Technology and Contemporary Media

Technology is defined by the Oxford online dictionary as “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes”. Science on the other hand is described as a systematic (or ongoing) process of study and experimentation, driven by society’s desire to advance itself.  It would therefore be logical to deduct that technological development must also be subject to continuous improvement.  So even if these technological advances are implemented at a slower rate than their development (due to budget restraints, replacement programs, etc), they will inevitably re-shape the industry applying them.  In this age of digital telecommunications, this evolutionary process particularly applies to the media industry.  But how has the shape of contemporary media been determined by technological advancement, and to what extent? 

Some key technological advancements which have revolutionised the media industry are the invention of the typewriter by Sholes in 1860, the development of colour photography in 1873, the invention of the phonograph in 1877 by Cros, the microphone came about in 1878 thanks to Hughes, 1888 sees a breakthrough in radio waves brought about by Hertz, Marconi builds on this theory and develops wireless telegraphy in 1894, movie projection being witnessed by a Paris audience in 1895, the first radio program being transmitted in the U.S. in 1906, how television begins transmitting in 1928 with the first television studio being built in London the following year, the BBC launching Ceefax in 1972, the introduction of the micro-computer in France 1973, the realisation of the world wide web in 1989 by Berners-Lee, and of course the first digital television transmission in 1998. (Fang, 2008).

It is clear that these advancements seem to push the media industry into the digital domain, therefore it could be argued that the term contemporary media may be interpreted as digital media.  It also seems inevitable that the media industry should modernise itself technologically in order to remain current, stimulating, and therefore profitable, by introducing technology that is itself influenced by the investment power of the industry.  This could be proof that technology has been a significant determining factor in how the media industry has developed.  We could now begin to analyse the question of “how much” by first establishing what advantages are offered by the digitisation of the media.  I would argue that in television for example, enhanced bandwidth is the most important advantage in that the benefits this offers are numerous, for example…

  • An improved signal quality that easily carries high definition 3D images and surround sound to the viewer at home.
  • A plurality in terms of available channels that has never been seen during the days of analogue transmission.
  • The possibility of carrying alternative programme information or facilitating audience participation within the same channel, on the ‘red button’ for example.

These are all advantages that are constantly exploited to the limit, picture and sound quality in digital transmissions is exceptional, there are more channels available than ever before, always pressuring viewers to keep up with the latest gadgets.  The ‘Red Button’, social networks, text messages, telephone calls, and emails, are also the product of applied technology.  The level of audience participation made possible by these advancements is so appealing to the public that programmes that instigate the most interaction are generally the ones that draw in the most viewers. This is evident when studying audience-viewing data, and for the week ending 24th November 2013 it clearly suggests this.  Aside from a special transmission celebrating fifty years of Doctor Who, BBC’s most popular show that week was ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ with 11.48 million viewers.  ITV came very close to matching that figure with the programme ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’, which was viewed by an audience of 10.5 million.  Even ‘X-Factor’, which is not enjoying the success it once boasted, was viewed that week by 7.7 million people.  All the programmes hitting the top audience figures are classified as ‘competitive reality’ shows and they all invite audiences to participate by voting for their preferred contestant.  There are of course exceptions to this trend such as the ‘Doctor Who’ special already mentioned which was viewed by 12.8 million people, and the bastion of British culture that is ‘Coronation Street’, which was enjoyed by almost 9 million viewers that week. (Broadcasters Audience Research Board, 2013).

The Internet is another source of media that has seen extensive improvements through the digitisation of telecommunications, and the increased bandwidth and data signaling rates (speeds) it now offers in broadband.  The advent of Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites, has become paramount in the distribution of current information and opinion making, all of which further serve the demands of audiences in their quest for interactivity with the media they consume.  And consume they now also do online, with all major television channels supporting the concept of ‘Catch Up TV’ and even live television streaming via their interactive websites.  The same can be said for Radio, which now offers an equal level of audience interactivity via the same platforms as for television.  Digital radio transmissions can now also be streamed via the internet in their totality.  Other formats such as newspapers, books and music publications also benefit from internet technology through the online availability and movement of their media products, and the advantages this brings with it, for example…

  • Environmentally friendly products.
  • Inexhaustive shelf space.
  • Inexhaustive stock levels.
  • Immediate movement of capital gain through sales.
  • Reduced manning levels and costs.

Having established how the media industry now exists and thrives in the digital domain through the application of technology, and what extreme transformations this has brought about, it would be fair to deduct that technology has had a profound impact on contemporary media.  The possibilities offered by such technologies in improving, delivering, and redefining media texts from the point of view of the viewer, are constantly being explored and developed.  It has created a new age where the audience interacts with the media content extensively, further engulfing the viewer in what is fast becoming an all encompassing experience. 

Christian Gadd (1000 Words).

Semester 1 (September – December 2013) : Media, Culture and Society.

Bibliography

Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, 2013. Viewing Data Top 30s, London. Available from http://www.barb.co.uk/viewing/weekly-top-30?_s=4 [Accessed 08/12/13].

Oxford Online Dictionaries, 2013. Definition of Technology in English, Oxford. Available from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/technology?q=technology [Accessed 08/12/13].

Oxford Online Dictionaries, 2013. Definition of Science in English, Oxford. Available from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/science?q=science [Accessed 08/12/13].

Fang,I., 2008. Alphabet to Internet: Mediated Communication in Our Lives. St Paul, Minnesota, Rada Press. Available from http://mediahistory.umn.edu/ [Accessed 08/12/13].

About Christian Gadd

Christian Gadd
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