How young people process media content should truly be at the heart of efforts to craft new theories in communication. Not only does this enable new insights on an important market segment, it also makes sense from a human evolutionary perspective. Individuals born in the 80’s and after have always known the media landscape to be this jungle of words and images that they themselves help populate through social media. Surely they must be developing “survival strategies” quite different from their elders to make sense of it all.
In the article “Exploring the Audience’s Role: A Decoding Model for the 21st Century,” the very word “audience” in advertising looks in danger of extinction. A lot of times, our young people don’t seem to be paying attention at all, except in the most peripheral sense. It is dismaying but also intriguing. The “me” in the “me generation” might not be as limited as it sounds. In processing media content, the “me” also apparently encompasses the “tribal culture” that our young person inhabits: her social circle and the popular and inherited culture she’s immersed in. That opens up a lot more angles for engagement and more potential for using qualitative methods like focus group discussion to capture discrete data points in this messy reality. But to what extent could the focus group help this kind of phenomenological inquiry? Isn’t it ultimately prone to what they call “observer effect” in physics where the act of observation influences what is observed?