Today, the impact of mass media becomes overwhelming as people suffer from the information overload. In such a situation, people need well-developed critical and rational thinking but the contemporary mass media and news media leave them little time to think over the information they receive from mass media. Instead, people turn into average consumers of mass media products, while news programs and other products of mass media become a mere entertainment instead of the means of the effective communication between people. In such a situation, the development of mass media becomes highly controversial, since, on the one hand, the mass media are always available to people and overload with information, while, on the other hand, people can hardly process that information and perceive it as mere entertainment or just ignore it.
In order to understand the impact of mass media on individuals today, it is possible to refer to Postman’s views on mass media and their influence on the audience. Postman stands on the ground that mass media contribute to the prevention of rational thinking and devaluation of information and important issues. He believes that news media turn into mere amusement, while they fail to stimulate rational and critical thinking of the audience. Postman believes that mass media have become a mere entertainment for the audience. More important, he stresses that mass media intentionally focus on the entertainment content to accelerate the degradation of critical thinking in the audience. People grow accustomed to mass media as entertainment and they just grow accustomed to perceive it as entertainment. As a result, people may have difficulties to take what they learn from mass media seriously, especially if mass media do not really want people to take them too seriously.
However, such policy of mass media has reasonable explanation. As the audience prefers more entertainment to tiresome TV programs, commercial television naturally offers the audience products which customers will like, i.e. entertainment programs. As a result, even news programs bear some elements of entertainment. In this regard, Postman is quite critical and skeptical about such a shift from conventional, conservative news programs to entertainment-oriented news programs. Hence, Postman is worried about the shift toward entertainment because he is anxious of degradation of critical thinking skills of the audience. At any rate, Postman’s concern is the risk of the failure of the audience to think rationally and the transformation of the audience in customers, who are interested in entertainment solely.
In contrast to Postman, Quayle argues that news mass media contribute to the improvement of the public discourse in the US. Quayle stands on the totally different ground compared to Postman. He argues that mass media, including news media and programs provide the audience with ample information and the public can keep control over the authorities due to mass media. Mass media can shape the public opinion, if they uncover some problems and make them available to the public. In such a way, as mass media deliver information to the public, policy makers will have to take into consideration the position of mass media and to prevent taking decisions that may be harmful for the public.
However, such reasoning of Quayle is quite naïve and the view of Postman on mass media seems to be more reasonable since mass media are vulnerable to the commercialization and the content does not really matter for them now and the content is unimportant for the audience as Postman points out. Postman argues that form excludes the content, while Quayle opposes to him and stresses the importance of issue raised in diverse new programs of cable television networks. The position of Postman is definitely stronger because Quayle’s idea of the socially significant role of mass media is questionable. Contemporary mass media are profit-driven and they are not interested in reporting information that cannot bring high ratings and draw the audience to the particular program or mass media.
At the same time, the overwhelming impact of technology and mass media on individuals is undeniable today. Mass media are available to individuals virtually anywhere and anytime. Hence, today, people suffer from the information overload as they have access to information due to advanced portable devices which keep them connected to mass media and social networks all the time (Kelley, 2012). As a result, as Postman noticed, people cannot process the informational critically and they just slip to entertainment, instead of the critical evaluation of the information they receive from mass media. Mass media, in their turn, prefer to free the audience of the information that makes people thinking and making efforts to analyze the perceived information. Instead, mass media prefer providing the audience with light entertaining products. As a result, as Postman predicted, contemporary mass media have become even more entertainment oriented than they used to be in the past.
Moreover, some specialists (Grabowicz, 2012) point out that mass media move online and today internet opens larger opportunities for information sharing. However, such a progress of internet may be dangerous, if Postman view on mass media as the mere tool of entertainment is taken into consideration. For instance, people can just share information for the sake of being noticed by other users but not for communicating a really important message to them. Consequently, even the rise of internet and contemporary mass media is still controversial. On the one hand, people get excellent opportunities to share information fast between many users online. On the other hand, the content is still inferior to the form, as Postman pointed out, because people often use internet and modern telecommunication systems to communicate simple messages for the purpose of entertainment mainly.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the development of mass media leads to consistent changes in the role of mass media and their impact on the audience. Mass media have a significant impact because the audience is exposed to their impact virtually all the time. However, mass media offer products that focus on entertainment mainly. As a result, the audience tends to degradation and fails to perceive the information critically and rationally. Instead, the audience just wants more entertainment, while socially significant issues may remain unnoticed by the audience and mass media.