The End of Audiences?
Theoretical Echoes of Reception Amid the Uncertainties of Use
The Death of the Audience?
The report of my death was an exaggeration.
(Mark Twain, 1897)
Once, ordinary people occupied much of their leisure time sitting on the sofa, often together with others, watching prescheduled hours of mass broadcast television or reading a national newspaper, whether in a concentrated or distracted manner and, later, talking about it over supper or the next day. Today, people gaze at their computer or mobile phone screen, often alone, while multitasking social networking, music downloading, peer-to-peer (P2P) chat, information searching, or playing games and, simultaneously, discussing their experiences with others elsewhere. Just a couple of decades divide these two time periods, hardly time for people to change in their fundamental interests and concerns. Yet their everyday habits—and their communicative possibilities—are considerably altered, reflecting the historic shift from mass to networked society, from push to pull media, from one-way to multiway communication. So, are they still audiences? In this chapter, we argue that this question matters: conceptualizing people as audiences (not instead of but as well as publics, masses, consumers, or users) builds insightfully on the history of audiences and audience research to reveal continuities and changes in the mediation of identity, sociality, and power.
We ask this question ...