It is hard to imagine today’s world without information and communication. Although the pandemic has had a major impact on how, where, and why we communicate, it continues to form us as individuals and a community as a whole. Dr. Shane Crombie, an Assistant Professor in the Communication Department at LCC International University, recently researched through history to examine why communication is an important subject. He delved deeper into our culture dominated by the media and explored how communication makes us and breaks us.
A French philosopher, a writer, and a contributor to the famous book, Encyclopedie, once said, “It will be almost as difficult to learn anything from books as from the direct study of the whole universe. It will be almost as convenient to search for some bit of the truth concealed in nature as it will be to find it hidden away in an immense multitude of bound volumes.” Leaning back to the eighteenth century, this was first said when society had access to fewer books and none of the modern world digital tools had even existed yet. Such an example can be applied to the world today, where we have a plethora of information tools at our fingertips, varying from good old newspapers to digital instruments like mobile phones and laptops. Could this mean that the world is slowly reaching beyond the limits of information and that we have too much of it?
Presenting statistics in a dynamic and time-relevant format to a wide audience from the internetlivestats.com website, Dr. Shane Crombie looked into how every second turns into a different piece of information released to the world: new tweets, Instagram posts, emails sent, and internet users. These statistics leave us wondering to what extent this information is actually valuable, and what are the benefits and quality of it. “It is not enough to know how to use media effectively, we must know about the media. We need to be able to ask the big questions,” commented Dr. Shane Crombie. If we want to successfully coexist with the stream of information, it is our responsibility as a society to identify what long-term effects we expect as results.
In general, media literacy encompasses the practices that allow people to access, critically evaluate, analyze and create or manipulate media. As professionals in the media field, we create different types of media messages and automatically become part of it. In today’s world, as we receive most of the information through media messages, it is crucial to have the ability to discern right from wrong and vice versa. Harrold Laswell, an American Political Scientist and Communications Theorist proposed a theory to better understand and access those messages. The theorist asks us to observe the message, whether it is a visual message, audio, or a piece of writing. We observe by analyzing key questions: who says what, in which channel, to whom, and with what effect? This is one of Laswell’s early models that has been used in communication theory to help us understand how media is working. According to this model, the first step of the message translation goes from the communicator issuing the message. Then follows the content of the message: what is the communicator trying to translate? The message translation must have a medium, which can be television, radio, or the internet. Quite often, especially on social media, we examine which message fits what medium best, why this message reads better on Facebook and not on Twitter? Why was the message sent by email and not by letter? A message also has to have a receiver, who consumes that message - and that is you. Lastly, there is an effect that the message achieves. This last part can vary from an educational purpose to entertainment.
To unravel the answers to key questions, it is important to understand that media messages can be received and interpreted differently. There are five key assumptions in the media that can be disputed by different people. One of the assumptions states that all media messages are ‘constructed’ and do not get into the world by accident but were created intentionally. The other assumption is that the messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules, meaning it has been sculpted and polished exactly the way the communicator aims the audience to receive and comprehend it. Moreover, different audiences can experience media messages in different capacities. If one person enjoys consuming basketball news, it does not necessarily mean that the other person will feel the same. This leads to the question discussed earlier that mediums can be perceived and digested miscellaneously. “Two people sitting side-by-side can receive a completely different message. There are all kinds of interferences that can change the meaning of it, resulting in several perceptions,” said Dr. Crombie. One of the most popular contentious assumptions is that media has embedded values and points of view. Such a tactic is especially widely spread in politics, trying to achieve power and influence within society. Ultimately we come to the point where we, as a society are left speculating if most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power. With the amount of information we receive, it becomes more and more complicated to distinguish biased and unbiased news, what opinions to trust and which not. “There is precision even in a message that might seem to be innocent because most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power,” commented Professor Crombie.
As individuals with great intellectual capabilities, we have the power to overrule mass media and constantly evaluate its legitimacy. To make a valid decision we must pose questions like these. Who created the message? What creative techniques are used to attract my attention? How might different people understand this message differently than me? What values, lifestyles, and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message? Why is this message being sent? It becomes easier to evaluate the benefits of the information, the quality, and the value once you start getting answers on how to tackle any type of propaganda, misinformation, and forced persuasion. It gets easier to develop critical thinking in terms of media, recognize the perspectives of it, and create and consume information responsibly.