I’ve posted in previous blogs some thoughts and notes about the way that conversational forms of podcasting might be considered akin to a therapeutic process. With this in mind, I want to put this in the context of how media is said to work more generally, and what kind of literacies and capabilities are suggested are able to turn people into successful media producers.
In my experience, what we usually teach our emergent media practitioners, is to play a game of imitation, in which they find role models that they can imitate and copy in the hope that they can somehow establish the same apparent traits that make them successful. It’s a recognised short-cut to success, but it does not include much of a commitment to critical and independent thinking.
The modern – or postmodern – media world is dominated by people who want to measure everything: the reach of your social media messages; the demographics profile of who is accessing your media and where from; the clout and importance that people attach to your media messages, and the potential influence that your messages might have, and so on. It’s no wonder that social media is now dominated by the urge to be an influencer!
I’m not suggesting that these media distribution characteristics aren’t useful, but I would like to point out that they are only a small and relatively insignificant part of the process that makes a media product meaningful and relevant to individuals and the communities that they are part of.
Mainstream media, to use this awful phrase, is stuck in a mid-twentieth century mass-media model of information transactionalist theories. Media practice is still, for all intents and purposes, taught as a process of encoding and decoding information. The cybernetic model of information distribution holds sway in most media schools and research groups, in which the intentionality and representative potential of messages are given primacy over creativity and symbolic engagement.
I’ve heard this said many times to students when they first start to produce content as part of their media courses: ‘think of your audience!’ This is most often the first thing that students of media practice are asked to consider when they are learning to put together their media projects. Who is going to be listening, or watching, or reading, or interacting with your product, and what do they need to be able to decode from your programme when they view it or listen to it?
Okay, I’m being extreme in my assertion here, because there are many examples of media production techniques and approaches that don’t do this, but for the sake of argument here, it’s worth pushing this point into a set of simplistic binary opposites in order to clear some space to develop my thinking.
The media production process is often defined as a linear and conscious production process that can be undertaken in a step-by-step series of actions that will ensure that a viable and defined product is turned out at some point. I’ve read many hundreds of student project reports that define the pre-production and the post-production process. This mantra of linear development is repeated over and over, but seldom questioned.
I’m not suggesting that these are entirely wrong either, or that using linear project development and management techniques don’t help to structure the media production process. What I’m suggesting, instead, is that it’s time that we stopped thinking that these are the only processes that we can use when we are creating media, and that these are the only methods that we can teach people with who want to produce and share meaningful media content.
I don’t know the answer to some of these problems, and I have been heavily embedded in a culture of media production that thinks predominantly in a linear manner. Presently, I’m taking some time to look at this process afresh, so I’m spending some time considering some potential alternative media practices that might help us think about how we make, share and learn from the media that we produce, engage with and share.
Is it possible to stop thinking about media in terms of audiences, users and networks? Is it possible to look, instead, at media in terms of collaborative social interactions between friends, family, communities? The symbolic interactionist tradition suggests that we share common experiences and goals in a way that is meaningful to us, but these goals and the aims that we identify with seldomly get recognised in the mainstream media model.
We tend to focus on what we can get out of the process, rather than what we become in the process of sharing our media. We are very good at identifying and listing what we care about, but not what we care for in relation to our media. It’s perhaps time that we found ways to foreground and make manifest this distinction in practice.
I’ve started a process of reflection here, in which I want to spend some time in the next couple of weeks sharing my thoughts about podcasting, and the way that podcasting offers a potentially different form of media engagement and participation that isn’t based exclusively on projecting a list of the things that we care about, but is instead a process that can demonstrate the things that we care for.
It’s very easy with social media to tick-off what we like in our cultural and social lives. I like music, my personal profile has a list of bands that I have bought CDs or downloads from in the past. I like film, my personal profile lists all of the films that I think represent me and tell others what kind of person I am. Is it our preference for Harry Potter or the Fast and the Furious that defines us?
If we mainly pay attention to podcasts from a media transaction point of view, and not from a critical media literacies points of view, then what takes precedence is the technical proficiency model of media engagement. The priority question becomes, do we have the capability to undertake tasks to a standard of recognised professionalism, despite the fact that this professional standard is arbitrary and could easily be vapid or sterile.
Likewise, we can get bogged-down in thinking that audience responses are what matter most, despite the fact that the so-called audience might be locked into a destructive loop of self-referential indignation (I’m thinking of my experiences using Facebook).
The technical and transactional response to media therefore often gets bogged-down in categorisations and processes that embed a fixed view of media. The problem is that these views fail to understand social and cultural change. They don’t relate to the processes of recategorization and redefinition that moves our understanding forward.
I’ve read two books recently that illustrate the difference in this view. John Bargh’s book, Before You Know It, gives an overview of his collected understanding of his psychological research, and how the biomechanical processes that we think of as conscious and unconscious thinking can be determined as cognitive biases in our mental operations (Bargh, 2017). In contrast, Mircea Eliade discusses the role of the numinous, or sacred understandings, in the process of meaningful human encounters with the world (Eliade, 1959).
Bargh’s view is that if we understand the mental processes rationalistically through the insight gained from neuroscience, cognitive psychology and the physical sciences, that we will be able to bridge the ‘disconnect’ that we have between our intentions and our needs, between our conscious thought processes and our unconscious drives.
Alternatively, Eliade suggest that we have to venture into an experiential understanding of the symbolic meanings that are written into our cultural practices in order to understand what they represent as they emerge beyond conscious – in other words rationalistic – meaningful practices.
Little attention is given in the media curriculum to understanding and giving time and space over to the social processes that go beyond rationalistic or transactional forms of meaning. We spend very little time thinking about the experience of actually recording, say, a podcast and then listening back to it.
While the practice of recording varies it is undertaken using many forms of technology, the capability and capacity for meaningful interaction that podcasting draws on can be completely different from those that we intend, such as listening, talking and the enumeration of coded messages.
As the UK mainstream media is typically based on a mass-media transactional models, in which information exchange (i.e. marketing or news), promotion of personality and celebrity, or genre-specific lifestyle and identity programming (i.e. the music that we listen to says something about who we are), are given priority, it’s vital that we also start to think outside of these terms and patterns of imitated behaviour.
In mainstream radio time is limited, discussion is often truncated. Topics are limited by the expectations of the professionals who produce the content (i.e. their view of what the audience wants). Any controversies have to be regulated into a pre-packaged format that is governed by codes of conduct and broadcasting regulations relating to so-called balance.
An emergent form of podcasting that is conversational, therapeutic or spiritual could be interesting to explore. To make more sense of this it would therefore be useful to identify what is going on in the dynamics of these conversations, and attempt to reflect on how the exploration of ideas and shared experiences come about in a podcast?
We need to shift our focus, therefore, from traditional media studies terms, i.e. categories, forms and genres, to practice-based analysis, i.e. how participants creatively construct meaning.
Bargh, J. (2017). Before you Know It – The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do. London: William Heinemann.
Eliade, M. (1959). The Sacred and the Profane – The Nature of Religion. London: Harvest.
Noddings, N. (2013). Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. Berkeley, CL: University of California Press.