The discourse abut the user of communication technologies in historical perspective: a discourse analysis of the Flemish Catholic and Socialist press with the introduction of radio (1923-1936) and television in Belgium (1947-1960)
The introduction of new communication and information technologies and the Internet in particular was accompanied by utopian (Negroponte, 1996; Gates, 1996; Dyson, 1997; Cairncross, 1997; ...) and dystopian visions (Postman, 1996; Rochlin, 1997; ...) about their societal impact. Both optimistic and pessimistic discourses make us believe that we enter a new fundamental era in which ‘new media’ will change every aspect of our political, social, cultural and economical life, resulting finally in the emergence of this so-called Information Society. Some scholars (Flichy, 2001; Mosco, 2004) have stressed the media deterministic and a-historical character of these rhetorics. Although there is ample work on how the introduction of new media in the past was discussed in the United States (Marvin, 1988; Douglas, 1988; Spigel, 1992; Boddy, 2004), in Europe and Belgium this research is only emerging. Moreover this European research has not focused thoroughly on popular accounts about the introduction of ‘new’ media in the past, but deals mostly with general accounts of the visions articulated by a range of special interest groups as the industrial, professional and political constituencies. The way new media forged their way into the home as well as the ‘dream worlds’ or ‘doom scenarios‘ which are in this process told to the ordinary consumer are most of the time neglected. These ‘vernacular theories’ of once new media can be found in sources such as newspapers, advertisements and popular magazines which have too often been ignored by media historians. This doctoral research project will analyze the debates that accompanied the introduction of radio (1923 – 1936) and television (1953 – 1960) in the Flemish Socialist and Catholic press (popular newspapers, general magazines, magazines for women, television and radio weeklies, technical magazines and advertisements found in those sources) and compare those dreams and fears with the rhetoric’s surrounding the introduction of new information and communication technologies. Through this historical analysis, we hope to be able to demystify, falsify and or verify if the current discourses and expectations about the information society are radically different from or on the contrary show similarities with those visions that have been pronounced with the introduction of new communication technologies in the past. Historical analysis may thus in this context provide a better understanding of the information society as a revolution or, on the contrary, an evolution.