Sunday, December 13, 2009

Microsoft's Encarta Tells Two Different Stories

I'm reading the 'Audience Fragmentation" section of a book for class. It talks about how we now have specialized channels to cater specific demographics of society. The authors talk about how we have "narrowcasting" now rather than broadcasting and that we share less and less of our media experiences because of this audience fragmentation.

I came upon the part where it says that Microsoft's Encarta encyclopaedia stated the inventor of the telephone was two different people... In the US, UK, and German edition Encarta said that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, but in the Italian edition it was "Antonio Meucci, a poor Italian American candlemaker who -according to this version of history- beat Bell by 5 years" (Croteau and Hoynes 207).

The authors then pose the questions, "If companies producing supposedly authoritative information such as encyclopedias are comfortable generating multiple versions of history to appeal to different markets, then what is to prevent them from doing the same to court domestic audiences? Will corporations in the future produce different versions of history [and this is what I think is most important] or current events for different demographics?" (Croteau and Hoynes 207).

I think it is important that we see that this is occurring. Being media savvy isn't just for the kids in Media Studies, it's important for everyone. I ask why the editors of Encarta couldn't say something like, "Although Alexander Graham Bell is widely credited as the inventor of the telephone, it is quite possible that Antonio Meucci invented the telephone..." Or something of the like, which mentions both possible inventors. Why should one group of people be told one story and another group be told a completely different story? I find it jarring just thinking about this. Thoughts?

The Business of Media: Corporate Media and Public Interest by David Croteau and William Hoynes. Published in 2006. (I don't feel like doing a proper citation. This is close enough. Too many essays lately.)


  1. This is why you have to know the political biases of the newspaper(s) you choose to read, I think. Even in much less obvious cases, the choice of language can give away so much implicit bias... if you're not aware of it, you might just absorb it. It makes it hard to read the news in a foreign country (even in a language you speak!) because you're unfamiliar with that kind of thing. Interesting post.

  2. Not to get too philosophical, but this is also why it's so important to be very self-aware. Know yourself well enough not to take everything at face value. Read or listen, take in said information, and then intellectually process. To add, all media has a bias to it. Fox News and CNN in the US are notorious for it. With regards to the Encarta Encyclopedia, and the factual story behind Bell being the inventor of the telephone, that's been in dispute for years to some in the US as well. If you dig a little, I'm sure you'll find that some believe an American inventor (can't recall the name off hand) beat Bell to making a 'telephone' work. Who knows for sure? Like many things, the truth often gets lost in the fog of history. We settle for what's 'commonly' believed and move on. That's very human.

  3. I also find the idea of "relative history" quite daunting. When I was a kid, I just loved learning about what happened in the past, and the idea of "history" was so simple: a person could read a collection of facts related to any particular subject and he or she would then be in posession a tremendously powerful knowledge of what happened, exactly, during that specific phase of human society. Knowledge was finite and life was easy. Now, it's just argumentation. The materialists say this, the feminists say that... learning history has become learning the history of historians.

    But that's nothing compared to English classes... (learning about post-structuralist deconstruction is guaranteed to make your head spin)... but I'll stop there before I start ranting lol. Have a good one.