The media is an integral part of modern life experience in western society today (Giddens 2001, 452). It surrounds us in its various forms through each waking moment of our lives, whether TV or radio, newspapers and magazines or most recently the internet and mobile phones. The extent of media penetration into people's lives leads to many questions concerning the relation of society and the media: does the media matter, does it change or reflect society and if so, what parts of society? This kind of questioning of the modern mass media was pioneered by the Frankfurt School in the 1930s, who examined the economics of the mass media, or 'culture industry', as well as recognising them as significant agents of socialisation, reifying or creating social norms and ideologies in the interests of the dominant social groups (Hardt 1979, 28f.; Curran & Seaton 2003, 323-29). This essay will explore these questions.
Perhaps the most significant difference between modern and past societies is the existence of the mass media. The development of printing and the spread of paper manufacture represented the first major advance in the dissemination and preservation of information since the invention of the book form (Gardiner & Wenborne 1995, 618). A consequence of cheaper reading matter, made cheaper and more available still by the industrialisation of the process in the late 18th and 19th centuries, was a rise in literacy, which in turn led to the increasing politicisation of the mass of society and a press reckoned by some to express public opinion and make governments accountable (Curran & Seaton 2003, 4). Even before those developments, pamphleteering, made possible through the burgeoning print media, aided the spread of ideas essential to the Reformation. The sheer growth and spread of the media, beginning with the printing revolution, shows that indeed it does matter.