Then and Now

When I asked my students to work with a partner to create a single slide to describe algorithmic personalization, they tackled this challenge from a number of different angles. One team used screenshots from TikTok and Insta to show how certain kinds of “news” can take over your feed when there is a pile-on effect, as was happening during our class time. Everyone, it seems was chatting about the Met Gala, a fundraising benefit for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Another team visually depicted Netflix’s shortcoming when it comes to responding to user taste preferences:

How we talk about algorithmic personalization is different in 2021 than it was just 10 years ago, when Eli Pariser introduced the concept of the “filter bubble” to describe how online content is curated based on user preferences.

To understand the discipline of Media Studies, it is important to think about the members of the knowledge community and how they engage in scholarly conversations over time. That’s why I asked students to select a keyword from the list of 65 entries curated by Laurie Oulette and Jonathan Gray, who asked an array of scholars to show how the meaning and study of the concept has evolved and changed over time. Here are some meaningful quotes from their reflective writing:

Commodification and Brands. Brands? This is a word that I associate closely with identity. Nate points out that marketing and advertising techniques enable products, goods, and services to be “come alive” by linking to certain values, emotions, and ideologies. Catherine writes, “The nature of capitalism calls continuously for ‘more’ because the system falls apart if people stop purchasing; because of this, there is no possibility of halting or reversing commodification so long as we continue as a capitalist society.” Can this be shifted? Only a few institutions in society have resisted large-scale commodification, but this could grow if people were less fearful of each other, she notes.

Memory and Space. Sarah points out that the future and the past are nearly impossible to separate because so many daily decisions are based on the past. Because “memories can help individuals make decisions to avoid a certain outcome” there may simply be no other ground on which o make decisions. Advertisers turn memory into a product to be commodified, creating nostalgia through shaping collective memory through the endless repetition of family symbols for holidays, life events, and more. In exploring the concept of space, Tyler notes that “locations” have shifted their value now that the internet enables peer-to-peer interaction across vast geographic distances. Through communication, we traverse the distances of both space and time.

Race, Gender and Domesticity. Understanding media through an examination of race, class, and gender is a staple way to understand the power of representation. Emil reflected on how race has affected his career interests and found himself wondering about the history of these racial hierarchies: Was it all done to gain control of resources? Social groupings continue to both unify and divide. Gianne took on the word “feminism” and observed that many forms of media present women as objects, which may “encourage women themselves to start to believe it as well.” Some might wonder whether “domesticity” is relevant keyword for Media Studies. But family, home life, and child raising pay plenty of attention to media, and Chelsea points out that media depictions of family have an influence on politics, sexuality, and even consumer products.

In Then & Now, we think about how concepts in Media Studies make sense and have value in different eras, and how scholarly discourse continues across time and space to evolve, aiming to be responsive to our ever-changing world.




#COM520 explores contemporary propaganda in the context of the Internet and social media

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Renee Hobbs

Renee Hobbs

loves all things media literacy...

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