Green Spectrum: The Mass ‘Fragments’ into Individuals

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When executives and academicians who deal in Mass Media speak of a fracturing or a fragmenting or an atomization of audiences that is occurring, what they unknowingly are talking about is how the gravitation of people around and across content is changing. People no longer have relatively scarce access to news, entertainment, and other information, but now have surplus (even an overload of) access and choices of such contents. When they had little choice—access to only a few radio and television channels, only one or two dozen magazines on the newsstands, only one, two, or three daily newspapers—masses of them consumed whatever they could get.  But as their access and supply of contents began to increase a few decades ago due to new media technologies, those masses began ‘fragmenting’ or ‘atomizing’ proportionate to that supply. There always have been, and always will be, as many ‘fragments’ as there are individual people.

People in post-industrial countries began to abandon use of general-interest ‘one-size-fits-all’ Mass Media products and services that dominated the Industrial Era, and they began gravitating as individuals to whatever mix of contents, from all their access and supply, that best fit their own unique needs, interests, and tastes. They initially did this by ‘hunting and gathering’ this mix across cable or satellite television channels, then later across those channels plus the Internet, and are now aided by social networks of like-minded individuals in their content hunting and gathering. They soon will be greatly aided by technologically automated systems that do this, as Web 3 arrives. What they find and consume now this way gives them better matches of content than what any Mass Media products and services could supply.

This change in gravitation toward contents began in the U.S. during the 1970’s when cable television systems began offering consumers more channels than terrestrial antennae could. It continued during the 1980’s when offset lithography made publication of special interest magazines economical. The 1990’s gave the public access to the Internet and hundreds of millions of websites. Their access gained broadband speeds and WiFi during the 2000’s. And the current decade is making it all mobile, wherever they roam.

The appearance of groups of individuals as masses during the Industrial Era of Mass Media wasn’t a permanent condition but a temporary phenomenon caused by the relative scarcity of people’s choices and access to news, entertainment, and other information. Just as the Industrial Era is ending, replaced by Informational Era technologies that can do much more than produce masses of identical copies, so too is the Industrial Era’s form of media, namely Mass Media, which can produce a mass of identical editions, ending. People no longer revolve around Mass Media but gravitate across a much more extensive universe of choices. They no longer accept the ‘standard meals’ of information that they and all their peers had received during the earlier era; they instead now pick and choose what items to consume from a multimillion item informational buffet of choices.

And because this new way of consuming, this new gravitation towards media contents, gives people a better way to match items of content to their own uniquely individually mixes of needs, interests, and tastes, they consume more contents than they did during the earlier era.  Although the traditional products of Mass Media companies are in financial deterioration because those don’t supply to people individuated contents and the online versions of those unindividuated products don’t get frequent or thorough usage and so likewise don’t generated sufficient revenues to reverse the fortunes of Mass Media companies, consumers themselves consuming more contents than ever before.  According to Nielsen, during May 2013 the average American who went online did so 64 times; visited 94 websites; viewed 2,716 webpages; and spent 29 hours and nearly 8 minutes that month doing so.

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