The Prompt In his famous “Vast Wasteland” address to the National Association of Broadcasters in May of 1961, Newton Minow, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, spoke about the power of television to influence the taste, knowledge, and opinions of its viewers around the world. Carefully read the following, paying close attention to how timely it is today, especially in light of the worldwide Internet.
Minow ended his speech warning that “The power of instantaneous sight and sound is without precedent in mankind’s history. This is an awesome power. It has limitless capabilities for good—and for evil. And it carries with it awesome responsibilities—responsibilities which you and [the government] cannot escape . . .”
Using your own knowledge and your own experiences or reading, write a carefully constructed essay that defends, challenges, or qualifies Minow’s ideas.
Three Sample Introductions 1. I agree with Newton Minow’s assertion to the National Association of Broadcasters that “The power of instantaneous sight and sound is . . . an awesome power . . . [with] capabilities for good—and for evil.” However, I disagree with his placing the responsibility for this power squarely in the hands of the broadcasters and the government.
2. Imagine—you have limitless capabilities for good and evil—you, not Superman, can control the world with your super powers. And, what are your powers? Do you have x-ray vision, morphability, immortality? NO, you have the most awesome power ever devised—you can instantaneously influence the taste, knowledge, and opinions of mankind around the world. You are Supernet! and you have a super headache because you agree with Newton Minow, who warned the National Association of Broadcasters in 1961 that “You have an awesome responsibility.”
3. Nowhere is the awesome power for good and evil of modern technology more clearly seen than in the Internet’s pervasiveness and influence. Newton Minow was right on target in 1961 when he warned the National Association of Broadcasters that the power of TV has “limitless capabilities for good—and for evil.”
Sample 1 qualifies the assertion presented by Minow. The writer agrees with the potential of the power but disagrees about who should take responsibility.
Sample 2 agrees with Minow’s position but treats the assertion in a lighthearted fashion. The reader can expect a humorous and possibly irreverent tone in the essay.
Sample 3 indicates a writer who has obviously decided to limit the area of the argument to that of the Internet and has chosen to agree with Minow.
All three samples cite both the speaker and the occasion and clearly state the writers’ positions on the given issue
Sample Body Paragraphs 1. One of the most rewarding applications of the Internet is its ability to provide instant communication between friends and family. A grandmother-to-be in New York is able to share in the moment by moment experience of her daughter’s pregnancy and her granddaughter Daisy’s birth in California through e-mail, scanned photos and quick videos. Likewise, the ability to instantly communicate with others may have saved the life of a doctor stranded at the South Pole. Her contact with medical resources and experts via the Internet enabled her to undergo surgery and treatment for breast cancer. Research and innovations in medical treatment are now available to those around the world via the “Net.” Similarly, the ability for instant communication enables millions to enjoy concerts, sports events, theatrical presentations and other cultural activities without ever having to leave home. These wonderful benefits are all because of the fabulous and awesome technological creation—the Internet.
2. The other side of the mass communication coin has the face of evil on it. The Internet offers hate mongers unlimited access to anyone with a connection to the World Wide Web. Groups like the Neo-Nazis can spread their hate messages to susceptible minds via bright, entertaining and engaging websites. What looks like a simple, fun game can easily reinforce the group’s hate-filled philosophy to unsuspecting browsers. With the potential for millions of “hits” each week, it does not take a rocket scientist to perceive the danger here. This danger is also present with the minds and bodies or curious and vulnerable young people. Because of its easy access and easy production, “kiddie porn” is both possible and available via the Internet and the films any number of porn sites offer for downloading with the mere click of a keyboard key. Through contacts made through e-mail and/or chat rooms on the Net, children can be easily fooled and led to contact those who would abuse their bodies and minds for a quick profit or cheap thrill. With instantaneous messaging, whether real or imaged, positive or negative, a single person or group can set into motion mass hysteria just by warning of an impending disaster, such as flood, fire, bomb, poison, and so on. There are obviously many more possibilities floating out there in the Ethernet. These are just three of the evil ones.
3. Just as there is the potential for both good and evil with regard to mass communication, so too is there the potential for both beneficial and destructive strategies related to responsibilities. The most powerful regulator of our responsibility as individuals is our finger and its power to press a button or double click on a key and to “just say no.” With this slight pressure, we are able to exert monumental pressure on those who produce programs, websites, photos, documents, etc., which we find unacceptable. Who better to tell us what to watch, what to do, and what to think? All too often many people prefer to abdicate their personal responsibility and give that power to either the government or the communication industry. We must never forget that dictators target the control and censorship of mass media as the first step in the total control of the minds and hearts of the populace. The laws, which we as citizens of a democracy look to, must never impinge upon our First and Fourth Amendment rights. Each of us has the right of free speech, and each of us has the right to privacy. None of us has the right to harm others or to limit the rights of others; why, then, would we give that right to the communication industry or to the government?