At the beginning of “A Way to Think about Information Reception”, two different viewpoints about television watching are mentioned. Some scholars claim that” television involves a transfer of information that enriches the viewer’s store of knowledge”, while others “emphasize that television provides viewers with much deeded entertainment, relaxation, and escape (1).
However, I always doubt if television can really be a source of knowledge, even though some channels and programs are labeled as educational.
In “The Political Origins of Modern Communications”, Starr distinguished between information and knowledge. According to him, information is “data relevant to decisions”, while knowledge refers to “more abstract concepts and judgment” (Starr, P17). I do agree television can provide people with information. But can the information provided by television be transformed into knowledge?
According to “A Way to Think about Information Reception”, attention plays a vital role in the process of cognition and knowledge acquiring.(2) As is believed by many people, watching television doesn’t require much attention, and most people regard TV watching as a way of relaxation. As for myself, I used to spend a lot of time watching television, especially TV series. At the same time as I watching TV, I eat, make phone calls, do my homework, surf the Internet and sometimes just daydream. Most people watch television on their sofa rather than at their desk, and the place provides the relaxing condition rather than asking them for attentions. Few people really try to focus on the TV programs, but many of us do so when reading a book. So even if the content of some programs are educational and including many valuable information, people just don’t consider themselves studying while watching it. Without attention paid, those educational programs are just background sound and meaningless images to these audiences.
When analyzing the information reception, the authors discussed two dimensions of communications: order and complexity. Order refers to a subjective state in which a person experiences no substantial conflict among the elements of consciousness (4), and complexity depends on how much effort it will take to process information (7). I tried to use these two dimensions defined by the authors to establish a model as below. NQ stands for negentropy quotient. The higher the NQ is, the less conflict exists between the information and the audience’s goal. CQ stands for complexity quotient. The higher the CQ is, the harder it’s to attain the information. According to the authors, information with low NQ and high CQ would be the most negative and unpleasant one, and that with both high CQ and high NQ can be positive, for it leads to learning and growth, and provides people with enjoyment. Education falls into this quadrant, for it asks for effort, but also produces psychological growth. From my viewpoint, most television watching falls into the quadrant of high NQ and low CQ, which ask for little effort or attention, and provides people with pleasure but not enjoyment. The difference between pleasure and enjoyment are argued in the article. While pleasure generally comes from processing “messages” that genetic inheritance has made congruent with the biological goals of body, such as the sensations we get from eating when hungry and from sex, extra investment is needed to turn a pleasurable experience into an enjoyable one which produce a positive inner state. (8)I guess this is why when talking about the function of television, most people will mention entertainment, but not information obtaining and education attaining.