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PSY 355 Psychology & Media in the Digital Age

This page was last modified on January 23, 2018

What Is The Nature of Media?

What is/are your earliest memories of media?

What sorts? What did you do?

What did you like (or not like)?

How old were you?

Did you use these media along with your parents or siblings or friends?

What do we mean by "media" (plural of "medium")?

Television? Recorded music? Radio? Movies? Newspapers? Magazines?

Of course these forms equal the "mass media" (the term was coined in 1923)

But, what about these elements of modern life? Are they media?

Walt Disney • Mall of America • Wegmans

Carrier Dome • Hubble Telescope • Le Moyne Science

  • Theme and amusement parks like Walt Disney World or Universal Studios Hollywood
  • Shopping malls including Destiny USA  or the Mall of America®
  • A neo-Gothic Catholic cathedral like St. Patrick’s (NYC) or a Christian Evangelical mega-church like the Fellowship Church (Grapevine, TX)
  • Typical American colleges or universities such as Le Moyne or SU
  • The Hubble Space Telescope or the Large Hadron Collider at CERN
  • Sports complexes such as stadiums and arenas like the SU Carrier Dome
  • Supermarkets such as Wegmans or Tops

Media ≠ Mass Media

Defining Media as a General Phenomenon
1. Any extension of the human sensory-perceptual, cognitive, and motor-expressive systems which augments, replaces, or otherwise permits human persons to experience or do things that they would not ordinarily or otherwise be able to do. As extensions of these systems, each media form interfaces with human persons in ways specific or peculiar to that form and the person.
2. These extensions (media) are directed toward human objectives &  include one or more of the following aims (linked to the nature of the human person as described in our last class):
  • Transportation (Material Being, e.g., cars, jet planes, ships)
  • Protection & physical well-being (Material Being; Biopsychological Organism, e.g., weather forecasts, military supplies)
  • Information acquisition and analysis (Biopsychological Organism, Social Actor, Symbol-using Agent, e.g., news, encyclopedias, fiction & nonfiction writing, computers)
  • Communication (Material Being, Social Actor, Symbol-using Agent, Story-Making Author, e.g., telephones, computers, Skype & FaceTime, social media apps, )
  • Recreation or diversion such as relaxation, entertainment, pleasure, enjoyment (Social Actor, Symbol-using Agent, Story-Making Author, e.g., sports stadiums, music recordings, films, television, video & online games, poetry )
  • Exaltation, wonder, enchantment, and awe (Witness to the Transcendent, e.g., art, music, photography, virtual reality apps, cathedrals & churches)

3. Each media form is also a more or less complex layered system or network in which there are physical (mechanical), technical-scientific, and social components associated with individual layers within the system.

In summary, all forms of media
(1) are extensions of human capabilities

(2) deal with human objectives/goals/motivations, and

(3) are layered systems or networks.
At heart, media are a culture's technologies, but our focus in this course will generally (but not exclusively) involve digital forms of communication, information, & recreation (entertainment).

What do I mean by the notion of media as a layered system or network? Consider how each form of media below:

Layered Media: Paining, Album,
                  Telephone, Personal Computer

  • Painting: Physical materials, painter, genre, purpose/commissioning, function...
  • Album: Physical setting (studio, etc.), material (disc, vinyl, digital file), songwriters...
  • Land-line Telephone: Physical unit (speaker, microphone...), connective layer, protocols....
  • Personal Computer: Physical unit, operating system, software, network connections....

[Layers of the Internet]

Why is it important to notice the layered system of media?
  • Do you know how to program your computer?
  • What is the difference between mp3 and FLAC audio compression formats?
  • If your smartphone syncs with your personal computer, does this eliminate the need for you to put in address & phone number information twice?
  • If you are playing a video game with someone in Germany or Canada, does it make a difference whether you use a Mac or a PC?
Some qualities that technical layers of media have to have:
  • Technical layers need to be as transparent or unobtrusive as possible (ease of use, etc.)
  • Constant struggle between giving the pubic access to the technical layers and walling those layers off (issues of ownership, licensing, quality control, etc.).
  • Inter-operational quality of the layers: how well do they work together? (Smoothness of operation, consumer ease, extending capabilities by cross-platform interaction, etc.)

                            Meyrowitz]Approaches to Studying Media (Joshua Meyrowitz, 1998)
  • Media as content (messages) delivered to users
  • Media as distinct sets of languages
  • Media as creating an environment (an ecological system)

1. Media as content (messages) delivered to users
  • Metaphor: Media is a pipeline, a conduit, a delivery vehicle which brings messages to users
  • Focus is upon the effects of media's content

2. Media as distinct sets of languages
  • Metaphor: Each form of media is a language which has its own distinctive grammar
  • Focus is upon the grammar of each medium's type of language

3. Media as creating an environment (an ecological system)

  • Metaphor: Media functions like an ecological system, that is, a surrounding environment in which each medium has its own specific characteristics that affect individuals and social groups within that environment. The notion of ecology being used here is metaphorical in that it moves beyond just the biological world to consider how different interacting parts of the physical, technological, and human worlds form systems which involve dynamic processes of change or innovation, grow, decay, etc. as they seek to achieve differing goals.
  • Focus is upon specific features of each medium as they interact with human users (e.g., visual vs. auditory systems; passive vs. active cognition required; use of hands, fingers, arms, body, etc.)

Old Media • Traditional •
"Legacy" Media
New Media
New New Media
(Levinson, 2013)
Books (printed)
Film/Cinema (film stock)
Phonograph (records, tape)
Photography (film stock)
Print Journalism/Ephemera* (newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, billboards, sales catalogs, greeting cards)
Radio (broadcast)
Telephone (landline)
Television (broadcast & cable)

Personal computer (PC, Mac)
Phonograph (CDs)
Photography (digital)
Portable digital music (iPod...)
Radio (digital)
Search Engines (Google, Yahoo...)
Telephone (cellular)
Television (satellite)
Texting (SMS [Short Messaging System])
Video/voice conferencing  (VOIP**, Skype...)
Video gaming (Nintendo, Sega...)
World Wide Web (WWW)

** Voice over the Internet Protocol
Music (streaming, Spotify...)

Smartphone (iPhone, Android...)
Tablet computing (iPad...)
Video gaming (Wii, PlayStation, Xbox, Xbox Live...)

Types of Media Today (Paul Levinson, 2013)

[Paul Levinson]Traditional ("Legacy") Media: Developed before the "digital age" (before the late 1970s or early 1980s)
  • Producers controlled/owned the media directed to consumers
  • Consumers pay for the content (along with advertisers)
  • Analog formats
New Media: Media emerging from the late 1970s until the turn of beginning of the 21st century
  • Digital formatting
  • Centered on central processing units (CPUs)
  • Static/fixed forms & usually not controlled by the consumer
  • Little interaction of one user with another
  • Online activities require relatively limited bandwidth
New New Media: Innovative media (hardware & software) arising in the 21st century
  • "Every consumer is a producer"
  • "You get what you don't pay for"
  • "Competitive and mutually catalytic"
  • "More than search engines & email"
  • "Ultimately beyond the user's control"
  • Increasingly higher bandwidths required to use

This page was first posted on 1/26/14