||In media and communication studies, the term â€˜messageâ€™ is so basic and fundamental that it is often taken for granted rather thn explained. Paradoxically, our understanding of the term has been filtered through a number of different, broad schools of thought whose divergent concerns have led to variations in the ways in which the term has come to be used in academic study.
At its simplest level, a message is a signal from a sender to a receiver, but this omits an essential element in the way we usually understand a message, that is, the meaning encapsulated in the signal. Although for analytical purposes it may be possible to separate out the process of sending and receiving from the element of meaning, in reality we experience the message as a whole.
In communication studies, the two major approaches emanate from, on the one hand, sociology and psychology, and on the other, from the semiotic school influenced by linguistics. In the former approach there is an emphasis on the intention of the sender and on the process by which the message is transmitted. So concerns would typically centre on whether or not the message had been successfully received (and if not, what factors might have led to a failure). This approach is also concerned with the possible effects of a given message on the receiver.
In the latter approach the emphasis is more on how meaning is produced. It emphasizes the interaction of culture (people sending and receiving) and text (written, visual, aural, musical, etc.), and regards regards the message as consisting of signs which can be encoded and decoded. In the process of this interaction, there is the possibility of a range of meanings emerging. Clearly, in this version, the variable cultural backgrounds of receivers figure strongly inasmuch as different messages may be taken from the same text.
In the study of messages it is assumed that there can never be a â€˜pureâ€™ message. All messages are coded in some way; a simple example of this would be the Morse code, but musical notation, slang and the conventions of visual art might be others. Moreover, in the process of sending and receiving a coded message, other factors come into account. How clear is the message? Is the receiver familiar with the code being used? What is the intention of the sender? It is possible for the signal to be recognized but for the meaning to be misunderstood.
A broad consideration of this area was taken up by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s. McLuhan argued (in Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man (1964) that â€˜The medium is the messageâ€™ by which he meant that what is said, and our understanding of what is said, are conditioned by the medium through which the message is transmitted. No medium is neutral. BC
See also code; context; encode/decode.Further reading J. Fiske, Introduction to Communication.