Submitted on behalf of Stephanie Feirsen:
It is hard to deny that media, in some way or another, helps to shape each and every one of our lives. Today, there exist numerous forms of media from newspapers to the internet and everything in between. As each new form of media was introduced into society, questions arose as to whether it had the ability to undermine and displace tradition and “higher” cultural values. In chapter 3 of Mass Communication Theory, Baran and Davis write that media has the “power to profoundly shape our perceptions of the social world and to manipulate our actions, often without our conscious awareness” (45). In this same chapter, the authors discuss the ideas of Gemeinschaft, folk communities bound by ties to tradition, family, and rigid social control, and Gesellschaft, modern industrial society in which people are weakly bound by even weaker social institutions instead of tradition. The authors argue that the influx of newer media has caused American society to transition from a relatively Gemeinschaft society to a Gesellschaft society. This was not an overnight change. Instead, much like Laswell’s ideas about propaganda, the media influenced people in gradual ways, eventually creating new norms in society (93). It became a rare occurrence in society when a person joined a bowling club or a book club. People went from attending school board meetings and neighborhood watch meetings to being glued to a form of media.
Recently, the Internet has come under fire as critics have expressed the idea that the World Wide Web does not, in fact, broaden and increase social relationships; instead it has created and will continue to create a society of anti-social individuals with an isolation complex, thus fully transporting us into a Gesellschaft society. Many have argued that the Internet not only created a direct link to information, but also a reason for people to exist as an entity unto themselves.
On September 1, 1998, Science Daily featured an article about a Carnegie Mellon study which revealed that the Internet, a seemingly social technology, actually had very negative and anti-social effects on consistent users. The study declared that teenagers were the most at risk since they seemed to be the most frequent “consumers” of this media. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/09/980901024936.htm
There are others who celebrate the power of the internet as a social networking tool. During a CNN interview circa March 11, 2008, Alex Steffan (the editor for Worldchanging) expressed the idea that the internet is acutally mending relationships and bringing people back together. He insisted upon the notion that the internet provides an outlet in which people can find others just like them, people with whom they can relate. To be lonesome is a thing of the past; friends are just an internet connection and a computer click away. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F04EED81131F93BA25751C0A9669C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=2
What do you think? Is the Internet really mending relationships, or is it breaking interpersonal bonds so badly that we are becoming an anti-social society? Is it a problem that so many people have taken to the Internet and have given chat rooms a priority over face-to-face interactions? Why is it that people are considering the Internet more of a threat to traditional social institutions more than any other form of media? Do you believe that we, as a society, can ever go back to a Gemeinschaft society?