Media Today and Complex Culture

Nicholas Kitchen (080825)

It will take me a long time to make a personal contribution, but I am drawn to the concept of making contemporary media an effective mode of communicating complex culture.

Books have been a media which have succeeded in communicating complex culture between generations. Books and print can also be a significant vessel for communicating understanding of current situations, like a book which describes and gives us a framework for understanding a contemporary subject. Music is a special subset of books that is a coded form of communication, extremely intense once one reads it as a message.

But consider world right now - a world awash in TV and movies: there is a real danger of losing the chance to transmit complex understanding. A movie may communicate an immediacy of participation and portray a complex situation, but it is weak in giving any analytical framework to the feelings generated, and it is almost hopelessly limited in providing background. A flashback can suggest, but in writing and appendix can go into almost unlimited depth.

Of course, writing can be just as dishonest, perhaps even more elaborately dishonest than video. The great opportunity of today's media is to be able to combine everything that the written word has always offered with possibilities for video representation. It is very stimulating to see the visualization of Roman actions on the History Channel but the 20 words which experts add for background are just a summary and don't give the watcher any real information to form their own understanding. Today's media gives easy outlets to change this situation. A pdf file downloaded from a website could offer the depth that can not be presented in the TV program. Links can go further and even lead one to opposing points of view. All this is accessible through a few clicks on the computer. But it is only available as long as it is provided and as long as it is sought out, both of which depend on a wiedspread understanding and demand for in-depth information.

The variety of people's points of view on this are huge, but overall I worry that the value of deep understanding is crowded out by a hunger for quick completion.

For my part, I have an inclination to create avenues for complex information to flow, both in the video form and the written form. I hope they will all add up to something worthwhile...