, but by individual people.
Eleven years later, their argument has been proven by the popularity and rise of social media. With the click of a button, the downloading of an app, the “liking” of a page, people are able to specifically target the type of input they are getting. Not only that, but now with options to comment on nearly everything, or share it with friends, communication has become more input-output than ever. Previously, mass communication was coming into the homes of viewers, listeners or readers, now people are just as easily coming into the homes of the leaders of mass communication.
According to expandedramblings.com, this month Facebook boasts 955 million users, Youtube gets 4 billion hits a day, and Twitter has 140 million users. Those are just three of the dozens of social media sites that are widely used today. Not to mention that nearly every website has a way for readers to get in touch with the creators of that site, or share their opinion on its content.
Chaffee and Metzger began the section of their article on the new mass communication by saying, “More than any other technologies for mass communication, contemporary media allow for a greater quantity of information transmission and retrieval, place more control over both content creation and selection in the hands of their users, and do so with less cost to the average consumer.” Mainly, they were talking about the Internet, which at the time was even less user-friendly than it is today.
The quantity of information transmission and retrieval is massive. Facebook is the best example of this. Where else can one find out that a high school friend had her first baby, and Osama bin Laden has been killed? Where else is sharing your opinion with the masses is as easy as clicking “post”?
Content creation, with social media, is nearly all in the hands of users, rather than the hands of media experts. This can prove a dangerous thing for verified information, a fact proven by the large amount of celebrities who have “died” on Twitter, only to have fallen victim to a mass-sharing hoax.
At the time of publication, “cost to the average consumer” probably still had a cost. Now, however, sites such as Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and others are all free, so cost to the average consumer is that there is no cost at all. What’s paying the price is mass communication. Real, verified information delivered to the masses in order to inform, persuade or ask. The asset-light generation may not even realize that they should be cautious about what they read and what sources they consider reliable. Now that choosing not to hear both sides of a political issue is as easy as unfollowing someone or unliking a Facebook page, the likelihood of opinions being heard evenly across the board is slim. What Chaffee and Metzger could not have known in 2001 to ask is this: Will social media be the death of mass communication?