Sarah J. Edmonds English 101
Berit Elvejord 3 March 2015
Social MEdia: The New Age of Communication, or the New Age of Exclusion?
In this piece, the laws and restrictions of modern communication, mostly circulating around the internet, are examined and analyzed. Many argue that the discourse of social media users is an extremely exclusive one; one must be born in a certain time frame to truly understand the culture, actions, and purpose. Yet many users of these sites do not fit that description, and may be using them for reasons other than what they were invented for. Mary Louise Pratt uses several terms in her work, The Art of the Contact Zone, that are defined and used as tools to investigate the topic of communication as a whole. Bringing in the theories of Mary Louise Pratt, essay looks at how different cultures use this resource, and whether or not it helps or hurts the overall communication in modern day society.
Communication is everywhere. Whether it be online, face to face, written, verbal, visual
we are always communicating with one another. It is imperative for human existence, and has
been a part of culture since the very beginning. First, there were cave drawings and verbal stories
passed down from generation to generation, then letters rode into town by horse drawn carriages,
and now we have come all the way to where we are now: social media. Online communication is
by far the most used in todays culture, and social media methods that people connect through
the web. In Marie Louise Pratts work, The Art of the Contact Zone, she talks a lot about
communication between different groups of people, and and defines transculturation as
processes whereby members of subordinated or marginal groups select and invent from
materials transmitted by a dominant or metropolitan culture (110). In the modern day world,
especially regarding communication, how is this relevant?
Whether people like it or not, one of the most dominant cultures in society currently is
social media. People now have been forced into using it even if it outside of their comfort zone.
For example, talk shows such as Conan, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
all have Youtube channels, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts. None of these talk show hosts
actually run these social media sites, however. They hire social media consultants to run these
But why? What is the point of having social media if it isnt genuinely run by the person
whos account it is? That is the point behind social media, to connect with people. But in these
cases, people arent connecting with the people they think they are. They do this because those
hosts need to stay relevant. There is a whole audience who they are trying needing to reach, and
they wouldnt be able to if it werent for their connection through those sites.
Also, these people dont necessarily use social media in the same way the people who
created this culture do. Youtube channels of these talk show hosts always have the same format:
introduction, short segment (usually under five minutes anything else is hard to convince
someone to sit through), and ending. This ending consists of the host popping up on a pre-
recorded screen saying something along the lines of If you liked this you should check out our
channels other videos to my right!, and then links to those videos. Youtube has recently also
put in a feature that is similar to Netflix in that you dont have to click on a new video for one to
start playing, a video that is relevant to the one you just watched will automatically start in ten
seconds or so if you dont click away.
So is this transculturation by Pratts standards or not? These people are taking aspects of
the social media culture and using them for their own purposes, so hypothetically it would fit
into that category. But whether or not it is effective is up in the air, and perhaps that makes the
difference. The dominant culture of social media is run by the people who created it, and even
though the people outside of that culture (in this case the hosts, who even hire people to provide
them with an online presence) are using some of the same aspects of it, some may claim that they
arent using it in the same way. While they are using it for purely advertising and marketing
purposes, the dominant culture is using it for what they created it for: the ability to share and
connect with people around them.
Either way, this process of transuculturation greatly affects the communication process.
Taking these two different generations, for example. Yes, it may be a generalization to say that
all these late night talk show hosts are from the same generation, but technically speaking, they
are. None of them were part of what I will refer to as the internet generation, meaning that they
were all born after that technology had started advancing. So no matter what, none of them will
ever truly be a part of that discourse. But this process that Pratt defines in her work gives the
chance for them to try and become of this group by taking aspects of its members and trying to
make them their own. But does it work? Is this process harming or hurting the overall
communication between these generations?
What first must be considered is the goal that these shows truly have in mind when
getting onto the social media platforms. Do we really think that they are on there for the purpose
of communication with a section of their fan base they otherwise would not be able to? Or is it
purely to gain more popularity, viewers, and subsequently higher ratings? I think it is pretty clear
that the idea that these hosts are reaching out to their fans for the sake of communication is
outruled, seeing as the vast majority of the time they arent even the ones posting as their social
media personas. So considering that this seems more like a marketing ploy that anything else, it
would appear as though this does more harm than hurt as far as communication goes. It boils it
down to its most primitive form: like when youre talking to someone, but not listening; just
waiting for them to stop to you can talk.
But another term that Pratt uses in her essay is autoethnography. In short, this is a space
in which two things can come together and be understood by a group of people that otherwise
would not be able to understand it. One prime example of this is still in the realm of visual
media, but has migrated from the small to the big screen: film. In the 2015 Oscars, there were
many extremely accomplished films represented, and nearly all of them had something to say on
an issue that otherwise would have been less known by the public. While everyone may have a
knowledge of these topics (some of the ones that came up were Alzheimers, Lou Gehrigs
disease, and racism), film has a way giving someone a whole new take on whatever it may be.
Incredible films are made every year that create a sort of portal that connects the audience to a
time, place, situation, or experience that they could have never experienced. Yes, people can read
about it and learn about it in written text, but films have a way of bringing in a personal side of
things that engulfs the audience into the moment and allows them to be in the situation rather
than learn of the situation.
In the world of social media, this can be said of people coming together from every
background to share similar, or different ideas. Youtube, the same platform on which famed
people have made a home for a varied type of show promo, is one of the largest examples of this.
The site has over 1 billion users, and the highest subscribed user is named PewDiePie, whos
claim to fame is making videos of himself playing video games out of his basement. People
dont have to be famous or even have any sort of skill to be able to click upload and share with
the world what theyre thinking. There is no hidden secret to becoming popular, or gain
subscribers. It is merely communication at work; people will click on what they find interesting,
comment, and so forth.
So this theory of Pratts does seem to enhance communication in a way. Youtube is a
center for everyone to upload whatever they wish. Yet, this is the same example in which her
theory seemed to be disproved. For while Youtube is the home for many creative and intriguing
people, it is also the hub of formulaic videos that do not adhere to the true spirit of the site. It
seems as though no matter how wonderful (or not so wonderful) social media can be, the
generation gap will always bring people farther apart rather than together.
The idea of having transculturation and autoethnography present in this aspect of society
is valid, yet the execution doesnt equate. No matter what, social media is an exclusive society. It
is just one of those discourses that no matter what you do or how hard you try, you just cant be a
part of it unless you just are. It can be compared to different cultures in the geological sense I
was born in America, so no matter how many years of Spanish I take, or how many times I travel
to Spain, I will never be a native. I will never understand why nouns are male and female, similar
to how my parents will never understand why screaming goats in the middle of a Taylor Swift
song is hilarious. This internet generation invented what was funny in that space, we created
all these platforms for creativity, so were are the ones who define what we like and what we
dont. That is something that any generation born after this development will never be able to
grasp onto. And its not something that that discourse would ever allow its like our own
secret language; people can come hang out with us, but they will have no idea whats happening.
So overall, social media, even with the great strides it has made in making communication easier
for people of all ages, seems to have created the generation gap an even harder obstacle to
Pratt, Mary Louise. Arts of the Contact Zonze. Participating in Cultures of Writing and Reading. Donna Qualley, Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2015. 104-116. Print