They had a good run, but “mass” media are on the way out, replaced by a more personal and more intelligent way of communicating information. Or so say Ossi Urchs and I in the fifth of our ten theses on Digital Enlightenment.
Thesis 5: After 150 years mass media are losing their ability to forge communality and identity. As a result, communication will return to its roots as intrapersonal exchange, albeit through digital media.
Human society is being reformatted as we speak. As our perception of reality shifts the familiar guard rails and signposts that normally help us find our way around are becoming irrelevant and obsolete. This affects not only religion and other belief systems, be they scientific or philosophical, but especially the old mass media and their ability to influence society, shape opinions and forge identity.
The New York Times may still claim to bring us “all the news that’s fit to print”, but actually those days are long gone. There are a number of reasons for this, both cultural and economic. The dramatic fall in the costs of disseminating information is causing mass media to lose their communal influence. At the same time, their traditional business models are crumbling, due largely to short-sightedness of the part of publishers and broadcasters who still fail to understand what has happened and who lack the vision (and the courage) to wrench the wheel around. The daily newspaper is not simply an endangered species; it is already dead to a generation of kids who are accustomed to get all the news they want free of charge from a wide range of sources: friends, bloggers, news show parodies such as Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” or social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter.
In addition, audiences today are simply too media savvy to swallow the pseudo reality which mass media tries to create: Can anyone who has watched “Survivor” still believe in star worship? Mass media’s market share among young consumers has fallen so low that producers and actors of such “media trash” can no longer generate the numbers they need to continue to operate – with the possible exception of a few overpaid football players and the occasional mass event such as the Olympics, the World Series or the Soccer World Cup. The days when people would put off calling home because it was time for the CBS Evening News are gone forever.
Mass media have had a good run. It lasted more than 150 years, but economically their business model is coming to an end. In their wake, they will leave behind the communication needs and habits of the “zoon politicon”, Aristotle’s “political animal”; a being whom it is impossible to conceive of in the singular. As a society we are being cast back on the original function of communication as an exchange; something mass media are inherently incapable of performing. As a result, we as a society are in the process of restructuring as we return to the Agora, the marketplace of ideas, only this time organized and transmitted digitally. As mass media fade away and die, we need to collectively develop the necessary mobility and strength of argument to exist in a digital society.
The ten theses are at the center of our book, Digital Enlightenment Now!, that was recently published on BoD. I am reprinting them here as a mini-series to encourage debate among DEF members.