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Reviews Renewed + Caveat Utilitor

May 26, 2011

Inscripto 26: Forgotten Reviews #1

Bringing you one of Marshall McLuhan’s reviews this week, found in the subject volume. I don’t think it was ever published. This review is timely as in news recently I found “they’re” trying to have internet access deemed a basic human right. To editorialize briefly, usually rights are accompanied by responsibilities. In this case, I would suggest that the people pushing for universal access to the internet ought to let people know something of the (unalterable?) effects of the medium they wish so righteously to give access to. Eric recently suggested to me (we were talking about recent scientific studies about the changing brain and how use of new media effects brain development) that media should come with warnings as to their effects. Like cigarettes or airbags…. Caution: this medium’s effects have not been completely considered prior to release”. Yeah, that’ll happen…

“Mass Media and National Development: The Role of Information in the Developing Countries. Wilbur Schramm. Stanford University Press. $7.50.

Professor Schramm’s foreward indicates his study to be “part of the continuing effort of the United Nations and Unesco to help develop the mass media of communication.” It was reported to The General Assembly of the United Nations in 1962 that “70 percent of the population of the world lack in adequate information facilities and are thus denied effective enjoyment of the right to information.”

That statement is a far cry from the nineteenth century insistence on the human right to self-expression. So basic was the concept of self-expression that John Ruskin could greet the opening of cable services to India with the derisive query: “ What have we to say to India?” Today it is assumed that the human right to media facilities is on the same plane as the right to nourishment:

“If Unesco’s minimum standards were achieved, it would mean that approximately one out of every two families would have a daily newspaper, and one out of every four families, a radio receiver. There would be one television set and one cinema seat for every ten families. Not too much to ask.”

To a large extent Prof. Schramm’s survey is an inventory of the media resources of the undeveloped countries of the world. Where such resources are lacking Professor Schramm cautiously hints that old-fashioned cultural patterns still persist: [quote p.77 as marked]

It might be thought that in the absence of adequate mass communication, the more traditional means of communication would take over the bridge the urban-rural information gap. And so far as possible, this does happen. Meetings are held by government officials and political spokesmen. Folk plays, puppets, singers are as popular as ever. Bazaars and markets still provide excuse for  exchange of information along with exchange of money or goods. The communication “grapevine” still flourishes. But most of these are slow or limited channels.”

He provides a most useful bibliography of the existing studies and reports on media in undeveloped areas.”

Thanks for reading,


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