Social Implications of Technology

The Internet and television, among many other technological developments, have been catalyst to the way popular culture is consumed and perceived by society at large. Over the past several decades, great advancements have been made in the field of technology facilitating popular culture’s accessibility to the masses. Email, business, pornography, dating, virtual communities, web-logs, blogging, information such as the weather or traffic and entertainment such as gaming or films are but only a few of the myriad means in which the internet can be employed.  Concurrently, the media has, since its birth, served as a cultural apparatus that educates as well as entertains. In short, the Internet and television have shaped in tandem popular culture and the manner in which it is consumed.

The invention of the World Wide Web has marked a societal shift wherein face-to-face communication has become increasingly supplanted with electronically mediated interaction. The communitarian implications of the Internet are immense insofar as one can keep in touch with loved ones just as easily as merge new friendships with strangers across the world. The cyberspace culture has rendered an electronic proximity that facilitates the transnational flow of media text and information. “The Internet has connected up different parts of the world in a powerful new way: images, words, and so forth can flow across borderlines in more directions and faster than ever before” (230, Rubin & Melnick, Cyberspace). The rapid growth the World Wide Web is experiencing has resulted in the mass distribution of ideas, this facilitates elements of popular culture- such as music, films, styles (etc.), to effortlessly breach cultural boundaries. With the exception of citizens of Cuba, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia and North Korea- where complete access to every domain is restricted, the Internet is accessible to all and thus anyone in theory can participate regardless of age, sexuality, gender, race or nationality. Veiling the true identity of an individual, the Internet shatters the socially constructed barriers of class and reinforces the discourse that popular culture is deteriorating social and taste hierarchies.

Television is yet another tool that has fueled the accessibility and transformation of popular culture in contemporary society.  First off, there is an incredibly broad range of programs available at one’s fingertips, from Soup Operas to Reality Television shows, to news and sports, from comedy to MTV.  The mass media is very much informed by popular culture, offering diverse programs catering to all taste. Yet agency within this context is limited, as consumer choice resides within the programs offered by the multinational media conglomerates.  This drawback fuels the debate concerning structuralism, culturalism and consumer choice.  Yet, it must be noted that consumption patterns have undergone severe transformations as a result of the Internet and mass media. For one, shopping online has redefined consumption in that it is slowly evolving from a social practice into a private one. The relentless advertisements lacing television programs, on the other hand, have the propensity to subliminally implant artificial desires in the minds of the audience who subconsciously succumb to its veiled hegemonic agenda. The manipulative mechanisms of the mainstream media mustn’t be underestimated.

Within the discourse of popular culture, a disparity must be drawn between the two electronic mediums.  In the case of television, an individual merely consumes the ideals visually manufactured by multinational media conglomerates, whereas the Internet is interactive.  This aspect unleashes possibilities never before considered.  For instance, the facile reproduction and distribution of music has led to the accessibility of foreign tunes previously unattainable within one’s habitus.  Recording technology, in addition, has yielded the formation of hybrid sounds. Furthermore, because just about anyone can self publish or produce their own work via blogs, web-logs, website (etc.), the lines between production and consumption have become blurred. Online publications, such as e-zines, have proliferated in the past several years.  This is a godsend for low budget movements, as the financial expenses of ink and paper are no longer of concern and local projects can have a global reach.  The point is that popular culture in the context of the Internet is both collective and interactive. Its democratic nature provides an arena of social mobility and freedom of speech wherein people of similar interest can meet and build virtual subcultures and communities. There is no telling what the years ahead will bring, but this much is sure: within the domains of the technological landscape popular culture has a fertile terrain to thrive.

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