Book Review: "Intersections of Media and Communications: Concepts, Context, and Critical Frameworks"
Review by Gennadiy Chernov
It is hard to find a more applicable process in the lives of human beings than communication. It is an accessible and natural tool of human interaction, and the whole history of civilization is about evolving communication. Things, which are always around, and processes, which are a part of us, are difficult to define. The process of communication is particularly unyielding: It is impossible to define this process without applying it to other domains. Culture, technology, psychology, political economy — you name it, communication is connected to each of these domains and to many others. More and more media are becoming the key channels through which communication flows from one person to another. That is why the authors of the Intersections of Media and Communications: Concepts and Critical Framework — Will Straw, Sandra Gabriele and Ira Wagman — faced a tantalizing task of finding and demonstrating the Ariadne's thread, which can help students appreciate the scope of the field.
The authors raised a double-edged issue right away in the first chapter claiming that most of what we know about ourselves comes from the media, but the darker side of that reality is that the media separate us from face-to-face human interaction. There is no answer as to how this lack of personal communication will affect the world, but the reader can glean a serious concern from the pages dealing with this problem.
Enduring questions about communication through the media can be traced back to Plato: How radical? How beneficial? We can extend these questions even further – does communication change human nature or does it reinforce and conform to human traits that are not malleable? There is no correct answer for this question because each generation seeks for and gives its own response.
What this question doeshowever, is help to make sense of a host of concepts and relations guiding communication and media unifying them into one field.
The realm of mediated communication is split broadly into three areas: 1) physical substrate, forms and normative functioning, 2) shaping communication through societal control and change, and 3) its cultural and public context.
The chapters dealing with the first area clearly explicate time-space dimensions of communication. The media bind us all no matter where we are geographically and a temporal component includes both organizing our lives around the media and helping the past become part of our discourse and existence. The media content comes in many forms and formats, and the technology behind these forms is treated on a continuum from being a conduit for this content to becoming a message and content itself. Another conceptual framework considers the functions the media play in communication. They mediate between us and our social environment serving communicative, empowering and remedial functions.
The importance of mediated communication to society is sometimes expressed by comparing the changes in the media with revolutions. The approach taken in the book is more cautious warning against confusing “…the newness of a technology with actual progress”. Technological developments in media can speed up certain social changes and processes, but their roles are secondary. It is more about the way the changes happen.
The perspective taken in this book is that profit–driven corporate media is not compatible with healthy democracy, and no technological change can correct this problem. Some alternative media were used as examples of new models that could replace existing dominant modes of mediated communication, but it is left unaddressed how relatively small divergent voices expressing opposite minority views can sustain themselves on a larger scale.
The role of the media and communication in a broader cultural context is revealed through an example of new media. Current societies enjoy an unrestrained explosion in the number and amount of expressive means. These expressive capabilities translate private meanings and then transfer them into public ones, potentially accessible to everyone.
The authors lament, however, that these new expressive capabilities do not always lead to creating new meanings.
New meanings are understood as the information shared by individuals that aims at creating a new social order. Despite the fact that more and more people join the virtual communities and are able to share their views with other people, journalists still play the pivotal role in informing audiences around the world.
Journalism is assumed to assist in democratic governance, but there are limits to this. Critics say that journalists are prone in their work to structural and economic pressures that determine the way the media function. This dependency leads to suppressing diverse and alternative views of what is going on in the world. However, as the authors rightly point out, citizens’ journalism as an alternative to the status quo would face such challenges as reliability, legitimacy and standing out of the more and more overcrowded journalistic landscape. In general, communication faces an uneasy task not to endlessly increase the immediacy and the amount of information at the expense of our ability to reflect upon and make sense out of this flow of facts and opinions.
To sum up, Intersections of Media and Communications: Concepts and Critical Framework offers the thought-provoking and intriguing entry points to a field undergoing a most fascinating transformation. Students of communication will not get ready-made recipes and solutions for treating the world of media. They will get something more valuable – the tools to creatively and independently interpret communications, an indispensable of part of human existence.