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In conversation, the term the media generally refers to communication media or mass media, which are available to a plurality of recipients and are conceived collectively, as a single, all-encompassing and pervasive entity. Originally meaning an intermediary or a middle quantity, the word medium has been in use since the sixteenth century



Today there is widespread recognition that the media have had significant impacts—both beneficial and deleterious—on individuals and societies through all stages of their development, playing key roles in socialization and education. They have been variously charged with watering down political debate while also opening up new political forums, and with debasing popular discourse while also facilitating more democratic access to educational resources.


Throughout the history of communication, each era’s predominant media have reflected the shape and character of the civilizations that created and made of use them. Harold Innis (1894–1952), a Canadian economic historian, regards media as “staples” allowing for the creation of monopolies of knowledge, and he explores the impact of the media on the spatial and temporal organization of power. Durable, or what he calls “time-biased,” media, like stone and clay tablets, make a society or empire tend toward longevity (e.g., the Egyptian civilization), whereas light, portable, “space-biased” media, like papyrus, allow for territorial expansion, as with the Roman Empire. In the latter part of the fourteenth century, block printing techniques, first developed in East Asia, reached Europe, where, by the 1450s, metal printing was developed by Johannes Gutenberg.


Printing technology revolutionized religion and education in Europe by bringing the word, printed in vernacular languages, to the public. Print culture has been essential to the development of such aspects of Western modernity as rational individualism, scientific knowledge, the nation-state, and capitalism. The emergence of radio broadcasting in the 1920s ushered in a new era in the development of electronic communication media.


The ability of radio to reach, simultaneously, unprecedented numbers of people was soon exploited by totalitarian regimes. The rise of film necessitated the creation of a massive industry and new communal exhibition spaces, forged new relationships between media makers and politicians (e.g., the Committee on Public Information), and provided a new form for addressing timely social issues. In the mid-twentieth century, television, through both its form and content, reinforced postwar consumerism and a turn inward, to the private suburban home and the nuclear family.



The cultural approach to media tends to examine the interplay between cultural production, identity politics, media representation, and reception, often in quotidian settings and situation. The theorists of the Frankfurt school made significant contributions to the early development of cultural analysis of the media in the 1930s and 1940s. Max Horkheimer (1895–1973) and Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969) critically investigated the ideological function of communication media as a tool of social domination.


According to them, the culture industry, a central characteristic of a new configuration of capitalist modernity, ultimately induced compliance with dominant social relations by utilizing mass communication. Compared to their overly negative view of mass media, Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) put more emphasis on the positive role of the media. Benjamin argued that while communication technologies such as photography and cinema have tended to destroy the authentic and unique character of artwork, they have also created new forms of media culture that provide the modern masses with the opportunity for aesthetic experience and thereby stimulate their critical political consciousness. More recently, scholars like Raymond Williams (1921–1988), James Carey (1934–2006), and those of the Birmingham school have conceived of communication as culture, and have endeavored to combine media studies with cultural studies. They examine how dominant ideologies are embedded in, and produce meaning in, popular culture by virtue of mass media.


Rejecting elitist perspectives that regard audiences as inert masses engaging in passive reception, these scholars emphasize that media consumers actively produce meaning by accepting, negotiating, or rejecting a medium’s dominant meaning.

"Technology and social media have brought power back to the people.


Mark McKinnon

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