“Popular communication” can be characterized by the various ways in which the general public engages popular forms of communication including radio, television, film, popular music, and print media such as magazines, newspapers, and popular literature, as well as new technologies such as the Internet, email, and mobile phones. In addition to their general utility, these cultural objects inform and entertain the general public and are directed toward mass audience reception. The conspicuous consumption of popular forms of communication reveals a complex set of interactions with these modes of communication.
Popular communication in the twenty-first century has transformed human interaction by providing for seemingly limitless possibilities. In so doing, contemporary popular communication has subverted traditional forms of communication such as letters and the telephone. As more personalized and private communication is increasingly no longer the dominant form of communication, the reification of human communication has become pervasive. In the context of popular communication, “reification” can be described as the process by which popular communicative interactions between persons and the personal relationships indicative of those interactions are converted into objects that are thereby depersonalized and often function as a commodity.
This concept of reification is derived from Marxist studies and includes the theory that, as human beings become considered as physical objects they are deprived of subjectivity, that is, a consciousness of individual agency. Reification, according to this Marxist view, subsequently produces the effect of alienation. Within the parameters of popular communication, reification and alienation can be identified through such examples as television talk shows and reality shows which often feature intimate discussions and interactions between persons and groups of persons that are directed and mass-marketed to television viewers who consume such discussions and interactions as commodities. Through this process of reification viewers become part of a communicative exchange, which, ultimately, results in the commodification of human relations.
The Internet provides another such example of popular communication and reification. Many websites such as MySpace, which is marketed to users as “a space for friends,” as well as Internet chat-rooms and email represent modes of popular communication that have also become a significant vehicle for marketing goods and products to consumers. In addition, mobile phones can be used to connect to the Internet, check email, and download and access popular music, all of which is mediated by the marketing strategies of mobile phone and other corporate companies. Consequently, the mobile phone has evolved into more than simply a way for people to communicate. Rather, mobile phones provide yet another example of the reification of human contact through popular communication as they have become another means for transforming the communicative process into a commodity. However, these modes of popular communication alone do not produce reification. Instead, these cultural artifacts are part of a larger complex interplay between popular culture, commercial culture, market forces, and the need for human beings to communicate and interact socially.
In addressing the intersections between commodity culture and popular communication, current popular communication scholarship has continued to provide a historical and comparative view of these popular communicative processes while also examining the areas of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social class, globalization, audience reception, and information technologies as they relate and contribute to an understanding of the social and cultural consequences of such processes. Scholars have continued to develop interdisciplinary theories and methodologies to trace the effects of reification through popular communication on human beings and the society at large. Scholars of popular communication, for instance, generally agree that attention to national as well as global market forces on information technology and culture is one of many significant factors in identifying the potential social and cultural consequences of popular communication and reification. Audience reception is yet another popular field of inquiry within popular communication studies. Many scholars in these emergent fields posit that it remains to be seen how popular communication artifacts and technologies will ultimately be used – as a tool for creating community beyond cultural and social divides such as race, gender, sexuality, and class, or will they persist as a way of continuing to create markets and consumers?
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