To what extent do you think the discipline of media studies should do more to address the relationship between media use and media waste?

The discipline of media studies should change in response to today’s highly dynamic media environment. In this environment, analogue media communication systems are increasingly being replaced by digital systems, generating a lot of media waste in the process. Moreover, as many technology companies continue to compete for market, many media companies have fallen victim to a culture where there is a social expectation for any new technology to be adopted, regardless of its appropriateness in the media industry. This has also contributed greatly to an increase in media waste.

Today, the “new” media studies discipline has not done enough to address the relationship between media use and media waste (Green, 2002). Many aspects of media use behaviour remain unexplored. Moreover, there is hardly any link between theory and practice in regards to media studies in general and media use in particular. In today’s era of rapid growth in the use of computer-mediated communication, scholars of media studies must do more to address issues relating to optimal utilization of technology and the establishment of a framework for guiding decisions on appropriateness of emerging media technologies. The aim of this paper is to examine the extent to which the discipline of media studies should do more to address the relationship between media use and media waste.

At the outset, it should be noted that it is important to highlight the need for empirical research on the dynamics of media use behaviour (McChesney, 2004). This is one of the areas where the discipline of media studies must do more. An analysis of social processes that influence the way people perceive media use should be undertaken. Similarly, not much has been done to define the position of media waste discourse within contemporary media theory. In such a situation, media companies are compelled to adopt unorthodox approaches in efforts to avoid falling prey to sellers of substandard or inappropriate technologies that only contribute to a pile-up of electronic waste.

The information that is normally used by users of media is usually embedded in a specific social context. Indeed, media companies choose to adopt certain technologies simply because do not want to be seen to be lagging behind in regards to the embracement of technological advancements. Conventionally, today’s society expects the mass media to be at the forefront in the use of new computer-based communication tools (Flew, 2005). In fact, technology companies are very keen to provide sponsorships to media houses in their efforts to undertake technological upgrades. These companies are aware that such efforts ultimately influence social perceptions regarding the technological devices introduced. They trigger a hype that leads to a rapid increase in sales of consumer products. Therefore, media studies should focus a lot on social aspects of media use. Scholars in this field should focus on creating awareness on the need to consider changes in context of use of media technologies.

Today, most media waste comes from computer-mediated communication. Therefore, this area should be analyzed in detail. All manner of gadgets and devices that are functionally related to the computer are being introduced in the market. It makes sense for media studies to focus on a framework for the introduction of these gadgets and tools into the media industry. Such a framework would be beneficial not just to media houses but also to technology companies. On the one hand, media houses would be able to avoid the pitfall of purchasing inappropriate technology (Leonardi, 2003). On the other hand, technology companies would benefit from the establishing of a lasting relationship with media clients based on ongoing projects aimed at upgrading the existing technologies (Leonardi, 2003). Such an approach is likely to influence the emergence of an environment of commitment to high quality standards. This means that technology companies would be more willing to avoid selling products that may end up being converted into media waste after being used for a short time.

The discipline of media studies should set the agenda on the area of the design of media tools. It may be necessary for these tools to be made in such a way that they can be modified in response to technological changes instead of being discarded as waste. According to Merrin (2009), the media discipline must be open-sourced if the problem of media waste is to be dealt with once and for all. By so doing, the discipline will be responding appropriately to changes in today’s digital world.

In its current form, the discipline of media studies continues to be dominated by traditional conceptions of the media. The broadcast-era media is foundation upon which the discipline was established. During this era, structures of media production and distribution were different from those of today’s information age. The same case applied to the way people consumed media products. With the onset of the digital revolution, old media was replaced by new media. The process of conversion from old media to digital media is ongoing.

Unfortunately, the discipline of media studies has not changed much. Very few changes can be discerned in terms of a paradigm shift in the way discussions about media operations are presented through academic forums. Yet in today’s broadcast era, new alignments are taking shape in terms of the way media products are produced, distributed, and consumed. In such a situation, there is limited disciplinary knowledge on new media use. By extension, there is a serious lack of information and awareness on the problem of media waste. Therefore, it has become extremely difficult for this problem to be addressed at the policymaking level.

To reverse this trend, media scholars must work had to foreground the most outstanding changes in terms of new concepts and categories of media production, distribution, and consumption. In Merrin’s (2009) view, the media studies discipline should be “open-sourced” by reforming its core assumptions, foundation, and biases with a view to reorient it. The objective should be to create a new discipline that is founded on improvements in knowledge and relevance in a rapidly changing information age. One may assume that such changes in media theory will quickly be reflected in media practice, thereby revolutionizing the way stakeholders in the industry think about media use and media waste.

In situations where efforts to reorient the discipline have been made and the problem of media waste is being addressed, a major barrier takes the form of an implementation gap. Failure to address this barrier may render the media studies discourse ineffective in terms of contribution to the various challenges surrounding media distribution and consumption. It is unfortunate that there is awareness about media waste but little is being done in terms of implementation. Media studies should focus on this area by highlighting the causes of this implementation gap, how to deal with them, and the policy changes that should be introduced.

In many cases, it seems that media waste continues to accumulate in the contemporary world because media technologies are not being fully adapted to social norms (Leonardi, 2003). In other situations, these technologies remain underutilized, thereby leading to wastage (Leonardi, 2003). This problem may also be contributed to significantly by the tendency by some media organizations to use technological tools wrongly. Unless such issues are raised in media studies, unfavourable precedents relating to media use are likely to persist. Against this backdrop, the underlying goal of scholarly engagement should be to ensure that all appropriate measures are being undertaken to reorient the contemporary media environment to a highly dynamic information age. According to Leonardi (2003), this goal cannot be achieved without the establishment of a formidable theoretical framework.

One point that should be noted in this discussion is that new media technologies are extremely important for the success of media businesses of today. However, not every new media technology is worth adopting.  In other words, choice is a critical factor in all matters surrounding media use. In many cases, wastage arises from ignorance and failure by media stakeholders to conduct thorough assessments of trends in the adoption of digital broadcasting, transmission, and distribution facilities. One of the reasons why this problem persists is that the media has become an easy target for competitors in the technology industry. Technology companies are locked in fierce competition for a limited market. Media companies must not fall victim to this competition if media resources are to be used prudently and efficiently.

A worst-case scenario may unfold if theorists in the discipline of media studies fail to lead the way in discourse on media use and future prospects in the media industry. According to Flanagin & Metzger (2001), many people have fully embraced the current practice of internet-based communication. However, whenever scholars attempt to analyze any media environment, they are confronted by texts that put a lot of emphasis on the traditional media environment. In other words, the traditional media environment is still being viewed as a model for contemporary media practices (Flanagin & Metzger, 2001). It seems that the discipline is at a stage where everybody is in denial of the changes that are unfolding in the real world. This incompatibility may have far-reaching consequences for media use in the future.

In terms of media use, the repercussions of this sense of denial in the scholarly world have been manifold. First, media practitioners are confronted with tools that are neither appropriate for the traditional media setting nor desirable in today’s digital era. Secondly, it becomes difficult to reconcile different internet-based media functions with traditional broadcast-oriented media functions. Some of the internet-based media functions that are likely to be affected include information-giving roles, information retrieval tasks, and the creation of conversation capabilities (Lacey, 2000; Pavlik, 2000; Bucy & Newhagen, 2004). Thirdly, attempts to equate the multidimensional aspects of contemporary media tools to traditional media functions are likely to fail. This is simply because they may derail efforts to revolutionize mediated interpersonal communication via new media such as electronic mail, chat messages, video conferencing, and short messaging services. As Kayany & Yelsma (2000) indicate, it is inappropriate for a researcher to be preoccupied with a comparison between these new media platforms and traditional mass media channels such as television, newspapers, magazines, and books.

The task of upgrading the current disciplinary knowledge is expected to be very challenging (Flanagin & Metzger, 2001). This is because it must encompass efforts to create new concepts and categories that will facilitate a better understanding of contemporary changes in media consumption. These new concepts and categories must portray a fairly accurate picture of the environment of fluidity in which media operations unfold today. In this environment, people have access to media channels that did not exist two decades ago. For example, many televisions have in-built functions that enable viewers to listen to radio. Furthermore, in today’s information age, one can view television and listen to radio via the internet. In other words, numerous hybrid intercommunicating platforms have emerged. They provide seamless connectivity for both personal interactions and mass consumption of media content. According to Straubhaar, LaRose, & Davenport (2011), scholars are yet to come up with a formidable foundation in terms of disciplinary knowledge to describe, analyze, and evaluate the impact of these new functions.

By failing to upgrade their knowledge of media tools, teachers of media studies risk turning into major contributors of media waste. It has become very common for older media studies lecturers to become intimidated by students who surpass them in terms of knowledge of media tools. Young people are more technologically savvy than older people. Unfortunately, these older people tend to have a greater influence on media policies. They end up coming up with policies that restrict the adoption of new technological tools, thereby rendering them obsolete. Despite their potential to revolutionize the media industry, such tools end up going to waste. This is an excellent indicator of not just the relationship between media use and media waste but also the mediating role of disciplinary knowledge.

Media scholars must contribute to the discourse on proper adoption of media tools. They must express their views on which media technologies are worth adopting and which ones are not. To do this, they must be active users of new media themselves. This will enable them know which technologies will become obsolete in a month’s time and which ones are highly likely to bring a paradigm shift in the way the media operates. It will also enable them to determine whether the newly introduced media technologies should be shared among media platforms and the implications this may have for existing media houses (Jarvenpaa & Staples, 2000). More importantly, it will empower media theorists to address the issue of whether upgrading from analogue to digital platforms is worth the effort considering its influence on the creation of media waste (Merrin, 2009).

To contribute effectively to changes in disciplinary knowledge relating to media studies, media theorists must appreciate the role of technological interventions in the emergence of new media uses. This goal can be achieved easily through collaboration between them and information systems researchers in the analysis of the ever-changing role of technological interventions and efforts that can be made to reduce media waste. In this context, the need for systems that support ongoing guidance on media use will be appreciated. Once such systems are established, the tendency by technology companies to generate products that greatly contribute to a rapid pile-up of media waste will be minimized.









Bucy, E & Newhagen, J (2004), Media access: Social and psychological dimensions of new technology use, Longman, London.

Flanagin, A & Metzger, M (2001), ‘Internet use in the contemporary media environment’, Human Communication Research, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 153–181.

Flew, T (2005), New media: An introduction, Blackwell Publishing, New York.

Green, L (2002), Communication, technology and society, Toronto University Press, Toronto.

Jarvenpaa, S & Staples, D (2000), ‘The use of collaborative electronic media for information sharing: An exploratory study of determinants’, The Journal of Strategic Information Systems, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 129–154.

Kayany, J & Yelsma, P (2000), ‘Displacement Effects of Online Media in the Socio-Technical Contexts of Households’, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 44, no. 2, pp. 215-229.

Lacey, N (2000), Narrative and genre: Key concepts in media studies, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Leonardi, P (2003), ‘Problematizing “New Media”: Culturally Based Perceptions of Cell Phones, Computers, and the Internet among United States Latinos’, Critical Studies in Media Communication, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 160-179.

McChesney, R (2004), The problem of the media: US communication politics in the twenty-first century, Heinemann, London.

Merrin, W (2009), ‘Media Studies 2.0: upgrading and open-sourcing the discipline’, Interactions: Studies in Communication & Culture, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 17-34.

Pavlik, J (2000), ‘The impact of technology on journalism’, Journalism Studies, Taylor & Francis, Boston.

Straubhaar, J, LaRose, R & Davenport, L (2011), Media now: Understanding media, culture, and technology, Free Press, Washington, DC.


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