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Communication Theory and Millennial Popular Culture

Essays and Applications

Edited By Kathleen Glenister Roberts

Theories help to troubleshoot gaps in our understanding, and to make sense of a world that is constantly changing. What this book tries to do, in part, is blur the lines between the differences between today’s college students – the millennial generation – and their professors, many of whom hail from the Boom Generation and Generation X.
In the following chapters, contributors build upon what both parties already know. Writing in a highly accessible yet compelling style, contributors explain communication theories by applying them to «artifacts» of popular culture. These «artifacts» include Lady Gaga, Pixar films, The Hunger Games, hip hop, Breaking Bad, and zombies, among others. Using this book, students will become familiar with key theories in communication while developing creative and critical thinking. By experiencing familiar popular culture artifacts through the lens of critical and interpretive theories, a new generation of communication professionals and scholars will hone their skills of observation and interpretation – pointing not just toward better communication production, but better social understanding.
Professors will especially enjoy the opportunities for discussion this book provides, both through the essays and the «dialogue boxes» where college students provide responses to authors’ ideas.


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Part III: Media and Technology


Part III Media and Technology CHAPTER 12 The Smartphone as Permanent Substitute Teacher Brian Gilchrist The smartphone has been a ubiquitous presence among students for many years. This chapter addresses the following question: What are the implica- tions of smartphones for contemporary American public education? This in- quiry is explored using Marshall McLuhan’s approach to media ecology. First of all, McLuhan’s perspective on media ecology is examined, to pro- vide theory for analyzing the media effects of smartphones. “Theory” com- prises a “set of statements … coded in terms of words or in terms of mathematical equations” (Ruesch, 1972, p. 393). Secondly, some significant hardware and software features of smartphones are identified, to position smartphones as media that promote the pursuit of information. Third, smartphones are interpreted as permanent substitute teachers, because, in a sense, they have replaced teachers as guardians of information in the Ameri- can public education system. McLuhan’s Media Ecology Media ecology has grown into a robust area of study within the communica- tion discipline, over the last fifteen years. Neil Postman defined media ecol- ogy, as a study of the reciprocal relationship between human beings and communication media within mediated environments. If we can agree on that general definition, then the scope of media ecology can be expanded greatly. Media ecology examines the impact of technology on cultures, and how hu- man beings interpret reality through media (Anton, 2011, p. 99; Ellul, 1964; Farrell, 2012, p. 56; Gilchrist, 2012; Innis, 1999, p. 9; McLuhan, 2000, p. 57;...

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