Media Schemata

'I could not go to sleep because the lady in the television set asked me to stay and watch a bit longer', said the aging mother of a friend of mine the other day. To her, the words of the TV presenter were like real words, so she did not want to let the TV presenter down and she stayed up till late at night. Before she'd become this old she knew perfectly well that TV presenters always ask you to stay and watch a bit longer and that they are not talking to you personally. Because of her aging process she is losing her understanding and knowledge of what media are and how they function. She believes that the lady in the television set is actually present in her room, the box is there and the lady is in the box talking to her. She attributes a personal relationship to herself and the lady in the television set. The media schemata that are developed around TV and its presenters no longer function for my friend's mother (personal communication, 2005).

Every medium that is introduced to larger groups of people will trigger certain behaviour. Through a process of trial and error and through conversation about it, the users come to understand media and media schemata develop. People know how to read and/or partake of the variety of media that are available to them. This understanding develops over time. Media schemata are complex cognitive structures, which help people to express themselves and understand each other. As with language people use and recognize certain styles and rhetoric and can refer to the world in a factual or a fictitious manner. In his PhD dissertation Wijnand IJsselsteijn discusses how media schemata develop in relation to presence (IJsselsteijn 2004). He therefore discusses the history of media from a presence perspective and concludes the following:

"Thus, media schemata may act as an attenuating factor on our initial response to take the stimulus at face value and act accordingly. Despite this inhibitory effect of our media schemata, or perceived reality templates, as Rheingold (1991) calls them, there are numerous examples where we still exhibit a tendency to respond to current media in much the same way as we would to reality. At non-cognitive (e.g., automatic behavioural or psycho physiological) response levels, our brain and sensory system have simply not evolved to deal with media as something separate from reality. Evolution could not have anticipated an environment cluttered with disembodied sights and sounds. As Reeves & Nass (1996) put it:

"During nearly all of the 200,000 years in which Homo Sapiens have existed, anything that acted socially really was a person, and anything that appeared to move toward us was in fact doing just that. Because these were absolute truths through virtually all of human evolution, the social and physical world encouraged automatic responses that were, and still are, the present-day bases for negotiating life. Acceptance of what only seems to be real, even though at times inappropriate, is automatic". (p. 12). " (IJsselsteijn 2004, 47).