From social to mass media?

Niklas Luhmann, the famous German sociologist who popularized sociological systems theory, distinguished mass media from other media by the fact that there is no interaction among the participants. This interaction is more or less explicitely locked out by technical means. And in the few cases, where there really is this kind of interaction – think of the letter to the editor – it will be carefully staged and marked as an exception.

Social Media are different. They explicitely allow for interaction. Even more than that: their technology calls for interaction. The Twitter crisis showed the problems that appeared when interactivity had been selectively shut off. A social media service that only is able to broadcast and not to interact, is not social media.

But does Luhmann’s distinction really hold for social media? There has been an intense debate about the friendship paradox: Having more and more contacts or friends is a strong incentive because it means more information and more influence. But at the same time, if you are passing a critical number (how large is it?) you are not able to respond to your friends or contacts anymore.

You are beginning to transform a social medium into a mass medium. You cannot interact with the participants anymore, although this is not caused by technology but by sociology.

With Luhmann you could assume that this switch from social media logic to mass media logic also would imply the following changes:

  • knowing your contacts will be superseded by presumptions and allegations
  • your audience is becoming vague
  • increasing your reach will be increasingly a strong objective
  • the mass medial code “information vs. non-information” will be your guiding line, which implies e.g. that you cannot present the same information twice
  • finally, when looking at the big picture, one of your functions will be to keep society awake, to irritate and surprise

What do you think? Do mass medial bloggers, twitterers, friendfeeders really exist and “operate” this way?

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Comment (1)

  1. Nils Hitze wrote::

    Nehmen wir mal Robert als Beispiel, dann denke ich dass das Phänomen nur bedingt zutrifft. Finde den persönlichen Kontakt zu beiden kann man durchaus herstellen und Nicos “Persönliche Dinge” Twitter sind legendär. Denke mal ein Michel Arrington passt wohl eher. Kommt halt immer drauf an wie man Masse definiert.

    Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 5:03 pm #

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