Sunday, December 14, 2008

What good is geography to the study of mass communication?

I took this course on the weight of one lecture that Greg Downey gave in a Mass. Comm. colloquium the first semester I was here at Madison. I was fascinated with the idea of Greg's study of telegraph boys as the labor of technology, which informed many things about the telegraph industry.

My own background is in English literature and writing, very non-technical and certainly non-science, so I'm a Johnny-come-lately to mass comm. I admit to taking at least six weeks of this class to get a sense of what geography really is and how I felt it related to what I want to know about the world, as well as how it relates to mass communication.

If I could use a visual descriptor for considering the impact that geography has on mass communication, I would say that geography is the difference between the glossy pages of the National Geographic and the flatness of a copy of the Wallstreet Journal. Because...geography is, whether we concern ourselves with Castells' network, uneven growth in technology, the crisis of control at the beginning of the industrial revolution or the loss of ATMs as banks changed the way they do business, a very visual concept. And all of the processes I mentioned above beg to be visualized. Maps and diagrams describing the ebb and flow, or spaces of flows, or space, home, neighborhood, town, city, county... of human life can make sense out of very complicated processes and work in conjunction with mass communication.

Of course, the above description is limiting geography to maps and diagrams and I certainly don't mean to do that. The growth, decline, routes, processes, and flows of traffic, goods and intellect to the market are followed very closely by mass communication, which describe, forecast, sensationalize, advertise and otherwise profit from what's going on in the world which in many ways is defined by geography.

Richard, in his blog, has insisted that mass communication is the handmaiden to geography. I love his enthusiasm! However, I am not sure what came first, the chicken or the egg or which one we should characterize as geography or mass communication.

My indecision might indicate that I am a fraud, still more in touch with humanities than mass communication, even after three semesters. Nonetheless I am sure that geography and mass communication inform and support each other in ways that I would never have considered until I took this class. So, I know you're wondering...in what ways does this happen?

Consider the book we read on empire building. The spread of the telegraph was fueled by the desire to communicate, but if we look under the surface the desire to communicate was fueled by the desire to BUILD and exploit and make money. The spread of empire could only occur when communication was made available which made investment less risky [or so they thought]. While communication via the telegraph was initially for government use, mass communication was an incredibly important tool for shuttling information back and forth and facilitating production and growth.

I don't think either geography or mass communication would function as well as they do without the other. Handmaiden status is yet to be determined.

1 comment:

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