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The history of media resistance : from printing to social media through TV and radio

Throughout history people have shown remarkable resistance to new forms of media, be it books, cinema, radio, TV or Internet. Today social media addiction leads to a new form of resistance. A new book by Trine Syvertsen sums up remarkably the history of media resistance.
The electronic version of the book is free and can be downloaded here.
Here are some highlights from the book followed by thoughts on the evolution of media resistance.

Phase 1 : Resistance to writing

Socrates resisted to writing because it was mute, didn’t encourage dialogue and debate and (perhaps my favorite argument) would encourage forgetfulness as memory would’t be stimulated anymore.

I find it absolutely striking to see the parallel with today’s arguments on the rise of internet and the questions around whether pupils will still need to train their memory. Why would they, opponents say. All knowledge is on the internet, at your fingertips. You don’t even need to bother rememoring. Obviously this argument is fallacious. With so much knowledge at our fingertips, what we really need to focus on is how to stimulate critical reasonning. As the work by Dan Kahan shows, this is what really pushes our society ahead.

Phase 2 : Resistance to printing

Syvertsen describes the shift from oral to written culture as a cultural shift. The dissemination of knowledge through printing jeopardized those who had a monopoly on knowledge (Kings and the Church). Those interested in dystopian literature will remember Orwell’s 1984 in which the book by Goldstein serves the dissemination of an anti-totalitarin culture.
Knowledge is still considered as a source of power but the way to control it has changed. Algorithms are nowadays accused to be instrumentalized by the powerfuls to serve their needs which, opponents say, would lead to polarization.

Phase 3 : resistance to cinema

When cinema shows began at the turn of the 20th century, “movies were seen to rapidly intensify the process of demoralization; it drew peole out of their homes, tempted them into dark spaces and served them content of low quality and despicable moral standard” (Syvertsen 2017, 21)

Phase 4 : resistance to radio

The same questions around moral standard were raised with the development of radio in the US. Unlike european counterparts that were run by public organizations, US radio channels were commercial entities. Most interestingly radio was accused to be a threat to democracy because it supported attempts to manipulate opinions with what we would call today “fake news”.
I can remember the first “free radio stations” that popped up when radio frequencies got opened and the libertrarian wave that blew over France, Belgium and other countries. Isn’t it ironic to compare this libertarian spirit with the early critics ?

My take

Reading the above accounts you will surely have drawn parallels with the many concerns associated to the Internet : propagation of fake news, polarization of opinion, balkanizaton of the web, filter bubbles, social media tearing us apart and destroying the feeling of collectivity, … Yet, those old enough to remember, may have other images popping up in their minds. When I got my first internet access back in 1996, the predominent feeeling was a very positive one. It suddely became possible to communicate easily with people from all over the world, to exchange ideas and to debate on the first IRC channels.
What I find most interesting is the question of regulation : can we say that the Internet got regulated as other media did ? Regulation of printing occured from the sixteenth century, regulation of broadcast started as early as public broadcasters were created. But is there such a regulation already for online content ( at a global scale, not mentionning local regulation like in China) or is the recent Restoring Internet Freedom Order of the Trump administration the first attempt to regulate the internet in  a democratic country ?


Image: shutterstock

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Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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