The mobile phone changes the way we arrange to meet somebody. The social web produces new ways of doing politics. Television and cinema have turned our cultures into visual cultures.
Every day we are confronted with statements like these. However, they are both right and wrong. They are right as they reflect that the various kinds of media matter. Media are deeply related to the way we live our everyday lives. They are wrong as they draw a very simplifying picture of what’s going on.
It is assumed that all media have the same impact, more or less automatically and independent of the context and way they are used. In addition, statements like these are all formulated from the perspective of one single medium.
To grasp what is going on with the present media changes, we have to develop a different kind of perspective. We must understand that the various kinds of different media result altogether in a “mediatization” of our cultures. It is not just one medium that makes the difference. The core point is that our present worlds rely fundamentally on the way we relate them to different kinds of media: Our present family worlds, the worlds of business, of the stock exchange or of politics, all of them are deeply related to different forms of media communication. In this sense we are living in “mediatized worlds”.
But how can we reflect this critically? First of all we have to realize that the mediatization of culture is not altogether new – but rather it is a long-term process. The modern nation-state would have been impossible without the emerging mass media – first print, then radio, cinema and television. And, the different digital media are fundamental to our late modern societies.
Secondly, we have to bear in mind that media as means of communication “mould” the way we communicate – but not as a direct effect, rather more as a structuring possibility. Therefore, we have to focus on the question as to how the various media altogether change the way in which we “construct” or “articulate” our social reality.
And thirdly, we must begin to focus more deeply on how our living together, how our communities change with mediatization – that is, the way in which mediatization and communitization are interwoven with each other.
The idea of my book “Cultures of Mediatization” is to outline a starting point for such a critical undertaking.
Andreas Hepp is professor of media and communication studies at the Centre of Media, Communication and Information Research (ZeMKI), University of Bremen, and author of Cultures of Mediatization.