Media Theory – Still Alive and Well?

As interactive media spreads like wildfire through the internet, many theorists have begun to wonder if the media theories that once explained our complex communication systems are still valid, and if not, what aspects of media theory need to be adjusted to better explain  the new world of online media.  I think we can all agree that we have come a long way since Laswell’s unidirectional model proposed in 1949, but maybe that’s a good place to begin.

Laswell’s model suggested the following media structure for all messages: “Who says what to whom in what channel with what effect.”   Of course, this model seems painfully simplistic compared to the intricate ways in which we now communicate, but possibly by breaking down his theory, we can begin to modify it to fit today’s needs.

Who – The who in today’s equation is everyone; everyone with internet access, a cell phone, a television, a voice box. The creator of messages is primarily human beings, and we are the ones these models are geared to help understand both basic and complex communication.

What – Today, what can be a variety of things.  A TV sitcom, for instance, is saying something, as is an ad on the subway. What is the message, and messages are still the vessels being sent and received.

To Whom – Well, to the same people who have always received the messages – other humans. So far, maybe Laswell was more of a prophet than people gave him credit for…

In What Channel – Ahhh… here’s the kicker. Today’s channel is the internet, among other older technologies of course, and  this channel is a two-way street. No more broadcasting model of communications where a sender blasts a message out to millions of viewers, hoping to strike a chord. Those days are coming to a close, my friends. Today’s messages are tailored to their targeted audience, and feedback is provided to the sender. Finally, we have a conversation again. A conversation that – until the birth of the internet – television, radio and other one-way forms of communication were stifling.

To What Effect – Successful communication, if you ask me. Sure, the messages can get clumsy, noisy, even annoying; but the messages are being sent back and forth now, and voice has been given back to the receiver. Laswell, you dog, you win again.

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~ by dparsonsmedia on September 15, 2009.

One Response to “Media Theory – Still Alive and Well?”

  1. “Finally, we have a conversation again.” Sounds like Cluetrain. For the “to whom” part of the model, don’t forget that interactive communications can be between two or more computers or other networked devices.

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