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

By Joshua Meyrowitz | Go to book overview

10

Questioning Authority

The Blurring of High and Low Status Situations

Authority rests on information control. High status roles generally depend on access to and control over the dominant communication channels of the time. In Preface to Plato, Eric Havelock describes the interrelationship of communication and leadership in an oral society. Havelock discusses the important role of poetry in early Greek culture and argues that, as a result, the leaders were generally "those who had a superior ear and rhythmic aptitude, which would be demonstrable in epic hexameter. ... The good performer at a banquet would be estimated not exclusively as an entertainer but as a natural leader of men, for he, like Achilles, was a superior 'speaker of tales.'" 1 Similarly, Harold Innis notes that in scribal cultures, scribes were often treated like royalty. 2

Of course, not everyone who has access to the communication skills of an era will automatically be accorded high status, but those who wish to attain high status beyond a small interpersonal sphere will generally have to master such skills. All changes in media of communication, therefore, are inherently revolutionary. New conceptions of communication competence and new prerequisites for control over information tend to alter the relative political and social power of different people and various sectors of the population.

In a print society, most "significant" communication takes place through reading and writing. In nineteenth century America, for example, more people read a national politician's speech than heard it, and people kept "in touch" by reading newspapers and books and by writing and reading letters. Social and political status in such a society generally involved climbing—at least partially—the ladder of literacy. It was unthinkable in a print society to have nonliterates become actively

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