Media, Markets and Meaning: Placing Sustainable Development and Environmental Conservation and Enrichment at Risk

Hershock, Peter D.

In: Media and public culture: proceedings of the Second International Seminar on Bhutan Studies. Thimphu, Centre for Bhutan Studies 2007, pp. 351-380 . ISBN 99936-14-41-6

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This paper critically assesses the globally dominant pattern of complex relationship that obtains among mass media, market economics, and both cultural and environmental change. Making use of Buddhist conceptual resources that link the meaning of development, environmental conservation and attentional enrichment, the effects of consuming mass media commodities are evaluated in ways that are compatible with Bhutan's overarching commitments to enhancing Gross National Happiness (GNH). Contemporary media are a complex result of historical processes shaped by the interplay of wide-ranging social, economic, political, cultural and technological forces and systems. Understanding how media affect public culture and environmental quality requires gaining critical perspective on these processes and the multi-dimensional context of their consolidation. The author wants to focus on a particular pattern of connections obtaining among mass media, communications technology and market economics— a pattern of interdependence that has crossed key thresholds of intensity and scale to begin globally transforming the quality and directional character of attention itself, thereby affecting the very roots of public culture and effecting a systematic erosion of environmental diversity. In spite of its complex texture, the broad outlines of this pattern of connections can be relatively simply formulated. As a result of compounding efficiencies correlated with specific advances in transportation, manufacturing and communication technology, by the mid-20th century there had emerged global markets of sufficient reach and density to bring about a commodification of the entire range of goods and services needed for basic human subsistence, including food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education, sensory stimulation and a sense of belonging. In the early phases of this process, mass media played a key role in coupling markets and consumers by transmitting advertising content specifically designed to manufacture consumer need. In later phases, positive feedback circuits emerged between market growth and media consumption that did not depend upon media content performing a coupling function. As a result of advances in communication technologies, the scale of media consumption crossed a decisive threshold beyond which the explicit content of the media has come to be less crucial to furthering market growth and the proliferation of consumer needs than the summative effects of media consumption as such. The most salient among these effects is the mass export of attention from local environments, resulting in a depletion of the basic resource needed to appreciate or directly add-value to those environments, as well as a concomitant impoverishing of relational capacities and commitments. Beyond certain thresholds of reach and density, markets attain sufficient complexity to begin producing not only goods and services, but also populations in need of them—populations that experience themselves as living in increasingly elective environments open to and yet also in deepening need of management or control. For individuals in such populations, opportunities for differing multiply geometrically, but those for truly making-a-difference to and for one another contract. Expanding powers for exercising (consumption mediated) freedoms-of choice come at the cost of diminishing strengths for relating-freely.

Document type: Book Section
Version: Secondary publication
Date Deposited: 15 Apr 2009 11:03
ISBN: 99936-14-41-6
Faculties / Institutes: Research Organisations / Academies > Centre for Bhutan Studies
DDC-classification: News media, journalism, publishing
Controlled Keywords: Massenmedien, Wirtschaftsentwicklung, Umweltveränderung
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sozioökonomischer Wandel , Kultureller Wandel, Mass Media , Economic Development , Environmental Change , Socio-economic Change , Cultural Change
Subject (classification): Media