MEDIA LITERACY AND EDUCATION

"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? In mass society, mass media is profoundly influencing world-views and conceptions of politics. With the sheer volume, speed, form and intensity of mass media, we experience a kind of value vertigo, a disorientation regarding matters that matter. This is the mediascape in which we now live and vote. Via audio, print, electronic, placards and products, we receive a daily deluge of messages, all competing for our attention and allegiance." - T.S. Eliot

Once media and its many messages became both pervasive and monopolized by a few international conglomerates, it became critically necessary for our society to be able to decode, deconstruct and understand the messages being delivered. Incessant and ubiquitous marketing--whether of culture, politics, goods or propaganda--makes it necessary and important for us, as involuntary media consumers, to be aware of it, to embrace it and to immerse ourselves in it. We must also continue to engage more and more in the one-to-one and few-to-few conversations made possible by the increasing ubiquity of interactive media. This is the path we must take if we are to become savvy, critical and, ultimately, prudent consumers of the thousands of discreet messages that we will continue to receive every day.

A research study conducted jointly by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Children's Digital Media Centers demonstrated the current level of media saturation that exists for all age groups of our society. They found that "ninety-nine percent of homes had televisions, 73 percent had computers and 63 percent of the computers had Internet access, but only 34 percent of the families had a newspaper subscription. The television was on at least half of the time in 65 percent of the households studied. In 36 percent of the households, it was kept on almost all of the time."

The experience of media saturation was true for all ages, even those 6 and under. According to their report, "Among all kids 6 months to 6 years old, they're spending about an average of two hours a day watching TV or videos, or playing video games or using the computer, about the same amount of time they spend playing outside. It's quite a bit more than they spend reading each day." Even among the youngest of those-children under 2 years of age-"In any given day, two-thirds are watching TV and videos and doing it for an average of over two hours."

Five massive media conglomerates currently control mass media. According to media theorist and critic Mark Crispin-Miller:

"Our media landscape is very, very heavily dominated by just a handful of gigantic media corporations, transnational corporations. The most important ones are Disney, Time Warner, Viacom, the News Corporation, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, and Universal-Vivendi, which is about to become a French-owned corporation. To give you a sense of some of the power that these corporations wield, let me take you through just some of the holdings of the News Corporation, for example. This Australian-based transnational owns Fox Television, 20th Century Fox Films, Harper Collins Publishers. It's also the largest owner of newspapers in the world. Rupert Murdoch has Sky Television, which broadcasts to the world over--and the list goes on and on. This kind of range is unprecedented in the history of all the media industries. We now have all of our culture industries, from movies and TV and radio to music and book publishing and the web, dominated by corporations that are all-powerful in all of those fields. They are all-purpose media corporations."

In this all-encompassing landscape of messages issued by a monopoly of mass media owners with a commercial and often political imperative, we must co-opt that saturation and use it as a vaccine if we are to ever become immune to the hucksterism, hyperbole, and manipulation that commercial and political interests engage in. We must do this in order to learn to discern the messages that are contrived and artificial, especially as they are delivered in more and more oblique and covert ways.

A part of the solution for bringing about a media literate society is to make media literacy and critique a standard part of school curriculum. Public education needs to foster a variety of new types of literacy, but especially media literacy, if it is to empower students and to make education relevant to the challenges of the present and future.

The other part of the solution is already occurring. There is a growing multitude of human conversations that we experience as a result of our increased connectedness via interactive communications technologies. This net increase in communication will help us recognize those messages that are born of commercial and political imperatives. As a result, with regard to marketing messages, our community is getting more discerning and more informed. Participation in this networked society has and will continue to change us fundamentally. We're moving from a "push" culture to a "pull" culture, causing a continuing net decrease in the overall effectiveness of messages generated through mass media. As a simple example, "Tor", one of a group of teens interviewed after watching PBS Frontline's documentary, Merchants of Cool, says, "with things like Napster, you can't tell people, 'This is what you should be listening to.' You can't push it."

No doubt there is and will continue to be a gap between the sophistication of the methods of message delivery and the media sophistication of the society that receives those messages. And those who wish to sell something will exploit that gap for as long as possible. And as we grow more and more discerning of current methods for delivering messages with an imperative, the producers of those messages will utilize tactics that are increasingly stealthy. But with the help of education and interactive technologies, the already media-savvy youth culture's negative attitudes toward imperative-driven messages and "push-motivated" consumption can mature into mainstream attitudes with the same orientation. As a result, the act of rebellion against cultural and political standards and trends that are marketed at all will continue.

Someone once asked, "How do we break the feedback loop that is commercial, corporate youth culture?" Well, we likely can't break that feedback loop completely, nor can we easily break the hold that a handful of interests have over mass media. But we can seek to co-opt and minimize the pernicious effects of that monopolized mass media through awareness of its effects by the standard implementation of media-literacy pedagogy in our schools as well as continuing to embrace conversational, interactive one-to-one media. We must do this if we are to empower ourselves and promote healthy democracy. These efforts are critical and necessary if we are to understand and transform our world for the better.
© 2008 David Yates