In the field of communication, we have a number of well established theories that we can use as lenses by which we see the world when conducing research studies. Some of these theories include information processing, hypodermic needle theory, agenda setting and media dependency. Media dependency operates a little bit like this. The more dependent a person is with a particular media device to fulfill his needs, the more crucial having that media device will be to him. People today, differently from when we didn’t have smartphones, are dependent on all of this technology to understand the world around them.
I can’t stop thinking about what is happening down in Puerto Rico because the media is estimating that our Caribbean territory may not have electricity for six whole months! I am surprised that the media isn’t reporting on that too much as millions of people down there aren’t able to go online and have conversations with family and friends on Facebook. By the way, can you survive six months without having cell phone access? I have to admit that living without my iPhone for six days stops my professional life. Without needing to sound very dramatic yet being reasonable, I don’t think I can function without a smartphone these days. Part of how I communicate with my students is via text messaging. If no cell towers are available for me to chat with them, I become severely handicapped professionally.
As a matter of fact, Dr. Joel Kailing, Chair of the Department of Communication Arts at Lee and I were chatting about the challenges that the people of Puerto Rico could potentially suffer because of the devastations caused by Hurricane Maria. I cannot imagine what is passing through the minds and hearts of the Puerto Rican youth and its young professionals. We are so dependent on the media these days that having no exposure to it can even cause some people to experience a withdrawal. What a tragedy!
As I am writing this piece, Fox just made the announcement that a few Puerto Rican citizens made contact with their friends and family here in the United States. They were able to use their media devices for a very short bit. Access to cell phone service down there can only be attained in a very tiny part of the Island, according to the report. The lucky few who were able to connect with their relatives had to drive for hours in order to reach the island’s hot spot. They were lucky if they could get a bar of service and a few seconds to talk.
I wonder if they are using CB radios to communicate back and fourth with the authorities and each other throughout the day. This whole situation in Puerto Rico reminds me of what happened during hurricane Katrina back in 2005. We were so dependent on cell phone technology back then that when we lost it, a disaster of great magnitude occurred. People couldn’t communicate because they rarely had cell phone reception. We invested in all these new systems but when the system failed, we had no defense. Over a thousand people died because of this dependency on new media and lack of traditional infrastructure. See? Dependency on technology can makes us much more venerable if we decide to discontinue our old yet reliable systems. As I always say, “use technology in moderation.” It is okay to not be so dependent on “new media.”
We are, in one way or another, dependent on the media. I am not sure, however, if we should rely on all these new technology to communicate with friends in the United States, Puerto Rico or in our own town of Cleveland, Tennessee. I wonder if we should bring back the old landline phone system rather than always relying on voice over IP phone lines or cell phones. Just because we maybe dependent on a variety of media doesn’t mean that we should always trust in it. As my great grandmother once said, “When you don’t know about something or someone, always trust distrusting.” Remember: Media is only powerful because of our dependency in it. We can reverse this trend.