Everyone has different interests, skills and life experiences and everyone chooses to consume different media, as shown by the variety of media choices available. In particular my interests, skills and life experiences make my choice of media different than my family and my friends’ choices.
The newest movies to come to the big screen, the natural disasters that happen around the world, a shift in public opinion of the government and the local legislation in Provo that affects where I live are all important to me and thus define my interests. My interests are defined as those things that entertain me and the things of which I need to be informed. As stated by Ball-Rokeach in her media system dependency research, “Individuals are born into societies where the media system has, through its resources and relations with other social systems, a range of information/communication roles. It is that range of media roles that sets the range of potential media dependencies of individuals.”
How I access the information that the media provides is often determined by my skills and time available. I was born in an age and into a society that uses the Internet and where the daily newspaper is slowly losing its readership. The society of which I am a part has influenced me in what I think are the different roles that the media system has. I enjoy reading and thus often choose to consume written media instead of watching or listening to the same information. Another characteristic particular to my media choice is that I am a visual learner and so I tend to avoid choosing the radio as a medium to obtain information because I can’t fully comprehend something just by hearing the information spoken. As a full time student who also works part time, I find that I don’t have a regular schedule and often, a very limited amount of time to devote to consuming media. This leads to choosing media that I can access whenever I want and that allows me to select to which information I am exposed.
My family differs from my media choice in several ways related to their interests, schedule and even skills. My dad has the same schedule all week long and thus has developed a habit of turning on the broadcast news in the evening after work to be loaded with information in the order organized by the news organization. A characteristic particular to him is that he doesn’t enjoy reading because it is not one of his skills, thus this influences him to choose the more audio-visual media, than a newspaper, for example.
My younger siblings would choose a much different type of media, mainly the Internet, just because they are less informed about the world and tend to use media solely for entertainment. For their generation the media is no longer just about the daily news, but plays first the role of entertainment and then information provider. “Perceived usefulness, an extrinsic factor, was found to have a positive effect on intent to use the computer,” states a study on the motivation for using computer media, “Enjoyment, an intrinsic factor, also was found to have a positive effect on intent to use the computer at work.” (Atkinson) My brothers understand how useful the Internet can be and also enjoy using a computer, thus choosing electronic media as their primary form of media consumed.
Geographic location is also a characteristic that affects our media choice. I read different newspapers than my parents because we tend to read the smaller local newspapers that cover different areas of the world. Also, I tend to rely more on the Internet for information because the area where I live is not a major metropolitan area with much firsthand information or news covered in these local newspapers. My parents live closer to a major metropolitan area and so the local news also covers the big stories that happen there.
In conclusion, I have come to realize that I subscribe to the media system dependency theory developed by Ball-Rokeach that states that media were the most influential when people could not rely upon personal sources of information. In this theory Ball-Rokeach explains that there are different forms of media dependency based on diverse needs that an individual may have. According to this research, “the need to understand one’s social world…act meaningfully and effectively in that world… [and] the need for fantasy-escape from daily problems and tensions…” all influence the likelihood that the media consumed will change attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.
Applying this theory to my life, I can see that when the need for information is great the influence of how I obtained that information will be greater. For example, because I have no firsthand knowledge of the wildfires in San Diego I am dependent on the media for all of my information and thus my beliefs about how to act meaningfully in reaction is greatly influenced by the media I consume.
Another example of the change in attitudes about Three Mile Island shows that the varying levels of media coverage affected the public opinion toward nuclear power. According to a study by Gamson and Modigliani, the public support for nuclear power declined once the media covered the issue of Three Mile Island and as soon as it was off the front pages people were not as strongly against having a nuclear plant in their community. (Gamson) This change in attitudes can be explained by the media system dependency theory because the general public doesn’t understand or have one on one interaction with nuclear power plants and thus is dependent on the media for information and even attitude change.
The roles that the media play are constantly changing. My dad chooses to watch the news just be informed of the world events, for him that is the main role of the media. My younger brothers ignore the information provider role of the media unless they need to do a report for school and then they turn to the Internet, which, according to the society in which they were born, is the easiest and most efficient way of finding information. I utilize both the entertainment and information provider roles of the media depending upon which need is greater. However, for whichever reason we may use the media, if we are using it to fulfill a need it will have some, if limited, effect on our attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.
Atkinson, MaryAnne. Kydd, Christine. “Individual Characteristics Associated with World Wide Web Use: An Empirical Study of Playfulness and Motivation.” ACM SIGMIS Database. Volume 28, Issue 2. ACM Press. New York. 1997
Ball-Rokeach, S.J. “The Origins of Individual Media-System Dependency.” University Communication Research. http://crx.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/12/4/485.
DeFleur M.L., Ball-Rokeach, S.J. “A Dependency Model of Mass-Media Effects” Communication Research. http://crx.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/3/1/3 1976.
Gamson, William A., Modigliani, Andre. “Media Discourse and Public Opinion on Nuclear Power: A Constructionist Approach.” The American Journal of Sociology. Vol. 95, 1. July 1989.