Media effects on society: Uses for Gratifications’ theory
By Mourad Anouar,
Morocco World News
Oklahoma City, February 4, 2012
Lucian Parfeni, Web News Editor at www.news.softpedia.com, wrote an article about why teens don’t tweet. To get an answer for that, he asked Geoff Cook, co-founder and CEO of social networking site my Yearbook, about the reluctance to use twitter among teens. Surveying more than 10,000 teens between 13 and 17 years old, the answer by Geoff Cook was not totally unexpected, as it turns out that teens tweet or don’t tweet just as much as the rest of us. For the most part, Facebook is just a better alternative.
To back up this finding, the writer referred to Nielsen report from a 15-year-old intern at the research firm which, even if it was hardly scientific, it found that teenagers just don’t use Twitter because they have much better alternatives for their needs like Facebook. Along with these findings, the major one was that most teenagers don’t use twitter, because their needs are better served by other services and that the micro blogging service really does not bring anything new for them.
It seems that this article goes in parallel with what Blumler and Katz found in their uses for gratification theory. Beginning in the 1940s, researchers began seeing patterns under the perspective of the uses and gratifications theory in radio listeners. Early research was concerned with topics, such as children’s use of comics and the absence of newspapers during a newspaper strike.
In 1974, Katz and Bulmer (1974) saw the mass media as a means by which individuals connect or disconnect themselves with. Before that time, most communication research was questioning, “What do media do to people?” However, Katz suggested asking the question, “What do people do with media?
The uses for gratification approach, within the Functionalist theory, shifted the focus from the purposes of the communication to the purpose of the reader and opened a door to a modern understanding of mass communication. This popular approach to understanding mass communication suggests that media users play an active role in choosing and using the media. Uses for gratifications theory takes a more humanistic approach to looking at media use.
Bulmer and Katz believe that there is not merely one way that the populace uses media. Instead, they believe there are as many reasons for using the media, as there are media users. Users take an active part in the communication process and are goal-oriented in their media use. The two theorists say that a media user seeks out a media source that best fulfills the needs of the user. John Fiske (1990) notes that “this approach takes as its basis the belief that the audience has a complex set of needs which it seeks to satisfy in the mass media”
Uses for gratification theory can be seen in this case in the article we have in the fact that the teens prefer Facebook not only to fit a particular mood, but also in attempts to show empowerment or other socially conscience motives, even if there are many different types of social network sites that we choose from them to fulfill a particular need. Dominic A. Infante, Andrew S. Rancer and Deanna F. Womack (2003) concluded that “Another assumption of uses and gratification theory is that audiences use the media to fulfill expectations. For example, you may watch a science fiction program such as Star Trek to fantasize about the future”
As other mass media theories, Uses for Gratifications’ theory has been criticized for the fact that the public has no control over the media and what it produces. It can also be said to be too kind to the media, as they are being ‘let off the hook’ and do not need to take responsibility for what they produce.
Additionally, it receives critique due to the individualistic nature of Uses and Gratification theory; it is difficult to take the information that is collected in studies. Most research relies on pure recollection of memory rather than data. This makes self-reports complicated and immeasurable. Others even believe that this theory in hand has survived because only for want of an alternative.
Karsten Renckstorf (2004) said that “It cannot be said to have flourished, and its success are patchy and uneven”. In general, although the media industry is based on the strategy that audiences are at least somewhat active, two dichotomies concerning media have long prevailed. In the first group are those scholars who view the mass audience as predominantly passive and those who hold that audience members are active and discriminating.
However, the basic questions remain the same. Why do people become involved in one particular type of mediated communication or another, and what gratifications do they receive from it? Judith Page Van Evra (2004) thinks that “contemporary studies answer the criticism and show systematic progression and further conceptual development, including attention to theoretical links among uses of media and effects and more knowledge about audience members as variably active communicators.”
Dominic A. Infante, Andrew S. Rancer and Deanna F. Womack. (2003) Building communication theory. Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press.
John Fiske. (1990) Introduction to Communication Studies. Florence, KY: Routledge.
Judith Page Van Evra. (2004) Television and child development. Florence, KY: Routledge.
Karsten Renckstorf. (2004) Action theory and communication research: recent developments in Europe. Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter.