Category Archives: Mass Media

Netflix is Awesome….

In a proactive move against Apple, Netflix is allowing certain members to view unlimited amounts of movies, tv shows, etc., from their website. (Members who have the $4.99 a month deal are limited to only two hours a month. ) The Los Angeles Times cites that only 6000 titles are available out of the total 90,000 they have available through the mail. Further, the Times stated that Netflix does not have the best selection. 

However, to a Netflix subscriber like me, it is a golden deal. I received a free upgrade for absolutely nothing. It is not about whether or not I will buy the Apple TV or the “set top box” that will be offered by LG for Netflix. It is about choices. As much freedom to choose media I enjoy is what I am interested in.

I use Netflix and the iTunes store along with my iPod. Each has its own benefits and I will continue to use both. It’s not an either or issue, it is a matter of what do I feel like using today and who has what available. Although the Los Angeles Times stated that the selection is not that great, they have to realize that tastes differ. Sometimes people are at odd locations and wouldn’t mind having 6000 choices to choose from. Additionally, not everyone wants to pay 3.99 for a movie download that will ‘self-destruct’ in 30 days.

I applaud Netflix’s efforts and I will continue my subscription with them because their business model seems to be built on a fair exchange. Even if their motive was to protect their market niche, I am on the receiving end having to spend nothing in the  process.


How an Apple iPod Changed my Life and the Knowledge Gap Hypothesis

How an Apple iPod Changed my Life and the Knowledge Gap Hypothesis

By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

In the first installment of this series I described how a simple mp3 player changed my life. In this article, I will discuss how Apple’s video iPod and mp3 player altered the way that I function on a day to day basis as well and my personal argument that the knowledge gap hypothesis has severe implications not just for the ‘have nots’ but also for the ‘haves.’

In the first article I listed the following benefits of an mp3:

  1. No more CDs
  2. Listening to more music (old and new)
  3. Getting use out of  previously bought music
  4. Increased chance for learning and relieving my eyes from reading so much (Audiobooks)
  5. Spending money on “must have” accessories; and
  6. Increasing effort while exercising and exercising more

Well, the first benefit, no more CDs, remains true. The iTunes music store has eliminated my trips to Best Buy, Circuit City or Music Warehouse to buy new music and comedy CDs. Further, having the ability to buy only the songs that interest me saves me the feeling of being cheated.  In my estimation, the new selectivity afforded consumers has forced artists to create more complete products. Not only can I buy music and CDs but the extra storage space the iPod possesses and video features allows me to download TV shows, movies, audiobooks and my favorite podcasts.

I am still listening to more music and getting much more out of previously bought music but markedly less than before. Once the excitement wore off about being able to carry music around everywhere I went; after hearing old songs a few times my music consumption dropped again.

As far as spending money on must have accessories, I must admit that I was caught by the ‘bug’ and began to buy even more devices for the Apple Ipod. The first purchase was a device that allowed me to play all of my videos, TV shows or movies through the television. My wife bought me a wireless transmitter for it shortly after. Let’s not forget the casing to protect the iPod and a couple of sets of speakers because I wanted to find one with just the right sound.

In reference to using an Ipod while exercising and increasing exercise activity; I found holding the video iPod cumbersome while exercising so it didn’t help in that regard. In addition, I stopped using the Samsung audio mP3 shortly after I bought the iPod so I no longer use either for exercising. They both canceled out the other to the detriment of my health.

However, point four is where the majority of my usage of the ipod occurs and is the real focus of this article. The chance for increased knowledge with the use of the ipod is astounding. Further, as Marshall McLuhan wrote in “Understanding Media,” information has become a commodity (1964). As an academic, who lives and breathes the university and collegiate environment, I am always reading a book and I exchange information as a way of ‘making a living.’ I have always have been a ‘bookworm,’ even before becoming an academic. However, as job responsibilities increase and I find myself spending more time in my car; attending to ‘must do’ hands-on activities in my home; and at times I am too tired too read; the iPod has become an invaluable source for listening to audiobooks and especially podcasts. The iTunes store is an amazing resource as I have had the opportunity to find more information on certain topics than I will ever be able to consume.

There is a ‘theory,’ the knowledge gap hypothesis, put forth by Tichenor, Donohue and Olien, concerning how information, especially through the media, is diffused through our society; who has and doesn’t have acess to this information and how this is affected by their socio-political and economic status. This hypothesis asserts that those who have have higher levels of economic resources, education and social status will receive and process information much quicker than those who do not have the aforementioned resources (Bryant & Thompson, 2002).

I have been familiar with this assertion for a number of years and could theoretically see how well this hypothesis could apply to a number of situations; but it became glaring once I purchased the Apple iPod. As I perused the number of free podcasts and audiobooks available in the Itunes store I realized that I had been doing myself a disservice. My self-imposed ban on buying an mp3 player had made me lose out on a wealth of knowledge. I then thought about all of the people who could not afford mp3s, broadband or DSL service and all of the tools necessary to take advantage of all of the “free” downloads available online.

I loaded my Ipod with podcasts concerning telecommunication issues, journalism and educational issues. I even stopped listening to my XM radio in the car because I could further control what I was listening to. One of my hobbies is learning physics (beginner), so I was blown away when I discovered the lectures of physics professors from UC Berkeley and other universities on Itunes. I was even able to handpick sports podcasts that interested me. I understand that I could never listen to all of the media available on iTunes or available through other websites, not even in my own field of interest. Yet, I did realize that using these resources would allow me to exponentially increase my knowledge about a certain field or interest than older mediums would allow. The sheer amount of resources and availability that the iPod has granted me outpaces many of the other mediums I use. It’s portability also plays an important role.

My minor epiphany about the usage of the Apple iPod enlightened me to the idea that having access to newer technologies such as mp3 players is not just fun but also vital. Not only is it entertaining, but it enhances my knowledge about subjects in ways that are not possible through television, radio, newspapers, books and through reading Internet websites. The knowledge that I gain from listening to these sources has made me a better professional, increases my conversational ability in social circles and connects me to a vast network of information, people and ideas. For example, in an interview with a dean of a college that offered me a job, but I did not accept, I used knowledge gained from listening to educational podcasts in our one on one talk. I know firsthand how valuable this material is.

It is my fault that I didn’t start using the technology sooner because my ban on mp3s was self imposed, but for those who would like access to this type of technology but aren’t able to; what are they missing and how does this lack of access affect their life?


Bryant, J., & Thompson, S. (2002). Fundamentals of Media Effects.
New York, NY: McGraw Hill-Higher Education.

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.
New York, NY: Mentor.

Book Review: “Everything Bad is Good for You”

Book Review: “Everything Bad is Good for You”


By Bakari Akil II, PhD



            Steven Johnson’s premise is simple. Our current pop culture disseminated through television shows, movies and video games have many redeeming features even though it contains high levels of violence, sexual material or as some put it, mindless entertainment. For the reader unfamiliar with Johnson’s work it is helpful to note that Johnson often uses a macro-level approach when analyzing this issue. This ‘big picture’ approach allows him to analyze the supposed broad effects of mass media; the pop culture it creates and how it affects its users.


Television and Movies


            Johnson argues that television programming has substantially changed over the last 50 years from shows with a few characters and easy to follow plot lines to television shows with multiple plots, multiple characters and never ending stories. In the past, sitcoms and dramas were predictable and could be wrapped up in 30 to 60 minutes. Not now! Shows such as Prison Break, Daybreak, 24, and the Sopranos keeps the audience guessing, don’t spell out everything, if anything, and often leaves the viewer in suspense, sometimes for an entire season.


            This, Johnson argues, forces the viewer to participate on many levels. The viewer can no longer sit and passively watch their favorite television shows, they must pay close attention. The creators of such shows sometimes start from the end or middle and work their way back to the beginning. New characters often enter the storyline with no introduction and the audience is forced to figure out that character’s purpose. Depending upon when the viewer starts to watch a show, they may have a hard time figuring out what the show is all about. New plot lines may emerge out of nowhere and the audience has to quickly figure out why. In addition, these shows such as ABC’s short-lived Daybreak, starring Taye Digs and Moon Bloodgood, often test their audience’s analytical skills and prods them to guess how the shows will end.


            These new types of shows force the audience to use their cognitive skills in ways older television shows have not done in the past. The use of logic, intuition and pure common sense on the part of the audience takes the term armchair quarterback to a new level.  Johnson also asserts that many of these shows exercise the social and emotional intelligence of their viewers as it forces them to look at situations and decide what they would do.       

This most often takes place with reality television shows. MTV’s Real World, Survivor, dating shows like Flavor of Love and the Bachelorette often shows people in vulnerable states and in intimate moments. The power of such shows, Johnson states, is that it catches people’s true emotions, if only for a split second. That attraction is what Johnson argues is behind the success of such shows and is also the reason why he asserts that it helps improve social and emotional intelligence. Viewers often empathize with the characters or at the least think about what they would do if they were faced with similar situations. Constant viewing of these shows provides the audiences with opportunities to broaden and enrich their social skills and explore their own emotional issues as a result. Yes, these shows can be about mindless activities, but many of these shows do explore issues pertaining to gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, violence, politics and everyday ordinary problems. Additionally, Johnson cites that these shows are not just watched and forgotten. Many people watch these shows with others, discuss them at school and work or discuss them in chat rooms or message boards on the Internet, which further increases their analytic skills and at the least provides them with something to talk about.


Video Games


            Video games may also provide benefits. On a social level, the players play their games with other players and develop bonds through shared experiences. It may not be the ideal experience that a parent may want their child to have, but it does occur. Gamers connect with other players on the Internet, in their living rooms and at tournaments. This allows the video players to bring a social aspect to their gaming experience.


Johnson also argues that video games increase the cognitive skills of its players due to the level of commitment and multitasking it requires to succeed. Gone are the days where players can often master a game in one day or a heavy week of playing. Some games are never mastered and require a number of skills of its players. Johnson discusses studies where video game players cite feelings of well being after playing, improved hand and eye coordination, the ability to assess visual patterns much quicker than non-gamers and improved problem solving abilities overall. Although car crashes, shoot outs and anarchy is not something most parents enjoy seeing their kids participating in as a video game, there is some evidence of video games helping to improve the intelligence of its players in certain ways. Besides, not all video games are of that fare.


            In the final analysis, the pop culture that is enjoyed by youths and many adults will always face criticism. In our modern era, sex, senseless violence and entertainment for entertainment sake will always turn certain people and groups off. Yet, the modes that it is being delivered by have allowed the audience to become more than a passive user and engages their cognitive, social and emotional intelligences. In some cases, it makes them think about what would be the best course of action or best way to react. In other cases, it may make them better problem solvers or provide them with opportunities to develop social skills. Either way it’s not mindless, in order to participate, they have to think and isn’t that what we want people to do, think for themselves.