WJMCR 17 (August 2009)
The goal of this study was to find out what part interactivity plays in the dependency relationship between media and individuals. This study sought to shed light on the issue by quantitatively measuring individual dependence on traditional and digital media. The focus was on the concept of reactivity, where messages sent between senders and receivers are contingent upon the messages immediately preceding them. Digital media are considered to be more reactive than traditional media. It was discovered that participants who viewed digital reactive media messages reported significantly higher levels of cognitive media dependence than those viewing digital noninteractive media messages. Those that viewed traditional reactive and noninteractive messages showed little difference in their media dependence. Reactivity proved to play a significant role in the level of media dependence in digital realms.
Nearly 150 million Americans are regularly using the Internet.1 Individuals use this new medium to seek information, be entertained, and engage in various types of mediated and mass communication.2 Chaffee and Metzger3 argue that the Internet will “form the backbone of most future mediated communication” (p. 369). As more and more people become connected and form dependencies upon the Internet it becomes increasingly important for media scholars to engage in new media effects research. This study will attempt to identify new media effects by comparing old and new media.
The purpose of this study is to identify the effects of media reactivity on users of print and digital poetry and apply those findings to media system dependency theory4 by exploring what this study refers to as a digital ripple effect. DeFleur and Ball-Rokeach5 term a ripple effect as a phenomenon where one part of a social system (i.e., society, media, audience) undergoes changes that ultimately affect all the other parts in the system. The digital ripple effect implies a macro (media) to micro (individual) digital evolution that is causing changes in the relationship between media and individuals. Although the concept of “digital media” can represent a number of media forms (e.g., digital television, digital radio, digital phones, Internet) this study will operationalize “digital media” as Internet or computer use with links. To observe these potential changes, poetry will be used in traditional (i.e., print) and digital (i.e., hypertext) forms as a stimulus to measure participant’s affective, cognitive, and behavioral dependence upon the reactive and noninteractive messages received.
The stimuli in this study (i.e., print and hypertext poetry) will be presented to participants in both reactive and noninteractive forms. Reactivity is two-way communication where messages from senders and receivers are contingent upon messages immediately preceding them.6 Reactivity should not be confused with interactivity. An interactive exchange requires messages to refer to the preceding messages and to the overall components and content of the exchange creating a thread of interrelated messages.7 It has yet to be shown that mass media exchanges can attain fully interactive status, but reactivity through computer-mediated exchanges has created a new dimension by which media form and content effects may occur.
Poetry is utilized as the research stimulus in this study due to its rich history as a form of traditional media and the current emergence of a digital hypertext form. The origins of poetry stem from an oral tradition where singers (i.e., oral poets) spoke aloud in poetic verse creating a type of mass communication. Parry8suggested that oral poets followed formulas to tell their tales and would often change the direction of the poem based on the reactions of the listeners. Lord9noted that oral poets followed a “flexible plan of themes, some of which are essential and some of which are not” (p. 99). As oral poetry evolved into written form Lord10 suggested that even the best poets did not realize the possibilities. The evolution of poetry from the spoken to the written word reflects the current possibilities that hypertext offers to today’s poets.
Presently, poetry is broadening into a new form that utilizes an online canvas (i.e., hypertext) where poet and reader interact through verse, images, sounds, and links. As traditional poetic formulas are incorporated or adapted into this hypertext form, multiple observable effects may follow. For this study, the current merge of traditional oral and print poetry with digital hypertext poetry represents the potential future for other traditional media forms like books, radio, and television.
One goal of this study is to evaluate the utility of reactivity as a condition for examining the impact of the Internet on the relationship between media and audiences. Jankowski and Hanssen11 suggest that terms (e.g., reactivity) essential to new media (e.g., Internet) should be examined for their usefulness “rather than attempting to ‘fit’ these elements into already existing theoretical models” (p. 8). Chaffee and Metzger12 identify fundamental differences between old and new media technologies suggesting that current media will test old models and, “as these changes in the media environment challenge our long-standing conceptions of mass communication, many of our theoretical models will have to be reevaluated” (p. 374). For this study, media system dependency theory13 will be evaluated for its usefulness in exploring changes in the relationship between media and individuals. The current MSD model may need to be adapted to consider the impact of digital reactivity and the formation of a digital ripple effect.
The New Medium
The Internet is a new form of mediated communication that will likely produce multiple effects at both the macro and micro levels. Meyrowitz14 identifies media as conduit, suggesting that to be “media literate” one must “understand the influence on both the micro- and macro level of the relatively fixed characteristics of each medium” (p. 106). A multidimensional communication technology (i.e., Internet) is now available to not only communicate interpersonally, but also glean information or be entertained.15 The current state of the ripple effect within the relationship between media and audiences has arguably changed the dynamics of the individual goals and the media resources offered. Individuals that use digital media can arguably increase their power to retrieve information through their ability to gather information and disseminate their own information. Riley16suggests that mass media audiences are “prosumers,” a combination of producer and consumer. The Interactivity Element The degree of interactivity is conceptualized as the extent to which messages are responsive to earlier messages. Rafaeli17 proposed three levels of interactivity: noninteractive communication, reactive communication, and fully interactive communication. Noninteractive exchanges involve bilateral messages between two parties that are independent of the history of the communication exchange (e.g., listening to radio or watching television). Reactive communication requires a bilateral exchange that includes messages that are contingent upon earlier ones. For example, a politician engaged in a press conference would have to respond to questions from the floor to achieve a reactive status.18 For fully interactive exchanges to happen messages must not only refer to the preceding message, but to the overall components and content of the exchange creating a thread of interrelated messages.19
For this study, reactivity will help gauge the impact of the Internet on the state of media uses and effects. A reactive exchange is made up of two-way communication where one message is responsive only to the one that preceded it (as opposed to earlier ones.20 The concept of media reactivity is important for this study because a reactive online exchange appears to be representative of digital media where traditional media are generally considered noninteractive. It is possible to achieve reactive status with traditional media, but it is not customary. Most traditional media produce only noninteractive messages.21
One foundational component of interactivity is that a sender also be a receiver and vice versa. Interactivity is believed to be purest at the FtF level, but can also be attained through computer-mediated communication and potentially human computer interaction.22 The term interactivity has been loosely used to describe varying levels of website usability. Arguably e-mail and chat rooms offer possibilities for fully interactive exchanges. Messages can interconnect through a mediated component and generate a common thread of communication between two individuals. Sundar, Kalyanaraman and Brown23 hypothesized that Rafaeli’s24 conceptualization of interactivity could be extended to a Web-based domain. The authors posited that the degree of message contingency (i.e., messages being dependent upon previous messages) in the content of a website can be used as the basis for gauging the site’s interactivity.
Interactivity will be tested here as the first independent variable with two conditions (i.e., reactive and noninteractive) predicted to strengthen affective, cognitive, and behavioral media dependence. The second independent variable is medium, which also has two conditions (i.e., print poetry and hypertext poetry). Hypertext poetry is considered a reactive medium.
Hypertext Poetry as Reactive Mediated Communication
Poetry is, and has been, a fundamental form of media since the dawn of mass communication.25 Parry26 wrote of oral poets using language and diction to sing stories to the masses. Oral poetry acted as an early form of mass communication. Lord27 documented poetry’s evolution from the spoken to the written word and suggested that even the best oral poets did not realize the possibilities of expanding spoken word to text. Poetic formulas were adapted from the oral tradition to the text form. Traditional text-based forms of poetry are presented in books, magazines, newspapers, and dictated in audio and video recordings. Poetry has influenced societies across the globe throughout milestones in history. Whether this be Ezra Pound’s taking to the airwaves to present poetry and his fascist rantings28or T.S. Eliot entertaining the survivors of a bombed out London during World War II29, poetry has been a part of the content provided through mass communication. After the September 11, 2001 attack on America, poets used their art to respond to the crisis. In response to the attack Evan30 wrote, “for those of us who turn habitually to literature (e.g., poetry) in order to make sense of our lives and our world, already the search for understanding has begun” (p. 1). There are countless examples of poetry’s influence on individual’s worldviews; thus it is a significant type of mass mediated content worthy of exploration.
In the search for an online source that embraces reactivity in a cutting edge trend, the term “hypertext” stands out among many. Newhagen and Rafaeli31 identify hypertextuality as a defining quality of communication on the net. According to Glazier32 hypertext, also known as e-writing, is “a textual continuum” (p. 2). Links are provided within the text that provides information transmission in a non-linear manner.33 One group of people that are employing this new innovation is e-poets. Poetry, which by all accounts is a form of mediated communication, is treading new ground under the guise of “hypertext poetry.” Rosenberg34 suggests that this medium contains an “explicit external structure, coupled with interactivity wherein that structure plays itself out” (p. 2). This interactive art form allows users to choose their own corridors that lead deeper into the depths of the poems. Woodhead35 proposes that literary work is becoming less about a single author creating an isolated act, but rather the “author is one of a group of several actors-a group that eventually includes the reader” (p. 69). Yet the e-poets can shape their hypertext poetry in a number of different patterns to create multiple interpretations.
Kendall36 notes that hypertext poetry is “enduringly indeterminate, a permanently provisional enactment of virtual pages left to flap in the winds of reader interaction” (p. 2). This exchange gives the reader more power and heightens the level of involvement.37 Increased individual power and heightened involvement with the message speak directly to the use of poetry as a stimulus in this study. Individual power is generally limited when using traditional forms of media; thus hypertext provides an extraordinary experience for the reader.
Hypertext poetry often begins with an opening stanza located in the center of the screen. Clickable key words are circulated around, or within the stanza. After the reader finishes reading the opening stanza, they can choose which word they would like to select to advance the poem. When a word has been clicked a new stanza appears with a new set of circulating words. The user can stop or continue at any point in the reading, hence the idea of a continuum. This innovation creates a textual environment where any word or character can be influential to the action or advancement of the poem.38 The text is often accompanied by images, audio, and graphics. Many of the e-poets use this medium to present a constellation of artistic works.
Although this medium has undoubtedly gone largely unnoticed by the general public, it is an adequate forecast for the future of Internet media. Hypertext poetry embraces a higher level of interactivity than traditional media and is representative of the second level of interactivity (i.e., reactivity). Glazier39 suggests that hypertext poetry, “has already been on the scene and may be uniquely qualified to serve as the site for emergent forms of digital textuality” (p. 95). Undoubtedly, other forms of hypertext (e.g., hypertext fiction) are adopting the practices of e-poets, but it is expected that online media will eventually become as interactive as hypertext poetry.
Individual Media System Dependencies
Ball-Rokeach and DeFleur40 define dependency as, “a relationship in which the satisfaction of needs or the attainment of goals by one party is contingent upon the resources of another party” (p. 6). Emphasis is placed on the interrelationship between the respective systems (i.e., social, media, and audience) and within the environment in which they exist. Changes in the media dependency relationship produce a “ripple effect” (p. 323).41 This study is proposing a digital ripple effect, defined by changes occurring throughout the social and media systems sparked by the emergence of the Internet. This is a macro to micro level effect because it starts with the technological change in the media system (i.e., the emergence of the Internet) and ripples down to the individual level (i.e., micro). This paper will focus on the micro, or individual level of analysis to explore the dependent relationship that individuals form with traditional and digital media and determine if those dependencies change due to a more reactive media environment.
At the micro level, MSD theory suggests that individual Media-system dependencies (IMD’s) stem from a desire to achieve personal goals.42 The goals are based upon attaining information and are considered “the key dimension of individual motivation said to underlie individuals’ media-system dependencies” (p. 494).43 Goal achievement involves solving the problem of a lack of informational resources within an individual’s social system. The media system is seen as a network that provides individuals with one-way information through three resources: information gathering (e.g., reporters reporting), information processing (e.g., editing/packaging), and information dissemination (e.g., printing/broadcasting). This is a key component in traditional IMD relationships because the media have control over what information will be disseminated. The relationship between traditional media and the individual is asymmetrical (i.e., media has more power).
Affective, Cognitive, & Behavioral Media System Dependency
Affective, cognitive and behavioral media dependencies serve as dependent variables in this study for each of the four conditions pertaining to poetry: print reactive, print noninteractive, digital reactive, and digital noninteractive. The assessment of these dependencies will uncover potential reasons for the recalibration of the MSD model. The interactivity conditions (i.e., reactive and noninteractive) will provide the structure for comparing participant dependency differences between reactive and noninteractive poetry. Likewise, the medium condition will provide the structure for comparing dependency differences between traditional print poetry and digital hypertext poetry. The specific media dependencies (i.e., affective, cognitive and behavioral) are expected to increase in the digital reactive conditions.
Individual affective, cognitive and behavioral changes are evident due to a dependence established on the media’s informational resources.44 Examples of affective media dependence include individual feelings and emotional responses like fear, anxiety, morale, and alienation.45 Ball-Rokeach and DeFleur46 identify the components of cognitive effects stating that they involve the creation and resolution of ambiguity, attitude formation, agenda setting, expansion of peoples’ systems of beliefs, and the media’s impact on peoples’ values. Behavioral effects involve individual activation and de-activation of how they respond behaviorally to a stimulus. Activation suggests that audience members do something that they ordinarily would not do, as a result of receiving a media message.47 De-activation suggests that audience members do not do something that they would have ordinarily done, as a result of receiving a media message.48
Ball-Rokeach49 notes that dependency should change “not only as goals change, but also as the resources of the media system change” (p. 495). As these changes occur, it is imperative for effects researchers to develop new theoretical stances and refine current theoretical propositions. The Internet is providing the resources and content for reactive exchange and is currently in a state of growth. As online technology becomes more readily available, new media effects will follow. Scholars must be prepared to analyze the effects of this environment touted as the information age. The following hypotheses will test for interactions between interactivity and medium to measure participant’s affective, cognitive, and behavioral media dependencies.
Hypothesis 1: Level of interactivity (reactive/noninteractive) and medium (digital/print) will interact such that digital reactivity will increase affective media system dependency.
Hypothesis 2: Level of interactivity (reactive/noninteractive) and medium (digital/print) will interact such that digital reactivity will increase cognitive media system dependency.
Hypothesis 3: Level of interactivity (reactive/noninteractive) and medium (digital/print) will interact such that digital reactivity will increase behavioral media system dependency.
This study used a between-subjects experimental 2 x 2 full factorial design with two IVs: interactivity (reactive/noninteractive) and medium (print/digital). Using Rafaeli’s50 ordinal conceptualization of interactivity, print and digital media were presented in both reactive and noninteractive forms. By measuring the participants at multiple points in time (i.e., three times over a period of six days), data were collected to gauge the impact of interactivity on affective, cognitive and behavioral media dependence.
Undergraduate students enrolled in various communication courses participated in this study. Twelve participants were eliminated from the study after they missed one or more of the sessions. Sixty-one males and seventy-four females, with an average age of 21 made up the final pool of participants (N = 135). Each participant was randomly assigned to one of four conditions: digital reactive, digital noninteractive, print reactive, or print noninteractive. The participants were told that they were participating in an experiment comparing old and new media, were asked to sign an informed consent form and were required to be more than 18 years old to participate.
The four groups participated in three sessions where they were asked to view various versions of a single original poem. To control for content, the poems for each group all came from the same original poem. The stanzas (5 from 8 total) were placed in different orders for each session. These sessions were evenly administered over a period of six days.
The print-reactive participants received one white sheet of paper with the opening stanza printed. Paper clipped to the opening stanza were four smaller folded sheets of paper containing single visible words on the outside and connecting unrevealed stanzas on the inside. Participants were asked to read the opening stanza and then select a word from the folded sheets that they felt would connect with the first stanza. Then participants were asked to unfold that sheet, revealing the stanza within, which they then placed directly beneath the opening stanza. Again, participants were asked to read the stanzas and select another word from the folded sheets. This process continued until the participant’s had read a total of five stanzas. To end the session, participants were asked to reread the five stanza poem and try to figure out what the poet was saying.
The print-noninteractive participants were given a single sheet of paper that contained five stanzas. All participants in this condition read the same order of stanzas, but the order of stanzas was different for each session. To end the session, participants were asked to reread the five stanza poem and try to figure out what the poet was saying. Likewise, the digital noninteractive participants were provided with a single computer screen containing five stanzas. All participants in this condition read the same order of stanzas, but the order of stanzas was different for each session. To end the session, participants were asked to reread the five stanza poem and try to figure out what the poet was saying. At each session the participants viewed differing orders of the same stanzas.
Finally, the digital-reactive participants were provided with a single computer screen containing the hypertext version of the poem. In other words, the opening stanza was visible on the screen in addition to clickable key words that advance the poem by revealing a new stanza. Because hypertext poetry allows the reader to steer the direction of the poem, the hypertext groups were only allowed to advance (click) four times to reveal five total stanzas of the poem. The participants were asked to try and figure out what the poet was trying to say. They were allowed to traverse back and forth through the poem once they had selected their stanzas. The poem, The Language of the Void, was created and distributed online by hypertext poet Deena Larsen51 on her homepage (deenalarsen.net). The poetry is original work not created for this study.
The participants in each condition were provided as much time as they needed with the five stanzas that they were asked to read. After viewing the poems, participants were asked to either turn in their poems or shut the computer monitors off. Upon completion of the third and final poetry session, participants were asked to respond to three sets of questions regarding affective, cognitive, and behavioral media system dependency. When the questionnaires were completed the participants were debriefed and thanked for their participation.
Individual media system dependence. An IMD media scale was created for this study (see Appendix A) to measure affective and cognitive dependencies upon media. The items were general to media rather than specific to poetry and were worded as “uses” rather than “dependencies.” This was a 15-item, five-point scale with possible responses ranging from (1) “strongly disagree” to (5) “strongly agree.” Statements 1-10 represented affective IMD with a highly reliable index (Cronbach’s alpha = .88). Statements 11-15 represented cognitive IMD with a highly reliable index (Cronbach’s alpha = .82).
Behavioral intent measures. Behavioral responses to the stimulus were measured by asking participants to respond to a behavioral intent scale created for this study. The 8-item, six-point scale was made up of statements about subjects’ intentions to engage in more poetry or change their behaviors after experiencing the stimulus. Participants were asked to respond, (1) “strongly disagree” to (6) “strongly agree” (see Appendix B). These findings were used to assess the behavioral effects of the stimulus on the participants. The index was highly reliable (Cronbach’s alpha = .90).
A 2 x 2 analysis of variance (ANOVA) was utilized to test for significant interactions between interactivity, medium, and media system dependency in Hypotheses 1, 2 and 3. The first independent variable was interactivity (i.e., reactive/noninteractive) and the second independent variable was medium (i.e., print/digital). Hypothesis 1, level of interactivity (reactive/noninteractive) and medium (digital/print) will interact such that digital reactivity will increase affective media system dependency, was marginally supported. The data generated a marginally significant interaction for interactivity and medium on affective MSD, F (1, 133) = 3.49, partial η2 = .03, p = .06, observed power = .46. As shown in Figure 1, this was due to the digital reactive group having a high mean (M = 3.99) on affective MSD and the digital noninteractive group having a lower affective MSD mean (M = 3.58; t (61) = 2.27, p < .03), while the affective MSD means were essentially the same for print reactive (M = 3.84) and print noninteractive (M = 3.87). In addition, there was no significant main effect for reactivity on affective MSD, F (1, 133) = 0.78, partial η2 = .44, p = .54, observed power = .07. Those in the reactive conditions did not average significantly higher (M = 3.91) affective MSD than those in the noninteractive conditions (M = 3.72). There was also no significant main effect for medium on affective MSD, F (1, 133) = 0.10, partial η2= .09, p = .80, observed power = .05. Those in the digital medium (M = 3.78) averaged about the same as those in the print medium (M = 3.85) on affective MSD.
When the four groups are compared (see Figure 1), it is evident that digital reactivity generates more affective MSD than digital noninteractivity. This suggests that digital reactivity plays a role in the process of individual media system dependency and specifically impacts levels of individual affective dependence. Participants in the digital reactive condition experienced greater emotional stimulation than all other conditions, and significantly more than the digital noninteractive condition. Interestingly the print reactive and noninteractive conditions showed few differences, suggesting that reactivity, in traditional media forms (i.e., print) does not play a role in individual levels of affective media dependency.
Figure 1. Digital (reactive/noninteractive) vs. print (reactive/noninteractive): Affective individual media dependency line graph.
Hypothesis 2, level of interactivity (reactive/noninteractive) and medium (digital/print) will interact such that digital reactivity will increase cognitive media system dependency, was supported. The data generated a significant interaction for interactivity and medium on cognitive MSD, F (1, 133) = 5.21, partial xxxxx = .04, p < .02, observed power = .62. As shown in Figure 2, this was due to the digital reactive group having a high mean (M = 3.54) on cognitive MSD and the digital noninteractive group having a lower mean (M = 3.05; t (61) = 2.66, p < .01) on cognitive MSD, while the means were essentially the same for print reactive (M= 3.35) and print noninteractive (M = 3.47) on cognitive MSD. In addition, there was no significant main effect for reactivity on cognitive MSD, F (1, 133) = 0.40, partial η2 = .29, p = .64, observed power = .06. Those in the reactive conditions did not average significantly higher (M = 3.45) than those in the noninteractive conditions (M = 3.30) on cognitive MSD. There was also no significant main effect for medium on cognitive MSD, F (1, 133) = 0.15, partial η2 = .13, p = .77, observed power = .05. Those in the digital medium (M = 3.29) averaged about the same as those in the print medium (M = 3.41) on cognitive MSD.
When the four groups are compared in Figure 2, it is evident that digital reactivity generates a different participant response to cognitive MSD. Digital noninteractivity appears to reduce the potential for cognitive individual media dependency resulting in digital reactive means that were not much higher than the print reactive and noninteractive means (see Figure 2). Participants in the digital noninteractive condition were less likely to report feeling more mentally stimulated after reading the poetry. The results show that digital media require reactivity to achieve higher levels of individual cognitive media dependency. The lack of significant mean differentiation between print reactive and print noninteractive conditions suggests that reactivity has little impact upon traditional media forms.
Figure 2. Digital (reactive/noninteractive) vs. print (reactive/noninteractive): Cognitive individual media dependency line graph.
Hypothesis 3, level of interactivity (reactive/noninteractive) and medium (digital/print) will interact such that digital reactivity will increase behavioral media system dependency, was not supported. The data did not yield a significant interaction for interactivity and medium on behavioral MSD, F (1, 133) = 0.78, partial η2 = .01, p = .38, observed power = .14. The digital reactive conditions (M= 2.81) had no significant differentiation from the digital noninteractive conditions (M = 2.98) on behavioral MSD. Likewise, the print reactive conditions (M = 3.31) and print noninteractive conditions (M = 3.13) were essentially the same for behavioral MSD. Additionally, there was no significant main effect for reactivity on behavioral MSD, F (1, 133) = 0.00, partial η2 = .00, p = .98, observed power = .05. Those in the reactive conditions (M = 3.06) reported identical means as those in the noninteractive conditions (M = 3.06) on behavioral MSD. There was also no significant main effect for medium on behavioral MSD, F (1, 133) = 3.42, partial η2 = .77, p = .32, observed power = .12. Those in the digital medium (M = 2.90) reported little difference from those in the print medium (M = 3.22) on behavioral MSD. Overall, the results suggest that behavioral intent was not affected by interactivity or medium. Participants did not report desires to read more poetry or know more about the poet due to any of the conditions.
Hypothesis 1 predicted that digital reactivity would increase affective media system dependency. Digital reactive participants did report higher levels of affective media system dependency than digital noninteractive participants, approaching significance at p < .06. This finding suggests that digital media, presented in a reactive form, are more likely to positively influence participant’s affective media system dependencies like being entertained, inspired and fulfilled. The reactive digital media impacted the participant’s feelings and emotional responses. Participants reported using the media to relax and be uplifted which suggests an affective dependence that speaks to the desire participants have to reduce worry and stress.
Hypothesis 2 predicted that digital reactivity would increase cognitive media system dependencies like seeking information, mental stimulation, and understanding of world issues. Again, digital reactive participants reported higher levels of cognitive media system dependency than digital noninteractive participants (p = .02). According to Merskin52 cognitive media dependency consists of “the creation and resolution of ambiguity, attitude formation, agenda setting, expansion of people’s systems of beliefs and the media’s impact on values” (p. 82). In other words, the media reduce ambiguity and help define and structure reality.53 Interestingly, differences in the reported cognitive dependencies for print reactive and noninteractive groups were minimal. The digital reactive group reported higher levels of cognitive media system dependency than digital noninteractive, print reactive, or print noninteractive groups.
Media system dependency posits that individuals rely on media to retrieve information.54 In other words, there are limited places where people can go to retrieve information, thus the media are predominant information resources. Individuals are largely dependent upon the media to retrieve information about the world in which they live. The findings from Hypotheses 1 and 2 support the MSD view by linking digital reactive poetry with increased affective and cognitive media dependency. The results inform MSD theory that affective and cognitive media system dependencies no longer stem only from traditional media sources. Rather, the Internet offers numerous informational resources that can lead to dependencies. In MSD terms, a ripple effect is occurring that is changing the asymmetric power structure between individuals and media. As people rely less on traditional media sources for information, a more symmetric power relationship between individuals and media is formed. Reactive and potentially interactive digital media provide individuals with more power to seek information and thus reduce affective and cognitive reliance on traditional media sources. For example, the recording industry was greatly affected by the emergence of music downloading websites. Individuals gained control over how and what music they wished to place on a compact disc, and more importantly they were able to make those choices free of charge. The ripple effect was apparent when the recording industry began to sue individuals for downloading music. The recording industry adapted to the new media environment and yet individuals are still downloading music for free, or by way of a nominal fee per song. The relationship between the recording industry and audience changed.
Hypothesis 3 predicted that digital reactivity would increase behavioral media system dependencies like reading more poetry or finding out more about the poet. This hypothesis was rejected. Although affective and cognitive media system dependencies were positively influenced by digital reactivity, surprisingly behavioral intent was not. The survey asked participants to report their desires to read and write more, meet the poet, or engage in creative literature. Because behavioral intent was largely untested, it is possible that the questionnaire prepared for this study did not adequately address the issues of behavioral intent (see Appendix B for complete statement wording). Means across conditions were not low enough to warrant a floor effect explanation. In addition, the stimulus choice (i.e., poetry) may not have provided content that warranted a behavioral response from the participants. Had a more popular or mainstream message like music been used, participants might have been more receptive to the message. Finally, the message did not provide any motivation for participants to change their behaviors. The poems did not ask participants to do anything. The implications on MSD theory are that behavioral intent did not change due to reactivity, but the fact remains that weaknesses in the study may have contributed to this result.
Impact on MSD theory
The findings from this study inform MSD theory that digital reactive media are representative of a new media outlet that is contributing to individual media dependencies. The Internet is causing a digital ripple effect. The ripple effect is causing conflict between digital and traditional media. In a phenomenon that closely resembles the onslaught of cable on the big three networks, digital media are forcing traditional media to adapt. In the 1950s and 1960s people watching television had three choices: NBC, CBS, or ABC. By the 1970s and 1980s cable began to offer more viewing choices to consumers. The choices continued to grow through specific channels dedicated to specific genres of programming. Cable channels began to narrowcast to exclusive audiences. The end result was that consumers had more choices to retrieve information through multiple television channels. According to Morris and Ogan55 “demassification” is the trend among audiences that are becoming more fragmented. Chaffee and Metzger56 note “the explosion of available channels afforded by the new technologies contributes to the demassification of the media by diffusing the audience for any particular media product” (p. 369). Affective and cognitive individual media dependencies are formed and strengthened by digital reactive media which ultimately contributes to a fragmented traditional media audience.
The concept of scarce information resources noted by Ball-Rokeach57 is becoming obsolete, a notion that informs MSD theory. Today, the Internet is doing to traditional media what cable did to the networks. Cable fragmented the audience and created greater competition for the networks. The networks were forced to adapt to a new environment where they had less power. The difference today is the vast collection of online informational resources available to the consumer. Traditional media are being forced to adapt to even smaller audiences with less control over those audiences. Consumers have more choices to seek information that was formerly limited by traditional media.
Today the adaptation process for traditional media sources is convergence.58 The traditional media are converging with the digital media. This media adaptation constitutes an evolutionary change in the way messages are being sent and received. Hypertext poetry is an example of print and digital convergence and increased affective and cognitive individual media-system dependency is an example of the effects of such convergence. The digital ripple effect is a concept that embraces and is defined by this rebirth perspective. The convergence is causing a ripple effect throughout the social, media and audience systems.
Changes in media dependency are centered on conflict and adaptation. As previously mentioned, the emergence of the Internet has constituted changes in the media resources available and thus the way individuals achieve informational goals. A social evolutionary paradigm suggests that social systems are continually evolving and changing. DeFleur and Ball-Rokeach59 identify MSD as an ecological theory that can be utilized to explore the relationships between micro (individual) and macro (media) social systems. As the media evolve and incorporate the Internet into their traditional systems by way of convergence, changes in the way researchers look at dependency relationships are warranted. Chaffee and Metzger60 go as far as to say that “researchers need to resist the temptation to simply apply old models of mass communication to the new media” (p. 378). That is not to say that traditional concepts and models should be abandoned, rather they should be explicated to define their usability in exploring emerging phenomena. Media system dependency theory is a traditional theory with a sound infrastructure, and should be adapted to test the future effects of the digital ripple effect and the media rebirth.
This study helps to shed light on the restructuring of media system dependency theory. First, traditional media no longer retain asymmetric power over the audience. The relationship is more symmetrical or even reversed. Currently, newspapers are hemorrhaging money based largely on the fact that digital media has deflated their control over information and dissemination power. The audience can no longer be thought of as a powerless band of test subjects. Future MSD research must place considerable stock in the power the audience now holds over information.
Second, the media landscape has changed drastically since the first draft of media system dependency. Because this landscape is versatile and evolving, MSD theory cannot rely on concrete historical exemplars. The theory should become flexible and chameleon like. As traditional and digital media delve deeper into fully interactive threads of communication, MSD should be adapted and used to further study social implications. These adaptations will emerge and should be a reflection of the evolutionary path that media takes. The digital ripple effect, sited in this study, metaphorically points out the trigger and far-reaching impact of major media evolution.
Finally, media effects researchers should look for opportunities to combine traditional theories (e.g., uses and gratifications; cultivation theory) to develop means for exploring new media trends and implications. MSD theory is evolutionary and should be used to define and understand emerging media platforms beyond simple TV, radio, print and Internet. As social networking platforms like Facebook, Myspace and twitter continue to grow in popularity MSD theory should be expanded, perhaps with other theories, to assess the impact of these new forms of information exchange. Entertainment platforms (e.g., videogames, blogging, Youtube) are providing links for individual media dependency and MSD theory, among others, should be at the forefront of effects exploration. Future research can explicate the changing media landscape and further inform the evolving media effects theories like media system dependency theory.
Individual Media System Dependency Media Scale
Instructions: Here are several statements about media interaction. For each statement, please indicate the number that best expresses your own feelings about the media you interact with. If you strongly agree with the statement write a 5. If you agree with it write a 4. If you disagree some and agree some write a 3. If you disagree with it write a 2. If you strongly disagree with the statement write a 1.
1. I use the media because it is often entertaining.
2. I use the media because it is often dramatic.
3. I use the media because it is often exciting.
4. I use the media to learn of issues affecting people like myself.
5. I use the media because it is often relaxing.
6. I use the media because it is often uplifting.
7. I use the media because it is often inspiring.
8. I use the media because it is often fulfilling.
9. I use the media to relieve boredom.
10. I use the media because I can personalize it to my own needs.
11. I use the media because it is informative.
12. I use the media to help me make up my mind about important issues of the day.
13. I use the media because it is often mentally stimulating.
14. I use the media to learn about the world around me.
15. I use the media to get advice.
Behavioral Intent Scale
Instructions: Read each of the following statements and decide how much you agree with each according to your attitudes, beliefs, and experiences. It is important for you to realize that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers to these questions. People are different, and we are interested in how you feel. Please respond according to the following 6-point scale:
1. _____I would enjoy reading more poetry by the poet.
2. _____I would be willing to look up more poetry.
3. _____If I knew that there was a televised interview with this poet, I would be inclined to watch the program.
4. _____Reading poetry has allowed me to be more creative.
5. _____I would like to write my own poems.
6. _____I plan to share what I know about poetry with my friends and/or family.
7. _____If given the opportunity, I would enjoy meeting this poet.
8. _____Interacting with poetry makes me want to engage in other creative literature.
Brent M. Foster is an assistant professor in the Department of Communications, California State University Fullerton. This manuscript is the partial result of the author’s dissertation at the University of Missouri and was accepted for presentation at the 2009 Western States Communication Association convention.