In sociological terms, Internet surfing can be conceptualized as the sequential enactment of very peripheral (fully reversible) roles (VPR) and the short-term actualization of very weak social ties (VWT).
As a consequence, the public sphere is drastically enlarged by layers of peripheral information and communication: stemming from a multitude of (mostly unprofessional, often even unidentifiable) sources. Evidently, the contemporary media system is undergoing rapid and fundamental change caused by two very different (even contradictory) developments. After having cited heavily on Napoli’s research above about the Hisotry and evolution of the “Term” Mass Media” and the “Targeted and segmented Audiences, above, I would like at this juncture to cull from a research on “Megatrends” And “The Implicatons on Understanding Social Theory”, by Hans Geser.
However, mass communication was always about more than narrowly defined media effects, as Lasswell’s original framework makes very clear. The concept of mass com- munication has never been the poor fit for the communications dynamics of the new media environment that many of the term’s more recent critics have asserted. What is different today, of course, is that producers of content now have access to potential audiences that was largely missing in previous generations.
Here, the concern is not just with the fact that such communication is taking place, but also with the fact that the communication itself often becomes a revenue generator for media organizations. Again, the key driver here is the way that the new media environment empowers the audience to serve as both receivers and senders of mass communication. Smythe’s notion of the work of the audience was taken up and expanded by Jhally and Livant (1986: 127), who, with a focus on television, argued that the advertising revenue programmers earn that extends beyond the costs of the programming represents ‘surplus watching time’.
In short, they work to create the demand for advertised goods.’ Smythe’s observation was central to his critique of what he saw as a failing by Marxist theorists to adequately account for the production of audiences in their analyses of the political economy of the media, which, according to Smythe, tended to focus overwhelmingly (and misguidedly) on content production. Specifically, when we consider an approach to mass communication that incorporates the mass audience not only as receivers of messages but also as senders, and when we also look at how the place of the audience as mass communicators is now being integrated into our media system, we are confronted with the issue of the ‘work’ that the audience engages in the new media environment. That being said, it is important to recognize that many of the de-institutionalized forms of mass communication that are now taking place still involve traditional institutional communicators — only in more ancillary roles as content aggregators, navigation services or platform providers (e.g., Google, YouTube, MySpace and Facebook).
Utilizing the institutional communicator as a point of distinction made more sense when the institutional communicator had exclusive access to communications platforms that other speakers did not. An adherence to a definition that accounts exclusively for the institutional communicator is one in which, in assessing two different speakers utilizing the same medium and transmitting the same type of content to an audience of the same size and composition, we would — based solely on the characteristics of the speakers — determine that one is engaging in mass communication while the other is not (think, for instance, of a record label’s and an unsigned band’s use of the web to distribute music). In addition, to the extent that the de-institutionalization of mass communication is a defining characteristic of the new media environment, such an interpretive approach to the term is fundamental not only to the term’s continuing relevance, but also to its logical consistency.
Some definitions do not directly address the nature of the source of the communication, focusing instead on the nature of the content and/or the audience (e.g., Freidson, 1953). What is surprising about many user-generated content discussions is that the focus is often misguidedly on the revolutionary or disruptive aspects of users’ abilities to produce content. As Beer and Burrows (2007: 8) note: ‘Perhaps the key defining feature of Web 2.0 is that users are involved in processes of production and consumption as they generate and browse online content, as they tag and blog, post and share.’ One forecast estimates that, by 2010, 70 percent of the content available online will be created by individuals (Slot and Frissen, 2007).
Terms such as ‘prosumers’ and ‘produsage’ have been coined to capture the ways in which the media audience is evolving, and the ways in which content production and distribution are migrating beyond the traditional industrial paradigm (Bruns, 2007; Deuze, 2003). The one- too-many dynamic at the core of the meaning of ‘mass communication’ persists here — there simply are many, many more instances of it. This proliferation of the one-to-many capacity represents the communication dynamic that was largely absent from previous incarnations of our media system, in which the capacity to mass communicate was confined to a select few. The prominence of this perspective reflects that many of the more critical approaches to the term have tended to significantly oversimplify its meaning, and that these oversimplifications were misleading in terms of the characterizations of the media audience produced by the field and in terms of the range of scholarship being produced under the ‘mass communication’ heading (Beniger, 1987; Lorimer, 2002).