A Need-Based Analysis of Individual Mass Communication Use
September 15, 1996
A Need-Based Analysis of Individual Mass Communication Use
Every organism is continually expressing a need or needs. These needs are conditioned by environment, whether during the course of a lifetime (learned) or through the evolution of the physical structure of the organism (instinctual). Our situation as humans appears to be different from that of plants and animals because there are many more possible interactions with our environment available to us than to them. But like a single cell, our lives are expressions of our needs.
What exactly is a need? Why does one person feel a need to meditate, while another goes to see a movie, while another feels no motivation to do anything and starves to death? Is there a set of basic needs, or is there for each individual a different order of priorities? These are questions I would like to work on later, and I believe considerable work has been done on them already by philosophers, biologists, psychologists, and advertisers.
The premise of this paper is that meaningful experience is interaction with one's environment to fill one's needs. Some experiences are more meaningful to us than others because we are more starved for that type of experience. I remember laying in the grass and holding hands with my friend as a meaningful experience. At first thought, I would not consider breathing as among the most meaningful of my experiences. But both of these experiences are "interaction with one's environment to fill one's needs."
I would like to determine which experiences are most meaningful to myself and suggest how these determinations of meaning relate to my use of the mass media. In this paper I use a need-based analysis to explain why I find certain experiences more meaningful than others.
Determination of Needs
This method relies on an accurate perception of needs, since meaningful experience is interaction with our environment which allows us to meet our needs. I use two methods to determine my needs, one based on my own experience and the other based on an understanding of my biological needs.
By considering my past experience and trying to determine what aspects of my environment and condition at the time allowed me to have a meaningful experience, I have formed a rough understanding of what my greatest needs may be. An example of this is remembering that I have had powerful feelings listening to music, and asking why I liked feeling the powerful feelings even if the feelings were of incredible sadness. In some cases I have been able to supplement experiential understanding with knowledge of my biological structure. An example of this is some of my reading which explains the human need to hug other humans as a need for stimulation of a certain part of the brain (Joseph, 1993).
I prioritize these needs by asking what kinds of experience have given me the most fulfillment in the past and considering what kinds of experience I am lacking most at the current moment. While it is possible that the needs I express here are characteristic of the society of which I am a part, it is likely that your situation is different from mine, and you will probably have needs that are more important to you than the ones I mention here. So try to determine your own—
1. My greatest need is meaningful interaction with other people. Meaningful interaction between people occurs when individuals are able to meet their needs by interacting with each other.
These are some of the needs which are aspects of meaningful interpersonal interaction: the need to be in the presence of another person or persons; the need to talk with another person; the need to touch and be touched; the need to be accepted as you are by another, which may mean being able to discuss intimate aspects of experience with the other; the need to feel secure that the people who allow you to meet these needs will be around for a while; the need to be able to meet needs of these people who mean so much to you, so that you feel you mean something to them; and the instinctual need to reproduce.
You may refer to some of this when you use the word "love." Love is interaction with our environment which allows us to meet our needs. We can love ourselves, our work, and more commonly we mention loving other people. The people loving each other must have need, and be able to meet their need by interaction with each other, or else love does not occur. For the child and mother love can be easy because the child has a need to be held, fed, and generally taken care of. The mother needs to be touched and smiled at by her child (Joseph, 1993). Love between adults involves understanding one's own needs and the needs of the other and interacting to meet those needs. Love between children is the same, but often they do a much better job than when they are older. Perhaps this is because they have not been overly conditioned by society to attempt to fill needs far removed from the basic human needs or to deny certain basic human needs. I would like to explore love further, later.
2. I need to have something to continually work on, to live for, my entire life. Living in the present is not enough for me because I am aware of the past and the future; I am aware that the moment will be over. Whatever I do, I need to enjoy the process of working for whatever I work for. I would like my work to involve more interaction with people, people whom I can get to know well, and less of sitting and thinking and writing by myself, or at least more of a balance. The more meaningful experiences of my life, whether group projects, classes, or long canoe trips, have involved such interaction.
If my work is to be meaningful to me, it must fulfill a need I have. For example, I need to understand myself and others better, and be able to use this understanding to love more and love better than I do now. I may be able to do research in neurobiology, psychology, and perhaps even sociology or philosophy to improve my understanding of my needs. I would like to determine the characteristics of the most meaningful experiences of people by themselves, of people together with one other person, and of people in a group of people.
3. I need to be emotionally stimulated. The best times of my life have involved powerful emotional stimulation, like the feeling we refer to when we say we are "in love," or the feeling we refer to when we are overwhelmed by the beauty or miracle of our existence and our capacity to appreciate it. Being in love, whether with people, work, nature, or "the Lord Jesus Christ," is a state in which our needs are constantly being met. It is when we are constantly being stimulated in the ways we need to be stimulated. The basis for powerful feelings when experiencing natural beauty also has to do with the stimulation of some parts of our brain, I am sure. Powerful feelings when experiencing artworks are the result of many diverse types of stimulation, the most basic of which I think relate to relationships between forms, space and color. Music is one of the most universally recognized sources/ products of emotion, and enjoys a special relationship with our brain (Joseph, 1996).
This need is not wholly separable from the previous two, but it allows for meaningful experiences such as listening to music which I could not otherwise account for. It also suggests that the degree of emotional stimulation can be a measure of the success of meeting certain needs. I think emotional stimulation is also partly the result of an individual's attitude. N. C. Wyeth, father of Andrew Wyeth, felt it is valuable to "obtain the utmost of pleasure and inspiration from the simplest and homeliest events of life around you" because "the limitless ocean itself, the mountains and valleys of the world are of no greater importance in appearance or significance." N.C. Wyeth also wrote, "Anything less than total emotional involvement in work and in play is a denial of human life itself." It is total emotional involvement in existence that I am after.
Use of Need Determinations to Explain Present Behavior and to
Suggest Potentially Meaningful Future Experiences
With this rough understanding of my needs I am in a position to evaluate potential future experience as more or less meaningful. The focus of this paper is mass communication, but this need- based approach to understanding meaningful experience can be applied to any kind of experience. Notice first that few of my needs are directly related to mass media experiences. I think this is characteristic of the needs of most people, but because of social conditioning people spend more time with mass media than they spend fulfilling basic needs. This is one reason there is a dearth of zesty1 people, people who love every moment they are alive. But I would like to concentrate now on the mass media experiences which do directly contribute to my joyful involvement in existence. The prioritization of these experiences follows the prioritization of my needs.
1. The most meaningful mass media experiences for me now are those which contribute to my understanding of the people with whom I interact most often to fulfill my interpersonal interaction needs, the people whom I love. Most often these experiences are reading books which the people I want to understand consider meaningful. Reading these books gives me a better understanding of the others' needs, and gives me an opportunity to discuss those needs with them. These meaningful mass media experiences could also include movies, prerecorded music, web pages, newspapers, prints of artworks, and poetry which the person I want to understand has found meaningful.
Also related to the first need I described are experiences which contribute to my understanding of people in general. These are usually books which discuss the biological needs of humans, or the process of meaningful interaction itself. Examples of this are: The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, Women's Room by Marilyn French (about what it can be like to be a woman), and The Naked Neuron by Dr. R. Joseph (discusses the evolution of language). I find that books are more often a source of meaningful experience because they can be chosen based on my needs at the time, and they are often the product of quality work. There is not yet such a wide range of quality subject matter so freely available in any other medium.
I have also produced mass media in an attempt to encourage the kind of interpersonal interactions which are so important to me. The first example of this was the Being letter I printed this summer, which asks some questions related to "being together," and proposed a meeting time to discuss these questions. I later printed and posted on campus a flyer which said, "What is Being, what is Loving, what is the best life? discuss, experience," and also suggested a meeting time. Most recently I printed a flyer which says, "be together to be together," and also mentions some of the questions I wanted to discuss.
While these efforts are not mass media by the definition that mass media is the product of a large organization, and perhaps the numbers distributed do not justify calling it mass media, I think the effort is notable because it involved production and not consumption of mass media. This shows that if I feel a need strongly enough and believe enough people share it, I will not only read about the need, but use mass media in an attempt to do something to fulfill the need. No amount of understanding does us any good unless we are able to use it to interact more meaningfully with one another and our environment.
2. Next in importance are media experiences relating to whatever I have to live for, my entire life. Given my current orientation, mass media experiences related to getting through school and related to research I am doing (like for this paper) occupy the second level in my priorities. Since my current research is so closely related to understanding the needs of myself and others, the line between these first and second priorities is not well defined.
3. At the bottom of this list are mass media experiences related only to emotional stimulation. This means I spend time reading books for school before I start exploring James Joyce's Ulysses. Although I am aware that I will most likely find Ulysses more memorable and so more meaningful than my chemistry book, I will only sit down and read it when I have a break from school. An experience I have not yet had cannot possibly be as meaningful as one which I have now, unless it is fulfilling the need of something to look forward to in the future. Another source of emotional stimulation which I do not often use except during break times is prerecorded music. There are many other sources of emotional stimulation than mass media.
To conclude this part of the paper, need-based analysis of my actions was used to explain my mass media use. A rough outline of my needs was established from past experience and these needs were used to explain my current use of the mass media. I would now like to extend this method to explain why I do not often consume or produce certain types of mass media.
Use of Need Determinations to Explain Non-Participation in Mass
There is a lot of mass media use which I do not participate in, because those types of experiences are not as good at meeting my needs as other types of experience. The greatest fault of extensive use of the mass media is that it limits inter- and intra-personal interaction. Also, the great majority of mass media does not encourage understanding of myself, my immediate environment, and the unique individuals with whom I interact. Television is something I do without entirely. While I have enjoyed a few movies, mostly for their powerful emotional, intellectual, or imagination stimulation, these are stimulation needs which can be met in other ways. For a person starved for interpersonal interaction, time spent watching television or movies is time taken away from more fulfilling activities.
Prerecorded music, in the way it is used in much of our society, is also a hindrance to interpersonal interaction. Prerecorded music can make it difficult to hear what the other is saying. More importantly prerecorded music can make it difficult to hear myself, and instead of having a fair amount of control over my train of thought, I am often distracted by sound or words. In addition, the radio could steer conversation to issues of less interpersonal significance, such as what politician you like, or some other news event. If I constantly listened to music perhaps it would fade into the background like much of what we experience visually. However, when I listen to music I prefer to concentrate on the music and little else. When discussing the practice of the art of loving, Erich Fromm (1956) wrote that "concentration is a necessary condition for the mastery of an art." And he mentions that concentration is rare in our culture. The pervasive use of the mass media is one reason why.
I do not often read newspapers because they are not specialized enough for my needs. I am out of touch with international, national, and many local events, but I do not feel any great loss because of this. If I felt my political and intellectual needs to be greater than the needs I mentioned above, perhaps I would read or listen to the news more often. As it is, my needs are better met though other experiences. I would like to mention one special newspaper-related experience I have had, and that is The Void, an insert in the September issue of Real Change which was written and produced by homeless kids. Real Change is generally more special than the commercial papers, partly because it prints poetry, but mostly because the writers have real emotion to express, and they have no hang-ups about expressing it. The kids are better than the adults. Read it and cry. One anonymous writer wrote, "I have found that I care much more about the problems I have found in my own mind, than in the world that surrounds me. I care less about a world that could very easily go on without me in it, than the one that wouldn't exist if I were not here." More people should focus on the world that wouldn't exist if they were not here.
While mass media, especially television, video games, and the world wide web are becoming more and more stimulating, there is little mass media experience can do to fulfill my first two needs. These are things I need to work on on my own and with others.
Further Questions, The Need for an Individual-Focused Approach,
I would like to discuss the further implications and the universality of this need-based approach to understanding behavior. I would like to discuss what is preventing me from meeting my needs and becoming a 100 percent zesty human. I would like to discuss why people spend so much time with the mass media even though it can do little to help them fulfill themselves. I would like to explore what may be a basic human need to produce creatively, a need which is constrained by constant mass media use. I would also like to compare this theory of communication with other theories.
There is not space for all of these discussions in this paper, but I would like to address the uniqueness of this approach to mass media theory. There is a need for communication theories which do not attempt to explain large societal trends in behavior due to the mass media. This focus on social trends is no doubt encouraged by our political systems and commercial orientation. Few theories of communication are centered on the uniqueness of individual experience. This need-based approach postulates no general trends (other than the basic premise) but instead attempts to provide a coherent view of individual behavior. The goal of this paper is to allow me and others to understand why I do what I do, and to provide a framework for you and others to understand your own actions. The closest relative of this kind of approach is found in biology, where by understanding our own structure we are able to understand ourselves and our needs. Near relatives of this approach are found in psychology, but many of the theories like Fromm's and Freud's are too generalizing and categorical be widely useful, although they both contributed significantly to our ways of understanding human behavior. I did read some powerful communication theories in preparation for this paper, particularly, The Convergence Theory of Communication, Self-Organization, and Cultural Evolution, by D. Lawrence Kincaid (1987), which describes how the more we interact, the more our ideas converge, and how the opposite is true, and also how improvements in communication can allow societies to support higher levels of cultural diversity or homogeneity depending on the nature of the content (divergent or convergent) that is allowed to be communicated. Also Kincaid's and Joeseph Woelfel's Dialogue on the Nature of Causality, Measurement, and Human Communication Theory (1987), which applies developments in the understanding of science due to advances in physics to the social science of communication. But neither of these could explain my behavior.
This paper builds upon Erich Fromm's The Art of Loving (1956). This is a book of questions; there is much left to explore after reading his book. I think the greatest problems with this work is that he over-categorizes (types of love) and over-simplifies, "The deepest need of man, then, is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness. The absolute failure to achieve this aim means insanity, because the panic of complete isolation can be overcome only by such a radical withdrawal from the world outside that the feeling of separation disappears— because the world outside, from which one is separated, has disappeared." I include this quote to contrast it with the one from The Void, and also to demonstrate the oversimplification. There are people who have grown up in environments in which they have and continue to receive adequate meaningful interpersonal interaction. For these people, other needs become more important. The thing to remember about needs is that they can be filled and so lose their position as the deepest need in a person's life, and depending on one's environment other needs can supersede the more psychological needs. A soldier fighting for survival with her comrades is less concerned about her separateness than I am about mine.
The work which gave this paper its need-based focus is Dr. R. Joseph's The Naked Neuron, Evolution and the Languages of the Body and Brain (1993). This is a beautiful and exciting book to read because of images like this, "Photosynthesis and sensitivity to the rays of the sun may well have provided the basis for the first forms of communion— a dialogue between planets and stars." Joseph discusses the evolution of human communication, and what I found most revealing was his expression of the many levels on which we communicate, and which methods of communication are the oldest and often most unconscious, such as chemical communication, an aspect of which is our sense of smell. What specifically focused me on a need-based approach to understanding behavior were statements like this, "Many people, however, have lost the ability to see the interwoven connection between their mind, their emotions, and their body. Many are so out of touch with who and what they are, as well as their own need to touch and be touched, that the very unity of their psyche always remains perilously close to fracture."
This paper has also built on 20 years of life experience which includes the experiences of others in the form of books I have read, and other mass media experiences, and interpersonal interactions. Most recently I have thought a great deal on these subjects, and talked about them with others. My greatest difficulty was understanding the basis for anyone's actions, including my own. There is no obvious universal purpose to human existence, or anything's existence, we "are," and then we "are not," and that did not give me much direction or motivation. Recently I realized that my greatest need was to have a need, for no need has been given to me, and I chose for myself the need to live. As evidenced by human behavior, even the need to live is not a universal human need. Consider heroic acts, or suicides like that of Melville's Bartleby.
By choosing the need to live, I accept a structure for my existence. It is my evolution-based biological structure as well as my biological structure as formed by all my past experience and influenced by my present environment. Many people build their lives around need systems based on external structures, whether religion, culture (including language), or the structure of our society, and this often leads to hurtful conflicts, whether inside an individual or between nations or cultures or individuals. My structure, also, is not separate from the external structures I have grown up with. The culture I am a part of is also a part of me. And how does it influence how I act and how I see? Am I a part of a society in which the needs of my learned structure oppose the needs of my in-born structure? This is at least part true, and I am scared to think how true. In fact, even different parts of my in-born structure can oppose each other (Joseph, 1993) and cause unhappiness.
In addition to those issues, there are many others I would like to continue to investigate, such as: What is the difference between humans and animals, and what is the general trend of humanity. It appears that the earliest humans were not very different from animals, but now through the communication of our collective understanding, a modern individual is incredibly detached from nature and seemingly not very animal-like.; Is there a human need to seek out unexplored areas of awareness to investigate? Why does a person leave the small town to go to the city?; What exactly is technology as an aspect of humanity, and how does it change our needs, or does it only expand our potential for understanding our needs? Maybe you have thought about some of these questions yourself, or you know of others who have.
Even as I write this I know that asking these questions is not the most meaningful thing I do. It is the time I spend talking or just sitting with my friends. It is family reunions, and things like that. It is a hug. So maybe I won't get to all of the questions. For the first time though, it seems I have the beginnings of a coherent view of reality2. If you see any problems with these ideas, or have suggestions of further questions, let me know.
(I read and have referred to these)
Anonymous (September 1996). I was told to write an opinion
article. The Void, p. 5. Or if you can’t find a homeless
person to buy the paper from, visit:
http://www.speakeasy.org/realchange/. The September issue is
not yet there as of the printing of this paper.
Corn, W. M. (1973). The Art of Andrew Wyeth. Greenwich,
Conn.: New York Graphic Society.
Fromm, Erich (1956). The Art of Loving. New York: Harper &
Jackins, H. (1996). The Human Side of Human Beings.
Joseph, R. (1993). The Naked Neuron: Evolution and the
Languages of the Body and Brain. New York: Plenum Press.
Kincaid, D. Lawrence (Ed.). (1987). Communication Theory:
Eastern and Western Perspectives. San Diego: Academic Press,
Melville, H. (1996). Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of
(these I have only read parts of)
Benge, R. C. (1972). Communication and Identity. Hamden,
Conn.: Linnet Books.
Cooper, T. W., Christians, C. G., Plude, F. F., &, White, R.
A. (Eds.). (1989). Communication Ethics and Global Change.
New York: Longman Inc.
Kaufer, D.S., & Carley, K.M. (1993). Communication at a
Distance: the Influence of Print on Sociocultural
Organization and Change. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum
Associates, Inc., Publishers.
1 According to Harvey Jackins (1996), a University of Washington graduate and the founder of Re-evaluation Counseling, zest is an inherent human characteristic which has been interfered with by years of undischarged bad experiences: “Vast intelligence, zestful enjoyment of living, loving, co-operative relationships with others— these seem to constitute the essential human nature.”
2 Liberal philosophy is based upon a faith in each individual’s ability to construct a coherent view of reality.