Saturday, June 07, 2008

Buying, selling and ignoring media time

I’m preparing to teach a class, “Mass Media and Society,” which I haven’t taught in, (could it be?) 35 years.

There have been a few changes in both media and society. I have work to do.

I’m considering a thematic thread built on the widely accepted notion that communication defines a culture.

The idea has taken me to Edward Hall’s work as well as that of the late James Carey.

I’ll return to them in future posts, but my recent thoughts have been about cultural definitions of time and how media contribute to them.

Networks “sell” and advertisers “buy” broadcast time. The economic model is an obvious extension of our being paid for the time we work. And like our pay, some time, “prime” time for instance, is more “valuable” than other time, depending on how many people have gathered around their TVs to watch.

Hence the need for audience "ratings."

Other media time is more valuable because of the “quality” the audience. The more money you have, the more valuable you are. (I did say this was about our culture, didn’t I?)

Then we have smut-free “family hour” and the Saturday morning cartoons packed with ads, and the “news hour.” Of course the news is always “up-to-the-minute” or “on the hour.”

We have 24-hour-news cycles, which presumably shouldn’t be confused with what some still call “days.”

So we live, and perceive significance, in lockstep with time as media shape it.

I frequently have my students take media fasts. No media for three days. Cold turkey!

They find the exercise either to be ecstasy (“I had the best conversation with my dad, EVER!) or utter agony (“I felt TOTALLY out of touch.”)

A better, more illuminating exercise might be to have them go on a timeless fast. To live a day without ever checking a clock or asking what time it is. To eat when they are hungry. Sleep when they are weary. Oh, and don’t watch TV, check the internet or listen to the radio.

The media are all of a “piece” — an artificial “time piece.”

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