MediaSmarts Blog

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The history of the Internet – and the history of technology in general – could be described as one big demonstration of the doctrine of unintended consequences: a system designed to help researchers collaborate, and developed to protect military communications in the event of a nuclear war, wound up being used primarily for shopping, socializing and entertainment. The same is true of many of the products and services on the Internet as well. In its early years it was mostly seen as a one-to-many broadcast medium, like TV or radio, but over time it’s the more interactive elements that have proven to be most popular, with users producing at least as much online content as professionals.

It’s been widely said that attention is the currency of the 21st Century. In an age where media occupy an increasingly central role in our lives, the need to have that media focused on you becomes intense. For no-one is this more true than for children and teens, who now expect to be connected twenty-four hours a day and for whom the Internet and cell phones are essential parts of their social lives. An interesting Facebook page, amusing Tweets, outrageous YouTube videos, even shocking photos sent by cell phone – most of us are aware of the ways that young people seek their peers’ attention. In today’s media environment, is it still possible to teach young people the value of privacy? What, indeed, does the idea of privacy even mean to today’s children and teens?

The last year has been an unusually busy one for watchers of gender representation in the news media, with not one but two high-profile women involved in the U.S. presidential race. The way in which these two politicians were covered provides a view of how gender in politics is portrayed in the media, and how this can help to explain just how unusual those two women are.

It’s a persistent phenomenon: the faster we move into the future, the more we find it embedded with the bones of the past. Why else, for instance, would we still talk about “dialling” a phone, and later about “hanging it up”? Few people remember the early TV remote controls that worked by sending high-frequency sounds, but we still call remotes “clickers.” We still say “stay tuned,” “CC” (carbon copy) e-mails, “rewind” DVDs, and “post” online messages. Even new media darling YouTube contains an old-media artefact of this kind: the name is obviously meant to make us think of television, the “boob tube,” but few TVs have tubes in them anymore.

With the recent spate of marine piracy off the coast of Somalia, culminating in the abduction and rescue of Captain Richard Phillips, it’s a bit disorienting to see the word “piracy” used to refer to, well, pirates. That’s because for the last few decades the word has been much more often applied to those who “pirate” intellectual property such as software, music, and videos. In fact, the use of the word in that context has a surprisingly long history: Daniel Defoe, in 1703, used the term to describe printers who made unauthorized copies of his work.

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