All Roads Lead From Home: The Rhetoric of the Interactive Superhighway and Its Effects on the Development of Targeted Advertising

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As privacy and security leaks continue to expose the weaknesses in the massive reams of data gathered on us, targeted advertising and Big Data have come under fire for their handling of consumer information. Much of these discussions have centered around Web media in particular. Due to its dynamism, measurability, and classification as an “interactive medium,” as opposed to television and radio, the Web has perhaps disproportionately contributed to predictive modeling. Yet the nature of interactivity is not well agreed-upon; furthermore, while it has been studied across fields such as computer science, information science, or industrial design, less attention has been paid to how advertising agencies have understood it. Through an analysis of internal research documents and case studies from ad agency J. Walter Thompson, combined with coverage of “interactive media” in industry trades, this thesis traces how advertising defined “interactive” over time and links those processes with the steps taken in targeted marketing. In doing so, it breaks from the technocentric narrative that has dominated the literature and aims to provide more sociohistorical perspective. It finds that the commercialization of the Web has heavily favored user-message interactivity, to the detriment of earlier concepts of interactivity that favored user-user interactivity and community building. The discussion concludes that given this knowledge, approaches to future interactive media must be wary of transplanting current-day structures without a critical eye.


Type of resource text
Date created May 2020


Author Mansfield, Katie


Subject Advertising
Subject STS
Subject Interdisciplinary Honors
Subject Internet
Subject Media Studies
Subject Historical Analysis
Genre Thesis

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User agrees that, where applicable, content will not be used to identify or to otherwise infringe the privacy or confidentiality rights of individuals. Content distributed via the Stanford Digital Repository may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license (CC BY).

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Mansfield, Katie. (2020). All Roads Lead From Home: The Rhetoric of the Interactive Superhighway and Its Effects on the Development of Targeted Advertising. Unpublished Honors Thesis. Stanford University, Stanford CA.


Stanford University, Program in Science, Technology and Society, Honors Theses

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