The Proverbial Chicken or Egg
In his essay “A cultural approach to communication,” Carey mentions, “communication comprises the ambience of human existence. The activities we collectively call communication . . . are so ordinary and mundane that it is difficult for them to arrest our attention.” Only a few paragraphs later, Carey claims “reality is brought into existence, is produced by communication — by the construction, apprehension and utilization of symbolic form.” Often, when it comes to culture debates, discussions can tinker on the border of the proverbial chicken and egg debate. The same can be said when throwing communication into the mix. Does communication truly create reality, describing the events and forging the relationships that shape the world we live in, or does reality in fact drive the need for communication, the everyday events we experience necessitate a mechanism to describe and transfer those experiences to others. In simplified terms and a concrete example, is the sky blue because people say that it’s blue, or is the sky blue because that is in fact what it is and people have developed a language and means to share that piece of information?
As with any chicken-or-egg scenario, I don’t know if it’s easy to come to a simple answer (and I would love to hear classmates’ responses and opinions). Just as Newton claimed in his laws of motion, for every valid argument there is an equal and opposite counter argument. But regardless of the answer to the question, imagine the repercussions for international relations and foreign policy. Although numerous advancements have been made over the past century and now it’s possible to communicate instantaneously with someone on the other side of the world, how much of what we know about cultures is a “reality.” If reality is only a result of our communication with others, how real is it? And even more, how much is getting lost in translation?
Of the various communication theories covered in this week’s readings, all have a trace of hegemonic, imperialist notions. Transmission theorists believe communication is a means to control distance and people. Ritualists believe that communication serves to portray the world and confirm it as the communicators wish (similar to the notion of propaganda communication – meant to espouse a specific view and make everyone believe only that). Dependence theory discusses the relationship and transfer of ideas from the “periphery” (usually poor, underdeveloped states) to the “core” (usually the rich, larger Western states). Critical theory, hegemony, and structural imperialism all discuss the use of communication as source of power and sometimes oppression. Theories (at least in my personal opinion) are often reactionary. It’s a given that communication was at one point used as a means to control other countries; all forms have media have at some point or another served as propaganda machines. But, if what Carey claims is true, one must wonder if these theories actually describe the reality of the time, or if we created theories, and through them, formulated the exact reality they purport to describe.