“…like you were walking into the middle of a conversation?”
This is what it feels like to open a book, only to discover that the first page inside the cover has a “29″ in the upper right corner. Who absconded with everything up through page 28? Yes, those pages are not extant in my copy of A Social History of the Media.
I suddenly find myself in an incredibly ironic moment. I have a book that discusses the printing press and the internet. In order to read the introduction to my incompletely-printed book, I must visit Amazon on the internet, find this book, and click on “Look Inside!” Here I seek the Table of Contents and attempt to read at least the introduction to the book.
The irony is furthered having just e mailed the book-seller, demanding a new book be sent to me by overnight shipping (a request I’m sure they will deny). Because this entire transaction has taken place online, I cannot run downtown to my local bookshop, complain, and pull a new book off the shelf. When I e mail Amazon to report this particular seller, will they respond in an appropriate manner?
So much for the ease and convenience of online shopping.
Furthermore, will our esteemed lead mentor qualify these thoughts as reflections on the content of A Social History of the Media?
This is an intriguing book. It is history, sociology, political science, and technology and media studies; all rolled up into one. It is engaging to consider all of these disciplines through the lense of media, or with media as the unifying principle.
But we must return to my question: Was Sesame Street good or bad? This question is the context for my reflections on A Social History of the Media.
Part of what struck me in our book-of-the-week is the overlay and intertwining of the many forms of media, and the eras/ages in which each one grew and flourished. There is obviously no date on which radio went away and television took over; nor did books cease to be printed with the advent of Kindle.
It is my general impression that Sesame Street began in an attempt to help children prepare for school, who may have lacked opportunities available to other children. So, this brilliantly conceived, fabulously imaginative, truly educational form and use of television media began. Even we adults were sufficiently engaged that we would sit with our children and watch (even if on occasion they got up and left the room).
But so often in life we stumble across, or into, unintended consequences.
Briggs and Burke wrote quite a bit about “communication,” which is the point of media. Education is inextricably interwoven in and with communication. Teachers, books, film, and other forms of communication transmit the “stuff” of education to children and youth. Sesame Street certainly fulfills that function of transmitting information to children.
But here are three unintended consequences with this advance and use of media:
1. Sesame Street, as well as being educational, is very entertaining. Who doesn’t love to watch Kermit the Frog and Cookie Monster? But how is a classroom teacher, without the benefit of cameras, script writers, and rehearsal time, supposed to hold the attention of children for hours every day without that measure of entertainment zip? So while Sesame Street does transmit educational information, it may inadvertently make sustained learning more difficult for children in the long run, simply because the typical classroom is not entertaining.
In the chapter entitled “ Information, Education, Entertainment” The authors write, “The constituent elements in the trinity which gives this chapter its title had not always been identified in the same language as that used in the late twentieth century. ‘Information’ had usually been described in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as ‘intelligence,’ ‘education’ as ‘instruction,’ and ‘entertainment’ as ‘pastime,’ ‘amusement’ or ‘recreation.’”  With the advent of “educational programming” the lines or distinctions between the different purposes of the media were blurred.
2. “The long run” is an important phrase, related to the issue of attention span. When children and youth watch popular media, the action is often so fast, and the scenes change so frequently, that their ability to focus on one thing for a long time is damaged. Holding the attention of a child or adolescent for an hour-long class becomes incredibly challenging. Focusing on a black-and-white book page can result in boredom.
3. Reading skill is the third aspect of media and communication that suffers damage. My wife teaches 7th grade language arts. This week she was reading to me from a book about teaching reading. The book points to a study that indicates that reading things online (this is not Sesame Street’s fault) causes us actually to change the patterns of our eye movements as we read. Rather than reading across the page, dropping a line, and then repeating that pattern, the studies have shown that reading web pages results in us reading in an “F” pattern: across the top line, then down the left side of the screen/page, then across again.  With this pattern there are large quantities of print-communicated information that is missed.
In our D Min studies we have read about and discussed a number of topics that show what a complicated world we live in because of globalization. The study of media follows suit, being in and of itself very complicated.
In this age of media-aided globalization, part of my D Min focus will study how to use internet media as a means of continuing education for our ministry-trained international students once they return home. We are confident that there will be a number of students who return to nations where it is not legal to convert, or to be a Christian. Obviously there will be no leadership continuing education courses available on site. I hope to invite web specialists onto our training team in order to take advantage of internet media as a means of ongoing training.
 Briggs, Asa, and Peter Burke. A Social History of The Media. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009, page 179
 Jago, Carol. With Rigor For All: Meeting Common Core Standards for Reading Literature. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2011, Pages 21-22