Media Bugs

M.C. Escher

M.C. Escher

If you study the history of broadcast media effects you’ll find lay publics over-estimate the impact of new technology.

Viewers once thought:

Film talkies would forever change democracy.

Telephones would invade privacy.

Comic books would turn kids into juvenile delinquents.

Television would create zombies.

Researchers shrug off such predictions, arguing citizens can attend to only so much media in one setting.

Researchers say new media displace old media. For example, television took over for radio in the 1950s when families consumed evening entertainment.

Computer-internet media—Facebook, Twitter and email—have displaced other channels when it comes to reaching people.

Civil disobedience, for example, is fueled by protestors announcing events electronically, thus potentially organizing groups more quickly.

But when it comes to measurable effects, social media fail to demonstrate a large impact on publics.

Media researcher Jonah Berger of the University of Pennsylvania says most ideas don’t catch fire.

Most YouTube videos, for example, rarely go viral.

And efforts to reach mass audiences through social media can be woefully ineffective and expensive.

American advertisers last year plunked down $170 billion for direct marketing, according to The Economist.

(That’s how much we spend on care for Americans with Alzheimer’s, according to The Fiscal Times.)

When it comes to electronic media ploys, sales resulting from ads were a fraction—less than one percent—in fact, one-hundredth of one percent, The Economist reports.

That makes unsolicited ads as welcome as ants at a summer picnic.

M.C. Escher rendering of an ant from


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in journalism, Native Science, science, science communication and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Media Bugs

  1. Hi again from another Cynthia Coleman. I live outside Chattanooga. There’s another here by our name who ran for office.


  2. Chase Neal says:

    This article originally described David Solomon as an economist; he is a psychologist. It also wrongly defined STM as ‘science, technology and mathematics’ instead of ‘scientific, technical and medical’. These errors have been corrected.


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