Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Instant Media

While reading Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death I kept comparing all of the examples he gave with today's media culture. In Part I of the book Postman describes the audience of oratory events by stating that "its attention span would obviously have been extraordinary by current standards...[and] these audiences must have had an equally extraordinary capacity to comprehend lengthy and complex sentences aurally" (45). If the audiences attention span would have been extraordinary in the '80s then I imagine it would seem damn near impossible now. Seven hours of talking? Most students in school today can't go a single class period without checking to see if they have a new text or if someone 'liked' their latest facebook post. Television today has evolved so that we can skip through the commercials or, if you're watching something like Netflix, avoid the commercials all together. People today can no longer sit through a ninety second commercial. Our media has been made so instantaneous that if we become bored within a few seconds of a commercial on television we can transfer out attention to something that will bring our entertainment to us even faster, like Pinterest.

Today's media has also made content much more concise. It takes a little effort to try to convey a complex message in 160 characters or less. A constant complaint I get from students is that they can't possibly write about a topic for five, whole pages. Which is why I have all of my classes participate in Smith Magazine's Six Word Memoir activity. I give the students an allotted amount of time to write about several different experiences in their lives that have made them you they are today. Then I show them the Smith Magazine challenge and ask them to explain each event or the meaning of each event in six words. In all of the classes I've used this activity the students have agreed that it is much harder to get their point across in six words than in several paragraphs. It would follow that the same struggle can be found for public figures in the 21st century. Lincoln and Douglas had hours apiece to explain their ideologies. Public debates today could never dream of lasting that long if they actually wanted to keep the attention of the majority of their audience. Now they have to cram everything they want to say about their position and ideologies into soundbites that the public can consume in small doses. If not they risk people forgetting or ignoring what they are trying to convey. Instant media may seem to make communication easier by making faster, but faster isn't necessarily easier.   


  1. I agree, students are definitely more accustomed to a world of quicker communication. Writing a letter to friend would probably seem silly to most students. I doubt that they would even consider writing an email, especially if they are in contact with friends through sites like Facebook and Twitter. The point that I am trying to make is, that for many students, the medium of print doesn't seem like a natural mode of communication.

    I understand this seems like a contradictory statement to make, due to my previous comments about the usage of Facebook and Twitter. Obviously, you must interact with print in order to post on Facebook or Twitter. However, in Language and Learning in the Digital Age, James Paul Gee and Elisabeth R. Hayes believe that people are treating these texts more like oral communication. They state, "Digital media allow people to use written language in ways that resemble how people use face-to-face oral language. People can communicate at great distances in real time through the Internet and various sorts of social media. When people post a text online, send a text message, or use Twitter, readers can quickly get into dialogue with them and ask them, as in an oral culture, what they mean, why they mean it, and why they think it is true."

    If many students only interactions with print are in this oral-like way, then it would be easy to understand why they struggle with a five page assignment. In other words, school is the only place in which they encounter this sort of print-culture. I don't believe that as many students identify with print culture, which is why they don't understand why it is important.

  2. I agree, as well. Yet, my concern is that students also struggle to understand why writing five pages on a subject is beneficial and not just busy work. I want them to develop new ideas through their writing, and I stress that the first general idea that comes to your mind is often not going to make a revelatory thesis.It's hard to get them to see this when media praises conciseness. I think the Six Word Memoir activity is awesome. I'd like to try that in my class some time.

    Also, in thinking about the Internet being the next movement after television, I have to wonder what the movement following the Internet will be.

  3. I have a mashup of comments to make, which I will list using numbers:

    1. Sara, I think you're Six Word activity is genius for getting students to value paragraphs and how paragraphs allow us more room to organize our ideas/thoughts.

    2. Abigail, I'm going to comment on the idea you presented about people treating texts like oral communication. Just a day or so ago, I was texting a friend back and forth, and before I could respond to the first text message he sent, he fired another off. The message I was typing, then, didn't make sense because he had sent another message that was onto a new topic. I had to erase what I was typing and respond to the new message he had sent. I started thinking about how text messages and texting are sort of strange to define because they mimic face-to-face conversation/oral communication while using a print medium. I thought about how phone developers should make it possible for people to choose where they want their response to go in a text message thread, so that, when a person sends multiple messages of all differing subject matter, you can direct your response to the question/statement you want it to respond to, which could mimic how we interrupt people who are talking when we want to interject a response. As of now, texting is linear, which is not how oral communication works at all. Oral communication is dynamic.

    3. Lastly, the Wednesday after our Tuesday night class, I was sitting in my mentor's class, and we were discussing what logos means. For an example, my mentor (Merrielle) showed a 3 to 4 minute clip of a John Oliver segment where he monologues about prisons in America. In that moment, I thought about how we as a class had discussed the brevity of news on TV. Oliver's segment was 17 minutes long, and if Merrielle had allowed it, I'm persuaded the whole class would have watched every minute of his show. Yes, he uses sarcasm and humor. Yes, he flashes pictures, quotes, and video footage to make it more entertaining. But, he engages the reader in a surprisingly lengthy and somewhat sophisticated line or thought, wherein he builds his argument using various pieces of evidence (videos, quotes, pictures). We seemed to come to the conclusion in class that nearly all news was summed up in 3 minutes or less for the American people to consume. I would argue that Oliver achieves--relative to our day, at least--a Lincoln/Douglas length feat. Whether his argument is sound is another topic.