In the field of communication, we have a number of well-established theories that we can use as lenses through which we see the world when conducing research studies. Some of these theories …
In the field of communication, we have a number of well-established theories that we can use as lenses through which we see the world when conducing research studies.
Some of these theories include information processing, hypodermic needle theory, agenda setting and media dependency.
Media dependency operates a little bit like this. The more dependent a person is with a particular media device to fulfill his needs, the more crucial having that media device will be to him.
People today, differently from when we didn’t have smartphones, are dependent on specific technology to understand the world around them.
I can’t stop thinking about what is happening down in Puerto Rico because the media is estimating that our Caribbean territory may not have electricity for six whole months! I am surprised that the media isn’t reporting on that too much, as millions of people down there aren’t able to go online and have their regular conversations with family and friends on Facebook.
By the way, can you survive six months without having cellphone access? I have to admit that living without my iPhone for six days stops my professional life.
Without needing to sound very dramatic yet being reasonable, I don’t think I can function without a smartphone these days. Part of how I communicate with my students is via text messaging. If no cell towers are available for me to chat with them, I become severely handicapped professionally.
As a matter of fact, Dr. Joel Kailing, chair of the Department of Communication Arts at Lee, and I were chatting about the challenges that the people of Puerto Rico could potentially suffer because of the devastations caused by Hurricane Maria. I cannot imagine what is passing through the minds and hearts of Puerto Rican youth and its young professionals.
As I am writing this piece, Fox just made the announcement that a few Puerto Rican citizens made contact with their friends and family here in the United States. They were able to use their media devices for a very short bit.
Access to cellphone service down there can only be attained in a very tiny part of the island, according to the report. The lucky few who were able to connect with their relatives had to drive for hours in order to reach the island’s "hot spot." They were lucky if they could get a bar of service and a few seconds to communicate.
I wonder if they are using CB radios to communicate back and fourth with the authorities, and each other, throughout the day.
This whole situation in Puerto Rico reminds me of what happened during Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. We were so dependent on cellphone technology back then that when we lost it, a disaster of great magnitude occurred.
People couldn’t communicate because they rarely had cellphone reception. We invested in all these new systems, but when the system failed we had no defense. Over a thousand people died because of this dependency on new media and lack of traditional infrastructure.
See? Dependency on technology can makes us much more vulnerable if we decide to discontinue our old, yet reliable, systems. As I always say, “use technology in moderation.” It is OK to not be so dependent on such media technology.
We are, in one way or another, dependent on the media. I am not sure, however, if we should rely on all these new technologies to communicate with friends in the United States, Puerto Rico or in our own town of Cleveland, Tennessee.
I wonder if we should bring back the old landline phone system rather than always relying on voice over IP phone lines or cellphones.
Just because we may be dependent on a variety of media doesn’t mean that we should always trust in it. As my great-grandmother once said, “When you don’t know about something or someone, always trust distrusting.”
Remember: Media is only powerful because of our dependency in it. We can reverse this trend.
(About the writer: Dr. Luis C. Almeida is an associate professor of communication at Lee University and TEDx speaker. He is the author of the book, “Becoming a Brand: The Rise of Technomoderation,” and a devoted Christian. He can be reached via his website at luiscalmeida.info.)
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