“The times, they are a changin'”. A wise man made that bold claim in 1964, and if you know who and what I’m referring to then you’ve likely had the honour of watching significant changes occur in our media environment over the past few decades, or you simply understand the importance of rock’s roots. Either way, there is no denying that the technology available to our youth today has significantly altered the media landscape in so many ways. Fewer and fewer students “write” notes in class anymore, they “type” them on their laptops. They all have cell phones but many choose to text rather than talk. While the term social networking is a mystery or an inconvenience to many older members in our society, it is simply the way of life for our younger generation. They are so in tune with their MP3’s, iPods, YouTubes, Facebooks, Flickrs, Blu-Rays and Wi-Fi’s that words that are Greek to many of us or too new to even be on the radar of others are the terms and catchwords that they have grown up with. Simply put, they know no other way.
When I mention Record Albums or 8-Track cassettes during some of my lectures, I expect to see blank faces as these are cultural artefacts that were gone long before most of my student’s time. I am amazed though when that applies to VCR’s, the once ubiquitous home electronic device that has since given way to the DVD which will soon step aside for another format, another medium. “Almost” everyone has a TV. It has been the central component in most North American homes since its introduction. We essentially redefined our living spaces around its presence and spent many, many hours basking in its warm and numbing glow. Many of us grew up in front of the television waiting to see if Gilligan would ever get rescued, to find out who shot J. R., or simply to laugh uproariously at that show about nothing. We went from 2 channels to 200 and it continues to increase but, for how long? Teens watch the least amount of television, significantly less than we did at that age. So where are they?
Convergence is an industry term that refers to an economic strategy where large media conglomerates digitize content and then by taking advantage of increasing government deregulation across the communications sectors are able to reduce operating costs while simultaneously expanding their market share. And breathe. But what does that mean for us as media consumers? We can read the news from Canwest Global via the National Post or the Vancouver Sun or Province newspapers; we can also read the same news from them at canada.com or theprovince.com or vancouversun.com; we can watch the news from Canwest on Global BC their television station; or we can partake of their other newspapers, specialty channels as all of this media content, due to its easy malleability in digital form, can be cobbled together online. And Canwest is far from the only company with this model or reach.
It is this fragmentation of the “mass” audience that is indicative of the media environment that we live in today. Gone are those days when “almost” everybody was watching their TV at the same time (perhaps with the exception of Olympic hockey?) and we shared a mediated sense of connection with each other through the programming we consumed. This same audience is now spread over a couple of hundred channels or they’re online or they’re texting or PVR’ing…our choices are seemingly endless. Canada provides additional challenges to this landscape as well.
Beyond our vast geographic makeup and the scattered population, globalization and the easy transfer of information and people worldwide, our population is becoming increasingly diverse. There are more than 200 ethnic groups represented in Canada and approximately 15% of our population is a visible minority. We see this reflected in our media with channels dedicated to serving the needs of these groups although most mainstream media tends to marginalize or stereotype these groups. So while our world is indeed changing, and there is clearly no going back, we need to remain acutely aware of some of the potential impacts that this multi-media environment can have on us as a nation and as individuals. As Canadians, the media has traditionally had the role of creating a sense of community, of uniting seemingly disparate peoples from coast to coast, from south to north and this is in fact ensconced in federal policy. We need to ensure that our infrastructure remains inclusive and recognizes Canada’s changing face. Then we can see the world the way our children do now.