The pervasive nature of culture is comparable to the nature of information. Both can be spread from internal sources to the masses and are likely to create a sense of knowing. Information, specifically, has the ability to enlighten its recipients. However, the information has reached a point at which it is excessive. Hyper awareness in today’s society stems from the recently developed demand for instant gratification. This awareness is the direct result of the information age. The immediate and constant availability of information has awakened the minds of this society as a whole and has created a new state of extreme consciousness.
People feel the need to be aware about news events and the happenings of the nation. The September 11th terrorist attacks generated feelings of surprise, confusion, loss, and heartache. In the years following the incident, news steadily became more accessible and convenient. The advent of cyber news and YouTube came at the right time as people were searching for new mediums to acquire news and to rest assured that they knew, at all times, what was occurring in the world. David Altheide states that, “The communication process and content are inexorably joined, with one always having implications for the other. In this sense, ‘new knowledge’ and information is always connected to a stock of knowledge and symbolic interpretation” (650). For media, the communication process can influence the way the messages are interpreted. The recipient of the information must then analyze the message using their preconceived understanding of the matter. The way the message is received can alter its meaning and how it is decoded, for example the viewing of a news story on YouTube versus a news paper. Instant and visual versus delayed and drafted. President Obama has made use of different mediums to delegate his messages. People feel comfortable knowing about his actions and recent whereabouts, thoughts, and opinions. YouTube updates make him not only more accessible, but more popular with the millennial generation. The medium that politicians and news generators chose to use can influence their likeability and event he way their message is received. The cyber news format has the upper hand because of its convenience and accessibility. Either way, there is a constant need for information in any format.
The news awareness has crossed over to the fascination about the lives of the rich and famous. There is still, of course, a strive for awareness about news, but the ‘crossing over’ that has occurred here is the transfer of focus from one to the other. The majority of media coverage is no longer about serious world or local issues. The content that has encompassed the media is now based on celebrities; what they’re doing, who they’re dating, what they’re wearing, where they’re going. What is fueling this obsession? The need to know has been transformed from stories of substance to stories of fluff. The obsession is fueled by a culture that comes from above.
With the advent of the information age, people are more exposed to widely held views of beauty. People are told how to act and what to look like in the sense of an “ideal” person. The criteria for this ideal person are the celebrities, whom exhibit a god-like demeanor that the rest of us struggle to acquire. Susan Bordo argues that, “Culture overwhelmingly dominates women’s lives especially, imposing models of bodily beauty that get construed as freely chosen options by those victimized by them” (1026). The celebrities are extravagant and sociable, not to mention talented. It is only natural that others would want to emulate them. Women are convinced by the media that this is the ideal image of beauty. In order to achieve this, they purchase beauty products, invest in gym memberships, and among other things, undergo plastic surgery procedures. These industries are benefitting from this image and use the media to advertise their product, all the while assisting in the projection of the ideal woman. Julie Rivkin mentions that, “Generated by those at the top of the social hierarchy, the media inevitably further attitudes and perceptions that assure its continuation” (1026). It is a vicious cycle that is occurring. The results that these industries have experienced adds a new impetus to their quest for female perfection. Chris Barker states that, “Representations of women reflected male attitudes and constituted misrepresentations of ‘real’ women” (307). Therefore, the ideal woman projected by the media is not correct, nor is it how most women actually look. This is not a matter of how the media want women to look, rather it is about how the media want women to want to look. Most celebrities are attractive but jump at the chance to fix even the smallest flaw. It’s about acceptance and the strive to be the ultimate image of perfection. The fascination with celebrities and all of their glory has turned from those who are talented to those who are documented. In other words, reality television stars.
Another source of hyper awareness is the medium of reality television, which allows Americans to fantasize gaining status through automatic fame. Ordinary people can watch the shows, see people like themselves and imagine that they too could become celebrities by being on television. It does not matter as much that the contestants often are shown in an unfavorable light; the fact that millions of Americans are paying attention means that the contestants are important. “The message of reality television is that ordinary people can become so important that millions will watch them. And the secret thrill of many of those viewers is the thought that perhaps next time, the new celebrities might be them” (Reiss 2009). The desire for fame can be achieved by the same means as the desire for acceptance. Typically, when a person is famous they are liked by all and are a part of the ‘in crowd’. This explains why a person would strive to become famous. It is an instant way of being accepted and it’s all about instant gratification.
The last, and most important medium in which people are using to enhance their awareness of others is the Internet. Reality television was used to find out what others were doing at all times, whether they are fellow average Joes or celebrities. This stems from the idea that instant information is paving the road to gratification. The use of the Internet differs from viewing reality television in the sense that it is even more instant. In terms of social networking sites, the information can be accessed in less than a second after it is updated. Barker states that, “We are in the midst of a digital revolution that is transforming our world” (346). Computers are used more now than ever before. The amount of online courses that universities are offering is steadily increasing with each new semester. Many classes incorporate the Internet into their curriculum, whether it is with on-line lectures, blogs, assignments, and grade postings. Barker also states that, “The digital universe is overflowing with information” and that it is a “wondrous expansion of human knowledge” (348). Not only is the cyber world bringing forth this ability to expand people’s knowledge, it is also allowing for the expansion of the knowledge of people.
Everything one could ever want to know about a person is on the Internet. With the cyber storm came the lack of privacy. We are more aware of others now than ever before. "You have to realize that you're constantly being assessed," said Jason Foster, "It's everything you do, everything you wear, everything you say." As a result of this rapid accessibility, people normally tend to present a more desirable version of themselves to the cyber community (Aleman, Wartman, 2009). This has lead to an externalization of the self. People direct their personality outward and are not timid about the information they are presenting. In fact, it is becoming a social norm to project such information and those who do not are an outcast. People want to know everything about everyone and want to feel that other want to know everything about them, so they make information available. Whether it be through instant status updates, the ‘About Me’ section, or a list of interests, there is always a way to express ones self. The information being presented may be either factual or fabricated, but in any case, the information is there and is readily accessible.
It has been said before that if you are not on Facebook, you do not exist. The harsh reality is that social networking sites connect people and are becoming a major form of communication. The people who are not jumping on to the social network bandwagon are left in the dust. Social networking sites are not all rainbows and sunshine, however. Instead of being beneficial, they can actually work against a person and disadvantage them. "These days, you are what you Google" (Foster 2009), and if a search turns up inappropriate photos or an immature Facebook page, the employer doing the research may think twice about the intended hire. There are a multitude of uses for these sites beyond arrant communication and once people realize this they are more aware of the image they are presenting.
The social network concept in its entirety can be compared to the non-virtual social network that involves the characters of The Rules of Attraction. This novel takes place in the 1980’s, just a decade shy of the personal computer phenomenon. The students attend a liberal arts school where nobody is left out of the conversation. Everyone is aware of the situations and circumstances of others through an endless grapevine of communication. The dining hall, where the students gather and talk about others, is the Facebook homepage where people can be seen and statuses are updated. Instead of instant messages hand written love letters are used to communicate feelings. The transition from tangible to virtual forms of communication is less thoughtful and more guarded (Gackenback 2007). In the novel, people are informed through word of mouth. Now, up to date information is posted online and readily available. The difference is that the virtual world is more controlled and structured as people construct their own identities and present information about them that they want others to view rather than leaving others to make their own assumptions based on information from a secondary source.
These sites of interaction can be more or less beneficial. There is an “interaction between individuals and the culture and subcultures that (people) construct, not only through the process of externalization and objectification, but also through their own learning as a result of the process of internalization” (Le Cornu 2009). If social networking sites are the said subculture, then it can be assumed that people incorporate cultural values, morals, and motives of other cultural or social groups into their own knowledge through cyber socialization and information. People can encompass a greater understanding of others through this medium. This is the era in which people “not only consumed knowledge, but produced it as well” (Aleman, Wartman 2009). Bloggers, authors, journalists, and stay at home moms, can all publish their work, on-line that is. Anyone who has an opinion about something or just wants to inform can now do so in the comforts of their own home and without much hassle.
This instant sharing of information is revolutionary and convenient, but it has its problems. “With information comes disinformation” in terms of a digital disaster (Barker 2009). The dependency on the Internet may not seem like a considerable concern, but some feel otherwise. The expected meltdown of Y2K was a wake up call for many. Is the dependency on computers and the Internet going to lead to our downfall as a society? As the first few minutes of the millennial year passed no noticeable changes occurred. Computers were handling the change with more ease than the people behind the screens, waiting for any sign of malfunction. Recently, the concern is encompassing the year of 2012. It has been predicted that a solar storm will occur that will trigger planet-wide radio blackouts, which will cause the Internet, and everything that depends on it to fail. Ironically, most people heard about this from the Internet its self. The medium is causing a high awareness of the topic and it seems to be at the top of everyone’s minds, or recently searched list. This may or may not actually occur, but the implications are that this society had welcomed the cyber world with open arms and is now squeezing tight. Perhaps the dependence on the Internet, in all of its information giving, fast paced, and instantly gratifying glory, has reached a new level.
Is too much of a good thing a bad thing? The Internet and its usage is increasing exponentially, but it may be a means to an end. The World Wide Web “has an addictive quality because of the pleasure it provides its users but also because of the sense of dependency it creates” (Aleman, Wartman 2009). Not only is this nation run by technology and the reliance on a well-functioning Internet, people living their day-to-day lives rely on it as well. This would cause for a diminished sense of independence if the functioning Internet were to subside. It seems as though a person can no longer find their way around without MapQuest or their GPS navigation. A person cannot find the definition of a word without typing it into an on-line dictionary. People cannot communicate with each other in the real world as well as they can in the virtual world. Internet has not ameliorated our abilities to function independently as much as it has made us more reliant on the medium. It has, however, created an atmosphere of hyper awareness, which can be perceived as either commendable or contemptible.
The awakened conscious of society has been brought about by the availability of information in terms of news, celebrities, reality television, and, of course, the Internet. It has been a luxury to be able to use each of these mediums in the search for information and to participate in the creation of new information. As the mediums continue to develop, so do our thoughts and ideas. The advances in technology have correlated with the advances in cultural knowledge. There is a heightened awareness of other people and their cultures because of the media and Internet. Our dependence on such mediums is questionable but the public opinion remains constant; it is better to have experienced such luxuries and lose them to have never had them at all.
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Foster, Jason. "'Branding' Yourself Could Be Boon to Career." General OneFile. Herald, 31 Mar. 2000. Web. 14 Dec. 2009.
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