According to Kate Lacey and her new book: Listening Publics: The Politics and Experience of Listening in the Media Age, listening has become a forgotten area of study in the field of Communications. And for Lacey, this lapsed study/understanding has had far reaching consequences, not only in the field of Communications, but the realm of politics too.
Lacey’s central argument for why listening is a deferred area of study is listening is currently viewed as a passive activity. She gathers evidence to support her conclusions through historical research. In fact, majority of the text focuses on the development of privatized listening habits over the last century and a half. While this is useful for an individual with little knowledge of the development of broadcasting, it can become slightly redundant for someone who has studied the development extensively. As privatized listening habits rose, individuals began to chose entertainment and relaxation programming more so than political or educational based programming. This is key to Lacey, who states that this is when listening went from being viewed as an active activity to a passive one.
According to Lacey, broadcasters began diminishing the importance of engaging their audiences because they believed people would not listen. “During the formative years of broadcasting, this passivity was understood by some as being imposed on the listener by the mass address that spoke to no-one as someone, and everyone as anyone, denying the possibility of active engagement, personal development or equality of response.” (p. 114)
This is an especially intriguing argument when you consider today’s current state of broadcasting, and how the Internet has effected the way we communication with one another. What is the best way to communicate with our audience? How do we view them? Add to the fact that an individual no longer needs formally training or education to create a blog, website, or video, and we can see why listening is crucial. But is the broadcasting industry completely to blame for this paradigm shift? Lacey does not explore this question in great detail.
Instead Lacey concludes her book by exploring the relationship between political activism/democracy, and listening/communications. She does an excellent job of linking these two areas tougher and why they are dependent on one another. “To state simply – without a listener, speech is nothing but noise in the ether.” (p. 166) This is Lacey’s key conclusion, and her main argument for why the Communications Field needs to rededicate itself to understanding the act of listening. If we are not good listeners, then we cannot understand the message that is being communicated to us.