Sonia Livingstone’s chapter on the development of media literacy charts the development of the consumer from passive viewer of mass media to smart organizer of personal technology. But existing patterns of social interaction may slow down the process of individualized user-developed programming; in other words, you have to consider the plural audience and their significance before determining individual scenarios. People draw on their social and cultural experiences to decipher new (and old) forms of media, which puts direct emphasis on a multi-receiver audience. This also complicates the idea of mass media as the sender to a singular passive audience receiver. With multiple receivers that interact with one another, the exact impact of the media can be hard to determine. Thus, ethnographic audience studies began to examine the use of media goods within exact locations in the home – the Walkman in the kitchen, the TV in the living room, etc. This led researchers to conclude that people are always consumers as well as interpreters of media, as they consume while interacting with one another and creating new contexts and social definitions for these technologies. She goes on to examine past studies of audience behavior in order to sketch out a pattern of media consumption that could perhaps be used to predict future audience behavior with new media. In the end, she’s hesitant to discuss the singular “user,” since collectivity has marked consumption throughout media’s history.
I found this article interesting and potentially useful because it provided me with a new way of looking at consumers of new media. Most new media theorists consider consumption through the Internet and other digital technologies to be more personal; but the social context does still exist, and Livingstone does a good job in highlighting this in her article. Her hesitancy to discuss individuals, however, seems short-sighted in the face of what’s developed in the years since this was written. Personal computers and Internet interaction is essentially a single-person activity – how can you leave the individual out of that? But, her argument is worth considering if only to prod me to consider the larger social context of digesting and learning new media.