Joshua Meyrowitz - No Sense of Place

In No Sense of Place, which won the 1986 "Best Book on Electronic Media" Award of the National Association of Broadcasters and the Broadcast Education Association, Meyrowitz uses the example of the television to describe how communication technologies have shaped and influenced the social relations we encounter on a daily basis, proposing that television has been responsible for a significant cultural shift towards new and egalitarian social interactions. He argues that television is a "secret exposing" machine that allows individuals to watch others in an unprecedented fashion. According to Meyrowitz, new media like television have removed barriers and increased access to previously restricted information is responsible for the shift in cultural and social barriers between children and adults, men and women, and even humanizing and demystifying the powerful. The book is based on his doctoral dissertation also entitled No Sense of Place, which was completed in 1978 in the Media Ecology doctoral program at New York University; Christine Nystrom was Meyrowitz's thesis adviser, and the other members of his dissertation committee were Henry Perkinson and Neil Postman. In 1982, Postman published The Disappearance of Childhood, which discussed themes similar to one of the case studies in Meyrowitz's dissertation.

Meyrowitz draws upon Erving Goffman's work on social life, in the form of face-to-face interactions, as a kind of multi-stage drama (primarily from Goffman's work The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life) and Marshall McLuhan's work on changes in media of communication (primarily from McLuhan's works The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man). It has been suggested that Meyrowitz was either the first person to combine these theories for analysis, or he was the first to do so in a meaningful way.

Meyrowitz posits his initial theory, that modern electronic media (in this case, primarily in the form of television) have broken barriers that established concepts of place (i.e., cultural understanding of roles, locations, hierarchies, and more). He presents this view throughout the book, examining how it relates to different aspects of social and cultural construction (including the public versus private spheres of life, group identity, authority and hierarchy, etiquette, gender identity and gender roles, and childhood and adulthood).

The book's central contention is that new media like television have removed barriers in a manner unseen with media like print publications (including books and newspapers), radio, telephone, cinema, and other forms of mass media that predate television. Meyrowitz argues that it is the ease of use, ubiquity or nearly universal access to this information, and the blurring of front-stage and back-stage behavior that removes previous barriers of information (p. 53). Meyrowitz uses the example of relative access to books contrasted to access to television content. Further, he argues that books require a greater degree of literacy and varying levels of literacy and comprehension than does television (pp. 73–81). Examples offered include a parent's ability to restrict a child's access to particular types of literature contrasted with a child's easy access to various types of content on television, cultural barriers like guilds and professions that exclude non-members from access to specialized information, and the blending of traditionally private (or back-stage) environments into public (or front-stage) environments as in the case of televised Presidential cabinet meetings. Likewise, Meyrowitz observes that televisions shows (e.g., The West Wing), through storytelling, can reveal secrets about authority figures and institutions. Thus, positions once revered may lose their mystique and become viewed as commonplace.

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