Since the creation of the Gutenberg press, messages to mass audiences have been delivered on paper. In the 20th century, radio and television trumped print and drew people in with the delivery of information through the airwaves. The media landscape was then joined by digital platforms that deliver messages in an online format, and a whole new world of information dissemination began.
The Internet influences the field of mass media in three primary ways—delivering a new way to create content, distribute content, and access content. But, the transition to an online world has not been without some complications. Early in its development, accessing online content was wrought with frustrations, due primarily to limited bandwidth and technology that was not keeping pace with consumer demand. In more recent years, Internet speeds have improved dramatically in response to the development of more advanced technology, and wireless connections have become far more available as Internet service providers (ISPs) improve their infrastructures. In fact, in many communities, ISPs such as Comcast/Xfinity have covered entire communities with wireless access for paid subscribers, enabling consumers to access the Internet with their mobile devices wherever they are. One result of easily accessed wireless technology is the ability of mass media to reach a far broader audience on an
almost constant basis.
Wireless technology is no longer limited to the Western world. In 2013 the Government of Rwanda announced “Smart Kigali,” a wireless Internet joint project with the World Bank and a Korean Internet company. Smart Kigali will provide free wireless Internet access throughout the capital city of Kigali, enabling millions of people to access the Internet in their homes, a café, or even on a bus. The $500 million project began in 2009 when the government began laying over 1,500 miles of fiber optic cables throughout the entire country with the goal of connecting 5 million Rwandans to the Internet by 2016. This is an impressive accomplishment for this tiny landlocked country in Central Africa, particularly in light of the fact that just over 20 years ago, Rwanda was the site of one of the world’s worst genocides. In the span of 100 days, the Rawandan genocide killed 1 million people and leveled the country’s entire infrastructure. The post-genocide government’s recognition that open access to mass media is the best defense against future conflict underscores the importance of this project (and the importance of mass media!).
What’s occurring in Rwanda (and other parts of the world) is evidence that the shifting of traditional media Internet delivery is a worldwide phenomenon. Almost all print products now have online versions, and as online circulation grows, ink-on- paper circulation declines. Time Magazine, as an example, dropped from 4.2 million copies per week in 1997 to 3.2 million in 2012. Meanwhile, from relatively negligible online traffic in 1995, Time grew to 4.3 million unique visitors a month by 2015.
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