No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior

By Joshua Meyrowitz | Go to book overview

2

Media and Behavior:
A Missing Link

Almost everyone who has commented on electronic media, whether as casual observer or as scholar, whether in praise or in condemnation, has noted the ability of electronic media to bypass former limitations to communication. Electronic media have changed the significance of space, time, and physical barriers as communication variables. We can now speak to someone in Alaska while we are sunning in Florida, we can experience distant news events as they are happening or reexperience images, actions, and voices of those long dead, and we can sit in any room in any house in the country and get a close-up view of a football huddle.

Yet neither the pervasiveness of electronic media nor the common awareness of their seemingly miraculous capabilities has spawned widespread analysis of the impact of such new patterns of information flow on social behavior. The overwhelming majority of television studies conducted in the United States, for example, has followed the dominant tradition in research on earlier mass media and has focused primarily on message content. 1 The potentially different effects of different types of media are largely ignored.

The focus on media messages grew out of early concerns that propaganda transmitted through the mass press or over radio could have a nearly universal effect on different people and could lead to a mass or mob reaction. The general failure of researchers to demonstrate clear and direct effects of media content on social behavior, however, has led to many modifications in theory and approach over the last sixty years. The old "hypodermic needle" theory (popular in the 1920s), which postulated a direct and universal response to a message stimulus, has been abandoned by almost all researchers. The tendency, instead, has been to put additional variables in between the stimulus and the behavioral response. Individual differences, group differences, the role of influential peers,

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