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Introduction to Mass Communication


Part 1

The Nature and History of Mass Communications

Chapter 3

Historical and
Cultural Context

Seven Milestones in the History of Human Communication

Language Writing

200,000-100,00 B.C. 3500 B.C. A.D. 1500


Seven Milestones in the History of Human Communication

Photography and Motion Pictures

1800s 1900s

Telephone and
1800s 1900s

Radio and Television

Computers / Internet


The Seven Milestones Timeline

Made possible oral-based societies

Members needed exceptional memories Premium on older people as memory banks Limit to stored and accessible knowledge Challenges:

How to keep information accurate Passing knowledge from one generation to next Difficulty keeping long-term records

Two initial problems:

What symbols do you use to represent ideas?

What writing surface works best?

Sign Writing vs. Phonetic Writing

Two approaches:

Graphic symbols representing objects

Chinese pictographs Egyptian hieroglyphics

Abstract symbols (alphabet) for ideas/sounds

Phoenician 24-character alphabet Roman-modified 26-character alphabet

Clay vs. Paper

Cuneiform Papyrus Parchment

Sumeria Egypt Greece

wedge-shaped clay tablets woven papyrus plants sheep/goat hides



pressed wood and fiber pulp

Social Impact of Writing

Created social divisions: readers vs. illiterates Access to power garnered through knowledge Encouraged birth and growth of ancient empires Collective knowledge accumulates over time Laws codified and universally administered

Writing During the Dark Ages

Begins with fall of Rome in the 6th century Demand for books continues to rise, but . . . Slow, costly hand-copying restricts supplies

Mistakes common and cumulative

Writing During the Dark Ages

No filing or cross-indexing system in place Content moves from religion to lay areas Trade spreads, universities begin, AD 1150

European Scriptorias (writing shops) flourish


The introduction of moveable type is the start

of mass communication, an event of immense importance to Western civilization.

Effects of the Gutenberg Revolution
Standardizes, popularizes native languages Which, in turn, encourages nationalism Information now available to common man More books fuel demand for wider literacy

Effects of the Gutenberg Revolution

Spawns new social and religious doctrines Speeds books, research in scientific research Encourages exploration with maps and exploits Human knowledge base grows exponentially Eventually leads to what we would call news

Technological Determinism
Belief that technology (e.g., invention of moveable

type) basically drives historical change. Others

counter that technology functions with various social, economic, and cultural forces to help bring about changes.

The Telegraph and Telephone

The Telegraph

Invention of telegraph speeds communication from 30 mph limit to 186,000 miles per second

First to make instantaneous, point-to-point, long-distance communication possible

Morse Code uses system of dots and dashes

Telegraph: the Cultural Impact

By 1850 most large U.S. cities linked together

1866 Trans-Atlantic cable links U.S. to Europe

Standardizes, stabilizes, and links market prices, changing how we buy and sell goods
Becomes indispensable military tool Allows up-to-date news from distant sources

The Telephone

Along with the telegraph, telephones change our perspective of time and space First no-experience-required, user-friendly communication device
AT&T dominates telephone industry just as Western Union dominates the telegraph

Photography and Motion Pictures

Two inventions make photography possible:
way to focus light rays onto a surface (1500s pinhole
device, camera obscura, solves problem)

way to permanently store and copy the images

Glass plates (Daguerreotypes) first solution Wm. Talbot, England, invents film paper George Eastman introduces Brownie, 1890s

Mathew Brady chronicles U.S. Civil War, the first

photographically recorded war

Photography frees art from depicting real world

Demand for photographic coverage of events creates market for picture periodicals such as Life and Look magazines; news definition now modified to news is that which can be shown

Pictures in Motion
Three great social movements fuel demand for motion pictures:
urbanization immigration Nickelodeons, 10,000 store-front theaters by 1910s, also help create film industry infrastructure

Motion Pictures and American Culture

Motion pictures center around large cash-rich firms and quickly dominate the three-prongs of the film industry:

Distribution Exhibition Film kills Vaudeville (which frees talent for radio later)

Motion Pictures and American Culture

Film becomes new popular leisure time activity Film images and stars become national icons

Films portray model American values and


1930 Payne Fund examines film medium, first

serious effort to study potential media effects 1930s newsreels are forerunner to TV news

Radio and Television

Radio (or wireless) debuts around 1910 as a byproduct of research in physics

WWI military leaders encourage radio R&D; in so doing, they end bottleneck patent war problems The term broadcasting is coined to describe Radios one to many format First medium to bring mass entertainment into the American living room

Radios evolution

The manufacturing of radio sets was originally seen as the best way to make a profit in the new industry
In the 1920s, AT&T introduces idea of selling audiences to companies; leased air time becomes advertising In 1927 the Federal Radio Commission is created to regulate radios tech side: frequency and signal strength By late 1920s three networks emerge: CBS and NBC (the latter with two, NBC red and NBC Blue)

Radios evolution

In 1934 the Federal Communication Commission replaces FRC; oversees entire electromagnetic spectrum

Radio content targeted for national mass appeal

The radio is a household staple during Great Depression Exodus of vaudeville actors gives radio new stars By WWII, radio journalism emerges as a strong, new national and local source of news

Radios Cultural Impact

Serves to popularize music and performers

Introduces new entertainment genre: the soap opera; boasts 60% of daytime programs by 1940 First to aim mass content at children Invents new comedy genre: the sitcom Becomes main source of at-home entertainment: concept of evening prime time hours begins


Developed decades earlier, but hampered by the Great Depression, WWII, and regulatory problems, TV finally emerges in early 1950s TV is now in 99% of all U.S. homes, and is on over seven hours per day. Its our third largest time consumer following sleep and work
Fosters everything/everywhere expectation Helps create a new global village mentality

The Digital Revolution

Described as an information delivery shift from the slow moving material world made of atoms to the instantaneous and virtual world made up of 0s and 1s, or bits
Digital technology and the Internet are creating a revolution in the way information is transmitted, accessed, shared, and stored

Problems of the Digital Age

Idea of community is changing, with bonds based on needs or interests rather than locality
Fostering new era of physical and social isolation How we govern, vote, get politically involved and influence our leaders is changing rapidly

Societys new Digital Divide -- a widening gap between those who have the training and wealth to use computers and those who dont

Concluding Observations
Its difficult to accurately predict the ultimate use of any new mass medium . However, it appears that the emergence of any new communication advance changes, but does not make extinct those advances that came before it.

End of Chapter 3
Historical and Cultural Context