Now I will move onto the group task and putting these concepts into practice. This week’s task was to form a group and complete the following question:
Team 3: Design a study to investigate media panics. You should find evidence of the patterns of media coverage of new technologies to put these claims into context.
This question is in regards to Baroness Susan Greenfield‘s comments on internet addiction which can be found on the ABC’s website at this address.
Despite Greenfield’s use of “technical” terms such as ‘fuddy duddy’ and ‘wakka wakka’, her argument of the dangers of the net are not particularly persuasive. This debate suggests that Greenfield is caught up in the current media panic over the internet (and also suggests other things such as how delusive members of the English House of Lords are).
To begin our task we started at the concept of Ontology. Ontology is a “branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being” (Dictionary.com). According to Crotty (1998:10), ontology is concerned with “what is”, “the nature of existence” and “the structure of reality”. One approach of ontology is realism which is what our group picked for this task. Realism is the idea that realities can exist independent of conscious thought. This seemed like an appropriate approach since the existence of these media and technologies are real and media panics have been proven to be quite real in the past.
For the epistemology, constructionism was chosen. Despite earlier deciding that realities exist independent of human thought, as Grotty (1998:11) says, this should not necessarily exclude using a constructionist epistemology. Constructionism doesn’t particularly involve the reality or existence of an object, rather it deals with how the human mind constructs, invents or perceives its reality (“[t]ruth, or meaning, comes into existence in and out of our engagement with the realities in our world”). This is a different idea to objectivism that states there can be no meaning without a mind or subjectivism that states there needs to be an interplay between the mind and the object in order to construct meaning. Because this topic involves human behaviour when interacting with new technologies a constructionist approach can help analyse this relationship.
The theory includes the necessary falsifiability (Gilbert 1996: 24) as one example of a technology that has reached an invasive status without garnering exaggerated or hyperbolic media coverage would prove it to be incorrect. This theory, as with most according to Gilbert (1996: 30), is largely inductive, being a generalisation formed from several instances.
The theory does not make any truth claims about the content of the media coverage; it merely asserts that the nature of the discourse surrounding invasive technologies obtains a degree of fervour that is not seen with other less invasive technologies.
Assuming that the technology has reached the aforementioned definition of ‘invasive’, there are several indicators that may be used to classify media coverage as ‘hyperbolic’. These indicators are interrelated and largely interdependent. The indicators are arguably qualitative and would need to reflective.
The volume of discourse surrounding the technology would form an initial indicator, stabilising the view that it has reached a suitable level of invasiveness. The range or divide between apparent opinions would act as another indicator. The divergence between the actual, or resultant, effects and the predicted effects would form the final indicator.
An ethnographic methodology should be adopted to test the indicators listed above. This methodology will allow the rather subjective term of ‘media panic’, which is the focus of the initial proposal, to become more grounded in a social or cultural context (Crotty 1998: 7). This methodology is largely based around a symbolic interactionist theoretical perspective (Crotty 1998: 7).
As the required research will span several generations (due to the necessary investigation of past technologies), situating all research purely in modern interpretations of hyperbolic or exaggerated discourse may be somewhat misguided. It is surely not absurd to assert that the general hysteria that follows almost all media coverage in this day and age is inflated when compared to previous generations.
The initial proposal is concerned with the nature of discourse surrounding technologies and not the technologies themselves. As a result the methods of research should rely heavily on case studies. Obtaining information on past media panics and comparing the similarities is the basis of research in this instance. These case studies, without cultural or societal perspective, would be somewhat lacking.
Therefore questionnaires and interviews of relevant members of society (those who have been exposed to an incident of media panic) may prove useful. However, this method of research may be better suited for investigating the effects that these media panics have on society. This could lead to further theoretical discussion around the issue of whether our interactions with various technologies are somehow tempered by media panics.
1. Crotty, M. (1998) The foundation of social research: meaning and perspective in the research process Chapter 1 ‘Introduction: The Research Process’. Allen and Unwin: St. Leonards, NSW: 1-17.
2. Dictionary.com [http://dictionary.reference.com]