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Digital Media

Transformations in Human Communication

Edited By Paul Messaris and Lee Humphreys

The age of digital media has given rise to a new social world. It is a world in which the transmission of information from the few to the many is steadily being supplanted by the multi-directional flow of facts, lies, and ideas. It is a world in which hundreds of millions of people are voluntarily depositing large amounts of personal details in publicly accessible databases. It is a world in which interpersonal relationships are increasingly being conducted in the virtual sphere. Above all, this is a world that seems to be veering off in unpredictable ways from the trends of the immediate past. This book is a probing examination of that world, and of the changes that it has ushered into our lives.

In more than thirty essays by a wide range of scholars, this must-have second edition examines the impact of digital media in six areas – information, persuasion, community, gender and sexuality, surveillance and privacy, and cross-cultural communication – and offers an invaluable guide for students and scholars alike. With one exception, all essays are completely new or revised for this volume.

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Chapter 31: The Panoptic Sort: Looking Back; Looking Forward (Oscar H. Gandy, Jr.)


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The Panoptic Sort

Looking Back; Looking Forward

Oscar H. Gandy, Jr.

The Panoptic Sort (TPS) was published in 1993, but like most scholarly products, it had a long developmental history. One important part of that history is its link to Herbert I Schiller and his 1973 classic, The Mind Mangers. Schiller’s wide-ranging examination of the strategies and techniques that were applied to the manipulation of consciousness as “the principal means of social control” (Schiller, 1973, p. 4) provided a solid foundation for the approach to the production of influence that I would eventually examine in TPS. Of course, that foundation also depended on some of the initial groundwork that was at the heart of my first book, Beyond Agenda Setting (Gandy, 1982). It was in that book that I applied the notion of “information subsidies” to the formation and implementation of public policy. Missing in that book was an understanding of the techniques that were involved in the segmentation of audiences and the targeting of the persuasive messages that Schiller had referred to back in 1973. Those techniques were at the heart of the process that I would later attempt to describe.

Characterized as a “political economy of personal information,” TPS was an attempt to describe the technology used by strategists in business and government to identify, characterize, and evaluate the economic and political value that could be derived from strategic communications delivered to segments...

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