No Data, Good or Bad?
Today's question: Many consider Williams's Television to be the definitive book on television in modern society. However, in a negative review of Television written for the American Journal of Sociology in the late 1970s, W. Russell Neuman wrote that "scholars...will be forced to continue their search for a definite review of...television in modern society" because Williams's "critique lacks the sophistication and focus necessary to have a constructive influence on the design and execution of research on television." Neuman attributes this to, "Williams's uneasiness with...the whole notion of gathering data to test ideas." What is your opinion of this critique? Explain.
I agree with Newman's argument that the book Television by Williams is lack of empirical evidence and field studies. In the book, there are mainly illustrations, narratives, and examples instead of huge amount of data. The opinions of the author were expressed through the means of argument without empirical tests. A large part of the book was focusing on description of development of television, its forms and its impact on individuals’ lives. But I don’t think this is a bad thing. As for me, the book Television is not a comprehensive collection of telling researchers how to study Television as a technology. The most important thing I learned from this book is the deeply embedded idea of the author, the anti-technological-determinism. As argued by Williams, technology is not the deterministic power of the society. The society is not changed by a certain technology. Instead, the emergence of new technologies is because of the requirements or at least some pushing power from the society. After new technology is adopted by the society, it will in turn affect the way people live and even the way people think. With the aid of a certain new technology, people will then have new requirements and new expectations from the development of technology. Thus human society behaves as a power to push the development of technology. The description of television in this book is only an example of this philosophical idea. To make the book complete and the opinions in the book reasonable, authors described the development history of television. He also made comparisons of different forms of television. In the book, the advantages of television over other medium were also illustrated. In my mind, these provide background for author’s arguments and help readers to better understand the object being discussed in this book. So, if we consider this book from this aspect, we will no longer blame this book for lack of empirical evidence. Again, I don’t think this book is a guide on television for the researchers in the field of communication studies. It just expressed author’s view on technology development.
Besides these, I think it is the absence of huge amount of data that makes this book a classic. What we found in this book are description and arguments, as well as expectations of future development. If the book was mainly supported by data instead of thoughtful arguments, it will soon be outdated. The book will be considered as a description of television on 1970’s, for instance. The data available to the author is confined by his own age, and at the same time technology is rapidly developing. For example, some of the features described by Williams in the book about the features of American TV channels are no longer valid. So, in my opinion, Williams smartly expressed his ideas using the technology of television as a great example.