Risto Volasen kotisivu

Risto Volanen in English

Paper presented at NFPF/NERA Conference

(Nordisk Förening för Pedagogisk Forskning/Nordic Educational Research Association)

Helsinki, March 9, 1990

Risto Volanen, Ph.D.

Director of Research and Development

Finnish Broadcasting Company


We all know the history, how the news from Marathon arrived to Athens in 490 B.C..  A young Athenian called Feidippides ran all the way, cried out the message and fell down.  The obvious morale of this story is to add still something more to the high glory of the Athenians of the day.  In a closer analysis, however, the first Marathon run seems to have been just the most effective means of communicating a message 2500 years ago.

If Feidippides was a messenger he, however, differed strikingly from many of his colleagues in history.  He was not sent to a royal court, because there wasn't any in Athens.  The message was shouted out to the public on the agora.

Agora of Athens

The Greek word polis is usually translated as "city-state".  This, however, gives a misleading idea of what was the core of the social system in the Classical Athens.  The state of Athens was a relatively vast country: the distance from north to south was about 100 kilometers.  It consisted of about 300 000 people spread over the Attica in dozens of villages.

The ArchaicGreek society had been organized around the Royal court; and in that centralized society communication flowed mostly from the center out.  The rising democracy of Athens created a radically new system.  Social justice did not flow any more from the center to villages but the people flowed daily, weekly or monthly to Athens “city” to debate and to decide what is juste.  What was common became public, and given to available means of communication the publicity or public realm was structured within the reach of the immediate voice, sight and walk.  The result was a cultural and social explosion on and around the agora of Athens: Several basic elements of Europe were created within a few square kilometers and during one or two generations.

The immediate democracy itself and its legal system made speech, debate and dialogue become the decisive arts for political power and social survival.  Hence the old Homeric educational system was put under pressure and rhetorics became one of the most important subjects of education.

As is also well known, the western drama was literarily created on the Athenian agora in connection with the Dionysian cult; and it was also behind the corner, at Lykeion, where Aristotle wrote his Poetics that became the fundamental European interpretation of dramatic or narrative form of communication. The greatness of the time is well symbolized by the personal friendship between Sofokles, Feidias and Perikles.  The dramatist was also the "minister" of finance, the sculpture was also the head of the construction of the Acropolis and the politician was also a "strateigos" in a military as well as in over all sense.

Among the great figures of agora was also Socrates' non-Platonic student Isocrates.  In Classical Athens he organized the rhetorically and poetically oriented education that then became the basic model in the Hellenistic world - and was adopted by the Romans in the second century B.C.

Ironically we know most of the communication policy of early Europe through one of its bitter critics, namely Plato.  According to Plato his own policy was to promote truth and virtues or cognitive consonance of the human psyche.  According to him the principle of rhetoricians like Isocrates was to communicate - and to teach to communicate - only what pleases the audience.

Plato's exaggeration is obvious: from Isocrates to Varro and Cicero rhetorics or oratory was designed to cultivate the whole human being.  However, in the light of later history Plato well predicted the internal cultural scission of the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman world.  On the one hand much of the elite oriented towards more or less rationalistic philosophies. On the other hand there emerged the emotionally oriented arts and passionistic mass culture.

The church

On the eve of the victory of Christianity there seems to have been a fundamental internal scission in the culture or in the contents of communication around the Mediterranean: on the one hand there was the Platonic, Stoic and Pythagorean rationalism of the elite, on the other there were the different semi-religious or circus-theatre type passionistic entertainments of the masses as well as a boom of rationalistic religious cults.  St.Augustin's Christian theology seems to have been the resolution of this dramatic tension: a healthy psyche or soul is to be created through uniting reason, emotion and good will - this human trinity being an image of the Holy Trinity.

The third powerful cultural element at the time of early Christianity was the primarily rhetorical education system inherited from Athens and Rome.  If the Athenian agora had been the first great European communication invention the Christian church emerged as the next one.  St.Augustin himself was a student and teacher of rhetorics.  From the communication point of view the geniosity of the church was to organize the whole repertoire of classical communication know-how to serve the new mission of reconstructing and taking care of the divided European souls.  Martianus Capella's and Alcuin's trivium and quadrivium education was both support and expression of this Isocrates’, Varro’s and Cicero’s communication policy for the next thousand years.  And as is well known, grammar, rhetorics, dialectics and poetics as a part of music were all included in these seven liberal arts.

If the classical conflict in communication policy had been pleasing as opposed to the promotion of truth and virtues, St.Augustin's policy was to communicate Christian truth and virtues in an appealing form.  Then a thousand years later Plato and Aristotle were refound and interpreted in terms of Christianity in the late Middle Ages.  The net result was that the Christian-Classical message penetrated our natural languages and thus made us Europeans to understand ourselves as integrated human souls or persons.

The modern times

It is beyond the scope of this study why René Descartes reopened the question concerning the integrity of the human soul or person when he in his Meditations stated: "And finally, we must conclude from all this that things which we clearly and distinctly perceive to be diverse substances as we conceive the mind and the body, are in fact substances which are really distinct from each other".

No doubt this division into rational mind and the body of passions was a conclusion from his "new method of thought".  And no doubt this new method opened the modern time and laid the groundwork for what has been called Enlightenment. 

Much of modern moral and political theory can be interpreted in the light of Descartes' division.  On the one hand there emerged the rationalistic line from Descartes to Spinoza, Leibniz and Kant.  On the other hand there is the emotionalistic flow from Hume to Smith and Bentham.  Each of these currents has produced a communication policy - and obviously education - of its own.  Suffice it to repeat the policy statements of the great adversaries David Hume and Immanuel Kant:

                      "We speak not strictly and philosophically when we speak of the combat of passion and of reason.  Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them."  (Hume)

                      "No moral principle is founded upon any feeling whatever one may think; a moral principle is really nothing but a dimly conceived metaphysics which is inherent in every man's rational constitution."  (Kant)

The media of the Enlightenment were of course the print and the press. As the educational system there emerged the university of sciences and the popular comprehensive school system.  It is not a fresh idea to interpret the post-Descartian cultural history as a victorious march of the modern over Classic and Christian Europe. Neither is it a novelty to say that inside the modern there has been all the time a competition between rationalism and emotionalism. The new electronic and visual media of this century absorbed, continued and accelerated this process.

In Europe the early radio and then television were first planned to serve education in the Enlightenment spirit.  This policy continued after the second world war when the new generation took the mission to continue rationalistic enlightenment in order to avoid in future the collective passionism and regression behind the war.  In the shelter of monopoly this enlightened educational programming policy worked well in most European countries and their public service companies.  Then in the mid 1980's everything changed, and rapidly. 

The 1980's

The change started from a series of technological innovations followed by heavy financial investments.  An introductory viewpoint to this is offered by TV home audiences.  In only five or ten years home electronics added more than ten different attachments to the television set, from home computer to VCR and from satellite to cable and teletext.  At the same time there are several profounder changes behind the screen.

The developments in mass communication and telecommunication technologies, business information systems and, above all in computing are making the traditional boundaries of these technologies disappear.  What will follow is a convergence of these traditional fields of communication into an integrated technological communication network. At the same time there are two other processes: digitalization and the decrease of relative prices.

The most immediate cultural outcome of this development seems to be that text, sound, and the live image can be more and more effectively transformed into electronical signals. These signals, on the other hand, can be more and more effectively distributed all over the world across the national, cultural, linguistic, social and generational boundaries.

The increased capacity of the electronic signal to penetrate any national boundaries is leading towards a truly global communication market. This continent wide and global market generates growth in the global communication industry. The global communication industry will, finally, result in ever more fierce global competition for the global communication market.  According to an American estimate the world communication budget will grow in the 90's from the actual 300 billion dollars to 1000 billion in the year 2000.

The challenge of journalism

The tremendous growth of physical effectiveness in communication has important direct influence on us: information and misinformation can penetrate mankind in a few seconds. Any closed social system will be attacked and any social or personal identity will be challenged.  Any organization willing to survive and prosper is bound to create actively its credible public realm - whether nation or any other community - including European Community. Last year in Europe was a good example and prophecy for the future.

Whatever the internal problems of the Eastern European countries were, the rapid change was also stimulated by external communication. Then when the change took place in Berlin we witnessed a kind of real time journalism through the effective communication networks.  The events in Romania may indicate a further step promoted by communication technology: the revolution was not only communicated in real time to our homes but the communication from television studios was itself the revolution.  Still the events in Romania demonstrate also the risks: we don't simply know how much it was planned and how much it was spontaneous real life drama; and only afterwards we learned that many of the messages and images from Timisoara were planned misinformation in order to promote a good cause.

These developments demonstrate that in future one of the dearest properties of any nation are critical journalists who want to seek truth.  The second such property are TV and radio companies that have a mission to afford such truth.  The third one is an educational system that helps such journalists to grow.

Growing competition

There will be intensified competition not only in journalism but on the whole "idea market" divided into two main segments: mass or home audiences and elite or business clients.

In the global television market the giant competing companies have no choice but to operate on the basis of the best strategic knowledge available.  Their product has to be more attractive than the ones of their competitors.  Program content has to be able to cross over linguistic and cultural boundaries in the same way as an electronic signal carrying the message.

According to our research, the central means of program competition is to use elements shared by all human beings.  Examples of such elements are exploitation of the unconscious fears and desires associated with childhood and family, different emotional effects - especially those linked with sexuality and violence - use of powerful visual material and movement as well as music and rhythm.  In global competition, these elements are utilized not only in entertainment but also in news programs.

The fact that much of the programming directed to home audiences is commercial adds another important feature to these trends.  A proper modern management analysis is well aware that the real customers of the commercial communication enterprises are not home audiences but advertisers.  Indeed, a renowned researcher of strategic management, Igor Ansoff notes that the business of commercial television is not broadcasting programs but trying to attract people to view commercials.

Communication aimed at home audiences is based essentially on efforts to establish and maintain a link between programs and audiences.  Business information production and communication uses a different type of logic.  Businesses are looking for information that improves their performance.

Thus, there exists a demand for the kind of information that can help a company to improve its products vis a vis those in competition or to improve possibilities for a more cost-effective production.  Modern information technologies may improve a company's chances to acquire relevant, timely and new scientific information.  This need will be partly fulfilled by the company itself through its own information systems.  However, the remaining information need will be satisfied by companies founded specially for this purpose and by market-oriented universities and research institutions.

Western Europe

These developments have also quite dramatically challenged Western Europe.  In the mid 80's there was a heyday atmosphere in the liberalization of Western European communications.  Then there was the rapid cognition of the fact that in a free competition American production easily beats the European film and television in popularity.  The European response was the EC audiovisual directive and huge financial support, that remind us how EC handles its agricultural or ship building policy.  The irony is obvious: Western Europe shows a flag to West and to East for free market and free communication and itself takes bureaucratic defensive measures in cultural production.

The ordinary argument for this policy refers to defense of quality against American commercialism.  In fact, what is too ordinary now in Europe are copies of American commercial formats and so called art films that film people make for each other.

There are, of course, several factors playing here, but in the final analysis the most critical one is the will and skill of the creative community of artists and journalists.  These, for their part, depend on the cultural tradition and educational system.

John Locke was among the first modern thinkers, who wanted to diminish rhetorics and poetics in education.  Therefore it is surprising that in the most Lockean Anglo-Saxons world the ancient liberal arts tradition is still most powerful in education.  American school history is particularly interesting.  The early American university took its model from Europe at the time when classics and liberal arts still had a strong position here.  Since that time European educational development has gone on towards sciences and rationalism, but in the U.S. the early liberal arts model has been adapted throughout the educational system as an integral part of it.  In the final analysis one essential strength of American audiovisual production is their strong liberal arts tradition and the education of the new media built on this tradition.

For Europeans the situation is paradoxical: the new communication technology offers us the most powerful means of communication in European history but our educational system is perhaps the least communicative since the early days of Isocrates' reform.  No wonder, if we have problems as creators or if we are an audience of uncritical victims of American production - or if we have black or white attitudes to television.

There are good grounds to call the emerging period of Europe something different from "modern" - for instance post-modern:

                      -First, the networking of society, continent or globe is in the history of communication systems something as unique as agora, church or print.

                      -Secondly, the idea of rational or scientific enlightenment of the people as the basis of politics is clearly disintegrating along with the social systems, based on this ideal. Somewhere from European history we hear Aristotle and St.Augustine reminding us that mere reason doesn't lead to anything.  For the moment the winner is David Hume's student Adam Smith.

The post modern world

Still we meet confusion and major conflicts in a further analysis of the post modern condition.  We can hear, for instance, French Jean-Francois Lyotard stress the knowledge market of the emerging society.  At the same time writers like Crocer and Cook or Grossberg stress the accelerating passions market of communication.  The third argument says that there is fragmentation of cultures or life styles taking place. Our preceding analysis suggest that all three are right. 

Taken as a whole, it seems that communication arena is becoming global.  The dynamics of technology and competition seems to lead towards a kind of polarization.  First, there is growing market for mass communication hooking the emotions of individuals and home audiences.  Secondly, there is a growth of efficient and timely scientific information for the economy and business.  The business information market is fragmented because of specific needs of customer companies.  The passions market is fragmented to the extent that self love for elitist distinction overcomes the passion for mass experience.

If this is the case the actual development in communication really seems to propagate the Descartian programme of deconstructing our natural languages.

Predicting something more specific depends wholly on how we understand communicating human being.  My own understanding is "later" Wittgenstanian or hermeneutic.  Therefore I think that the post modern is the truth about modern.  So far our Christian-Classic tradition has kept our psyches or souls integrated through the natural languages it created and we learn in the early dialogues of our childhood. Using the banal dialect we have been living on the cultural capital created on the Classical agora and in the Christian church.  The slow scission of ordinary languages through scissed communication leads us now towards scissed souls and world of distinct reason and distinct passions.

If it is correct to interpret the events in Eastern Europe as the destiny of onesided social rationalism, then these events should also be a warning to Western Europe directing itself towards another onesidedness: accelerated passion for self interest and self love.  Therefore, with full support to the education of sciences, I would like to conclude that the business community, in fact, acts against its own best interests in its antihumanities educational and commercialistic communication policies.  It seems that in their approach business people have often misinterpreted even their closest environment: the fundamentals of organizational communication in their own companies.

This leads me to suggest in communication studies and practice the same thing as many people are doing now in music and in architecture: after having found out that the modern has emptied itself as a constructive force they are seeking a new understanding of what Europe really is in its basics.  In communication this would mean among other things a new recovery of the European tradition in rhetorics, in Aristotelian poetics or drama and in dialogue as well as in the contents of these traditions: helping true informations, the virutes, a healthy soul or personality and a good life to develop in this world.  Instead of following, in the name of Europe, the businesslike call to an onesided scientism and commercialism that might be an option also for the educationalists.  Why not to think about it?

19. marras, 2013