Neil Postman in his book Amuse Ourselves to Death criticized the overwhelming entertaining content of television programs during the 1980 in America which ruined public discourse. Politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business. Television was not in favor of political philosophy during elections. Instead, it works against such content and is quite relevant to appearance in front of cameras. News accounts for a small part of the schedule and largely excluding “bad news”. As a result, people who watch TV become powerless and the content and meaning of public discourse is shifted as we go from “the Age of Typography” to “the Age of Television”(Postman, 1985). People love watching TV – a prevalent medium in households at that time – for pleasure, but as Postman cites Huxley’s Brave New World, “what ruins us is what we love” (Postman, 1985). Would the producers have more or less changed their focus if they had realized the social effects of their programs? It’s hard to say, but this has already been a remarkable example of the effect of media content.
Sometimes media content matters due to people’s constant ways of consuming it in general on different platforms/screens. For example, Twitter doubled its length of tweets to 280 characters last month, after years of discussion about whether it does more good or bad to allow more characters. I would like to approach this issue from the perspective of average time spent on single pieces of content on Twitter based on a study of Microsoft. It is found that 2.92 seconds is the mean time people look at tweets and they stay marginally longer on retweets. The study states that “we found that users spend only about three seconds reading each tweet, and generally speaking they are able to use this three seconds to attend to content they find interesting and remember it” (McHugh, 2015). In this sense, supposing people’s habit does not easily change, whether the tweets are restricted seems to be less important than what users can quickly catch from them within that short period of time – people may think more about what to display to others in three seconds than in 140 or 280 characters (counting both text and images) on a mobile device or monitor screen. Although Twitter has eschewed a little an ideal it was build on – there is beauty in brevity (McHugh, 2015), it still asks for high-quality content that usually can be consumed in three seconds.
Therefore, the content matters mainly due to its medium and consumers, if it is produced for something.
At the same time, culture is another central consideration behind media content.
The first example is negativity in online political videos. In the US, political advertising on YouTube contains higher negativity than those made in France, as a research reveals. Remarkably, the largest gap of negativity lies in terms of the producers of the media content. Online campaign ads created by non–professionals in the US were the most negative whereas non–professionally produced campaign ads online from France were by far the least negative (de Boer, Sutfeld, Groshek, 2012). The main reasons point to culture and political culture in specific. Supports of political candidates in the US tend to go beyond and make contributions to campaigns by attacking personal characteristics and issue stances on social media spaces.
Besides videos, voice assistance service can also reflect cultural differences. When it comes to people’s conversation with media and computers, Nass and Brave point out that culture differences dictate the use of pronouns, such as “I” and “we”. In individualistic cultures, such as the US and Germany, people are more persuaded when the “speaker” uses “I” as individuals in these cultures are more favorably evaluated. However, in collectivist cultures such as those throughout most of Asia, it is more effective to use “we” (Nass & Brave, 2005).
In short, it is suggested that people pay attention to both the content displayed on the screens in front of them and think about the cultural (and personal) differences behind it. What is not discussed but may be inferred is that people from different culture do not consume and respond to same media content in identical ways, which combines content and culture elements in this article.
Postman and Gentzkow both inspect the early stage of the presence of television in the US. Postman’s arguments can partially convince what Gentzkow found in his study, which I tend to agree with: television intrudes the market of radio and newspaper and exerts negative socio-political influence, especially from mid- to late-1900s (Gentzkow, 2006) because of its “entertainingness” and less time of pondering allowed.
de Boer., Sutfeld. & Groshek. (2012). Social media and personal attacks: A comparative perspective on co-creation and political advertising in presidential campaigns on YouTube. First Monday. Vol 17, 12 – 3.
Gentzkow, M. (2006). Television and Voter Turnout. The Quarterly Journal of Economics.
McHugh, M. (2015). How Many Characters Should a Tweet Be? We Ask the Experts. WIRED. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2015/10/many-characters-tweet-ask-experts/
Nass. & Brave. (2005). Wired For Speech.
Postman, N. (1985). Amuse Ourselves to Death.