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

By Joshua Meyrowitz | Go to book overview

4

Why Roles Change
When Media Change

Patterns of information flow are a constitutive element of social status. People of the same status in a society generally have access to similar situations, or information-systems. People of different social statuses usually have access to different situations. Children, for example, have traditionally been restricted from access to certain types of situations and the information available in them. Similarly, men and women have traditionally been segregated into different social spheres. The widespread rearrangement of social settings as a result of the use of new media (or other factors such as industrialization, war, or natural disaster), therefore, should have an effect not only on many individuals' behaviors, but also on the behaviors of whole categories of people. By changing the types of situations to which each social category has access, new media may change our conceptions of a wide range of social roles.

It would, of course, be impossible to discuss every social role in a single chapter. Therefore, I analyze three broad categories of roles: roles of affiliation or "being" (group identity), roles of transition or "becoming" (socialization), and roles of authority (hierarchy).

In everyday life, these three types of roles overlap. Most individuals function in all three categories at once: identified with a number of groups, at various stages of socialization into new roles, and at some particular rank or ranks within one or more hierarchies. Further, the categories themselves overlap and a specific role may not fit neatly into a single slot. Being a "rookie," for example, is primarily a function of socialization, but it also involves issues of group identity and hierarchy. Being a member of an elite class has elements of both hierarchy and group identity.

Although the role categories are interrelated, each has its special characteristics. Unlike the other categories, group identity allows for "separate

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