In contrast to some of the material that we read previously (broadly speaking to the Horkheimer and Adorno position) “The Spiral of Science” points to other factors in conformity—this is something that we can do to ourselves (for a particular reason) and not always something that is necessarily imposed upon us by media.
Invoking the authority/conformity studies of Milgram and Asch, Noelle-Neumann argues for a process that is more complex than might have originally been thought. Although the situation posed by Asch in his laboratory might not seem incredibly relevant to everyday activities, one might readily extrapolate the idea that social cohesion offered benefits to humans that transcended the value of being “right.” (Which also brings up the notion of objective/subjective truth because in the case of Asch’s experiment the group consensus did form a kind of localized truth and the absolute truth would be somewhat irrelevant if the group chose to act based on relative truth.) Expanded upon in the Glynn et al. chapter on social reality, I find that the space bounded by individuals’ perceptions of their environments and each other to be quite interesting.
The potential danger of mass media, then, is that it can amplify the effects that we demonstrate in society (it’s not solely about the tech) as we attempt to control or manipulate public opinion. Mass media gives people the ability to make their message more visible, which in turn factors into the spiraling effect noted by Noelle-Neumann. And although Christopher Simpson argues that Noelle-Neumann’s writings might be biased, his work also speaks to the ways in which socio-cultural factors influence the social sciences, even when they are not explicitly acknowledged.
But perhaps the most interesting concept in this week’s readings was, for me, the notion of public opinion stemming from references groups—although the idea that we define a sense of self in relationship to others (who are either similar to or different from us) does not seem incredibly revolutionary, I wonder about how such a position might inform our understanding of public opinion. If public opinion represents a coalescing of individuals, does it necessarily do so in contrast to a minority opinion (even if such a position isn’t articulated)? Expressed another way, when we align ourselves with a dominant position in public opinion, are we taking a stand with the majority or against the minority (or both)? Is to be one of us necessarily to be against one of them? And which way of configuring your message is most effective (allowing, of course, that this answer might change depending on the topic)?