Once upon a time, in a kingdom…no, we’re not doing that.
Once upon a time media scholars assumed that the media had a blanket effect on people, who were viewed as a passive audience. They called it the Magic Bullet theory. Basically, the message was sent, went straight to people’s heads and did exactly what it was intended to do.
Thankfully as we moved forward, they realised this was a fallacious assumption. They revised their hypothesis into two new steps:
- Information is transmitted to a mass audience.
- The message is validated by people whom the viewer(s) respect(s).
Now, we move into the theory: Social Uses and Gratifications (or uses and grats for short).
The underlying assumption is that instead of a blanket effect on a passive audience, people actively decide what media to use and it affects them all differently. Additionally, people choose media to fulfil specific needs.
You can already see there’s a strong emphasis on individual human identity.
The media compete for our time and attention. We don’t just sit and gobble it up all day every day (although we seem to try to sometimes). Uses and grats also says that we have to understand what need motivates people to use certain media in order to better understand their choices. This is, of course, based on the primary assumption – each human is distinct and unique, and thus the effect of media on each human is different – and these differences determine the level of satisfaction a consumer receives.
Alan Rubin opines that if you can determine what you want, you have insight into your media consumption. He outlines 8 motivations for media consumption (the two with dotted lines are not in the list but he also cites these as possible motivators):
In the Real World…
Just recently I was having this discussion with someone very near and dear to me about why he prefers documentaries and I prefer information books. (You know who you are 🙂 ) So obviously we have a difference of opinion, but we were rationalising exactly why we choose to consume or not consume these media.
So from what I understand, documentaries are (obviously) a great source of information.He gets to see how things work first hand while some Australian narrator is saying words about it. (That’s really just an example).
On the other hand, I like to read about it not only because I learn new things, but also because I get to escape into the reality of someone or something else, and I pass time in a manner that’s a little more enjoyable to me than having it narrated to me.
We used the example of tigers, because they’re awesome animals and they’re a love we share. He was reflecting on just how many tiger documentaries he’d watched and I was ruminating on all the stuff I had learnt from perpetually sticking my nose in animal books. We have the same information and we’ve both satisfied the needs we sought to.
And we know a lot about tigers…seriously.
Sure I’d watch a tiger documentary every now and again, and maybe he’d read a fun titbit or two about the beautiful creatures, but then we wouldn’t really satisfy the needs we (either consciously or subconsciously) intended to satisfy, would we?
Uses & Grats, a sound theory?
This theory supposedly falls under the socio-psychological tradition, and so we have to evaluate it as a scientific theory. From the time it was devised, uses and grats theory has always seemed to be somewhat…lacking.
It’s one of those theories that’s better used with something else. Why do I say that? It doesn’t really have an analytical base and it’s very difficult to test. One assumption of the theory gives people the benefit of the doubt in terms of being able to accurately explain why they choose to use certain media.
But when is the last time you’ve heard a response other that “it’s funny”, or “I don’t know I just like it”, or some derivation thereof when you’ve asked someone why they watch or read anything?
And furthermore, do we really always choose which media we consume? Some scholars say we might have some choice, but it’s definitely not full and free reign. I also have to wonder why this wasn’t evaluated as a humanistic theory.
Rubin’s list of motivators to me constitutes more a series of suggestions based on his personal experience, in which case there’s already bias involved. Plus, in a theory that focuses so much on proving that each individual is affected differently because he/she is unique, how is it really possible to have universal truths?
There are too just many questions, and not nearly enough answers.
Cyndi, the Theory Analyst