Tag Archive for rhetoric

Media Bias: Personal Reflections for a Less Cynical Future

To infinityEveryone has biases, and the inclusion of media does not change that. In fact, just as media is biased towards certain people (e.g., handheld gaming consoles are biased towards young people) (Ohler, 2010), we are biased towards certain media. Conducting a media bias inventory allows us to understand our biases and determine the best way to either overcome them or embrace them. In this post, I will address my media biases by discussing my reaction to them, what I think I should improve, and how I can use this specific knowledge as a media psychologist.

My media biases did not surprise me. I tend to be very aware of what I am doing whether it’s right or needs to be improved. Personality affects our media biases, as it does so many other things. In my case, my drive toward perfection, drives my need to have an intimate knowledge of, and proficiency in, as many media as can get my hands on. It drives me to learn about it, both in their intended uses and their “meta” uses. aggregateIn other words, I strive to understand how people typically use it, whether those uses were intentional or not during it’s creation/development. It was not surprising, then, that my bias was very much social, exploratory, philosophical, and escapism driven. I use media to connect to my friends, to understand them (and others) and their preferences/opinions as a means of broadening my perspective, and a way to escape my physical micro-environment and connect to my sociomental environment.

I tend to be incredibly cynical in all aspects of my life, but where media is concerned, I am pointedly so. I approach my media use with reckless caution- my new term… you’re welcome to use it as you see fit. Though I love diving head first into new media and exploring its capabilities, I tend to be cynical about the information/people I meet while using them. Claims are, in my opinion, things to be verified by my experience and the experience of the collective (Borg, anyone?).

I do, I don'tI am proud my ability/tendency to be cynical and critical of that which is presented as fact via various media because I feel it allows me to learn more and work outside my biases. That being said, this cynicism is also the thing I must work to improve. I don’t mean that I should learn to be MORE cynical. I mean that I still tend to trust certain sources. Manjoo (2008) notes that we look to sources that already back up our opinions. While I agree that we have that tendency, I do not think it insurmountable. I tend to favor word-of-mouth reviews, information from sources I have agreed with in the past, and media that make logical sense to me. If I’m going to truly overcome biases (not that it is possible, but that striving to keeps them in check), I must seek out differing opinions and allow myself to remain flexible and better informed.

As a media psychologist, being able to pursue truth in spite of personal biases, and being able to determine and articulate the biases of others is paramount. We cannot understand how and why people use and are affected by media if we cannot look past our own biases. The very essence of our jobs is to remain open-minded and receptive to all forms that the intersection between individuals and media can take. We cannot teach others what media literacy means, without being media literate.

One sizeUnderstanding my biases is the first step to consistently perceiving the biases of others, and a step towards becoming a successful media psychologist. Though I am passionate about an extensive variety of media, and I remember when media meant only TV, radio, 8-bit game consoles, and circularly dialed analog telephones, I am cautious about what is presented on these media unless I am familiar with the source. Understanding these biases allows me to work past them, focusing on broader horizons, keeping in mind that doing so better prepares me for helping others do the same.

Reference:

Manjoo, F. (2008). True enough: Learning to live in a post-fact society. Wiley.

McLuhan: Prophet or Fortune-Teller

karsh-portraitLargely regarded as the father of media, Marshall McLuhan is known for his theories on media’s effects on society as well as individuals. Though he is still highly regarded, there are those who don’t understand and those who don’t buy into his seeming prophetic interpretations of how media has and will influence us. This paper summarizes briefly some of Marshall McLuhan’s theories using examples from modern technology, and takes into consideration oppositional perspectives.

(Re)Tribalization

McLuhan (2014) articulates a difference between nationalization (i.e., separation; segregation) and tribalization (i.e., group think) as triggered by the prevalent media of the time. Before print, as Burke (2013) points out, we were dependent on travelers for news in the form of songs and poetry. Everyone knew everything about everyone, elders were sources of information, and well known events were time markers. The “tribes” worked together to survive whether it was legal matters, history, or current events. With print, McLuhan determined that people became more independent when the need arose for privacy to read books. They were able to withdraw from the group and learn information pertinent to their own survival. Capitalism facilitated greed and competition. However, with electronic communication, people are once again depending on others for information and sharing what information they have. Collective intelligence exemplifies the new tribalization. Shirky (2010) discusses civic value in contributions online; another example of McLuhan’s tribalization in action.

mcluhan_quoteNaysayers may contend that due to the proliferation of social media and their typical uses (Boyd, 2008; Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007; Java, Finn, Song, & Tseng, 2007), though we do cross national boundaries, we connect more with specific people for specific reasons and are no longer forced to associate with those whom we do not want to associate with; regardless of proximity. In other words, nationalism is created through interests rather than geographical boundaries. In fact, McLuhan might have considered this the reversal part of the internet tetrad.

Medium is the Message

Medium is the message means that what is important is not the content of the message itself, but the environment it is presented in. Taking the example of tribalization, what was printed did not matter to the shift to nationalization; what mattered was the affect of print on society. Likewise, what matters in retribalization is not what is shown on tv, presented on the internet, or played on the radio. It is the fact that the mediums themselves have shifted our focus from ourselves to our tribe (in this case, a global community) and from our ears to our eyes.

136038McLuhan’s example of a car being the message and the environment in which the car survives (e.g., the gas stations, the roads, etc.) makes this clear. He says when you change the grounds, you change the car. We know that when you change even the type of road your car goes on (e.g., paved to dirt or unbeaten), you necessarily change elements of the car. You can’t have a car made for paved road functioning well on on an unbeaten path. It must have a different chassis, different tires, a different engine, and so on. The message doesn’t matter. It changes as the medium changes. Shirky (2010) presents a good example of this as well. He explains that with the proliferation of the internet the content we produce changes to fit the abilities of the technologies. Another example is the change from finite amounts of space for categorization (e.g., libraries) to the infinite space we have for those same types of connections with the internet (e.g., tags) (Shirky, 2005). Our message- or content- changes with the medium. We tend to think too linearly and traditionally; an echo of McLuhan’s contention that we strive to produce yesterday’s message with today’s medium.

Those who do not agree with McLuhan may note that the message does matter, and while it changes based on the form of presentation, some messages are universal and eternal (Campbell, 1988). Some stories, regardless of how they’re told, transcend time and medium. In fact, the details of the story change across cultures, but the overarching themes remain. Though a story might be considered a medium, in which case it may serve to support McLuhan’s theory, it seems likely that McLuhan himself would not consider the story the medium but rather the message.

Conclusion

80678659_4603781_1259360083_xorThough McLuhan’s theories seem to accurately represent the ebb and flow of behavior with the tides of medium, there are those who would say the same of him as they would of fortune tellers and astrologists; the notions are vague enough that they can be made to fit any situation. This may also attribute to the constant “misinterpretations” of his theories. If this is true, why would it benefit media psychologists to understand these theories?

As a media psychologist, understanding McLuhan gives us another tool to look beyond bias and preexisting notions of how mediums should be used, to richer uses (e.g., augmented reality). We have the tools to create today’s message with today’s medium. We also have the tools to understand how the mediums have an effect on us as individuals and a global tribe. By standing back away from the specificity of the message, and seeing the larger picture of the medium and the network in which all mediums interact, media psychologists can not only help to articulate how we’ve transitioned from medium to medium in the past, but help us understand and foresee changes ahead.

References:

Boyd, D. (2008). Why youth <3 social network sites: The role of networked publics in teenage social life. Youth, Identity, and Digital Media, 119–142. doi:10.1162/dmal.9780262524834.119
Burke, J. (2013). The day the universe changed: Episode 4 “matter of fact.” YouTube. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9D3elWaqgbo
Campbell, J. (1988). The power of myth (1st ed.). New York: Doubleday.
Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends:” social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4), 1143–1168.
McLuhan, M. (2014). Marshall McLuhan Speaks — Centennial 2011. Marshall McLuhan Speaks. Retrieved from http://marshallmcluhanspeaks.com/
Shirky, C. (2005). Ontology is overrated: Categories, links, and tags. Clay Shirky’s Writings About the Internet. Retrieved from http://shirky.com/writings/ontology_overrated.html
Shirky, C. (2010). How cognitive surplus will change the world. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/clay_shirky_how_cognitive_surplus_will_change_the_world.html

Define ‘Scholarly’

Chris Nitz Photo: Crushed by Knowledge If we objectively define ‘scholarly’ as “concerned with academic learning and research” (Dictionary.com,  2012), we find ourselves with a vague definition. We may be tempted to immediately think of left-brained academics. However, discrepancies in what must be considered academic may change that definition. If, for example, we define academics as pertaining to sciences or literacy, we end with a very different result than if we define academics as pertaining to any subject which facilitates the further development of a particular skill. Sir Ken Robinson (2006) notes that a major short coming of academics now is that we define academics much like the former, but would be served better to treat it as the latter.

Chris Nitz: A Keyboard Kind of LifeHowever, in writing, the target audience is the one that matters. As such, if you are writing to a group of social scientists, the expectation is that the prescribed protocol will be followed (Polkinghorne, 2007), and so on. In this way then, scholarly writing should be defined more along the lines of writing which facilitates the communication of critical thinking and rhetoric within a given field, using the prescribed masteries of that field. This allows for all subjects regardless of the paradigm currently subscribed to in academia.

References:

Dictionary.com (2012). ‘Scholarly’. Retrieved from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/scholarly?s=t

Polkinghorne, D. E. (2007). Qualitative inquiry: validity issues in narrative writing. Qualitative Inquiry13(4), 472.

Robinson, K. (2006, February). Ken robinson says schools kill creativity.. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

Argumentation Fuels Learning

Argumentation fuels learning. Weston (2009) states “Argument is essential, in the first place, because it is a way of finding out which views are better than others,” that “… argument is a means of inquiry” (p. xi).

Regardless of topic, the argumentation requires an understanding of the power of words and their structure. Just as Prose (2006) came to understand the value of close reading through an examination of Oedipus Rex, so too can we come to appreciate the richness of specifically chosen words through reading and analysis; learning.

Aggressive-ArgumentationBecause there are those who assume that we will mindlessly follow them and their causes, we must be adept in weighing empirical evidence, analyzing analogies, and considering reputability. In order to do this, we must develop and maintain the ability to research topics and understand principles of rhetoric. It behooves us to dive into the meaning of the words used, beyond the celebrity of the speaker, and consider every angle of that which we are exposed to.

Whether crafting a response to a political platform, commenting on the value of a product, or encouraging the patronage of a local business, the words we choose are compelling when used properly. Global activism thrives on powerful communication taking a variety of forms, but starting with purposeful words (de Jong, Shaw, & Stammers, 2005). It is up to those of us who are apt to share information and challenge assumptions, choosing our words carefully, and presenting a comprehensive examination of our view.

Weston (2009) says “Real argument… takes time and practice. Marshaling our reasons, proportioning our conclusion to the actual evidence, considering objections- and all the rest- these are acquired skills” (p. xii). Arguing requires learning.

References:

de Jong, W. de, Shaw, M., & Stammers, N. (2005). Global activism, global media. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press.
Prose, F. (2006). Reading like a writer : a guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Weston, A. (2009). A rulebook for arguments. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub.

Social Engagement: Hate vs. Non-Hate (we call it ‘Love’)

social-media-activism-1Social media facilitates the exploration of, and participation in, activism. In order to do this, a variety of social media must be used. Studies show that heterogeneous social media sites tend to correlate with those who are more open-minded, and carry their participation (in this case political) from online to offline. This facilitates connection to those who we may not already know, or who have perspectives different from our own (Johnson, Zhang, Bichard, & Seltzer, 2011).

Word of mouth advertising is the most effective form of advertising (Brown & Reingen, 1987). When our friends or those we respect or trust share something with us, we tend to listen. Homogeneous social media sites tend to be used for the enhancing of offline friendships (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007); this can facilitate the power of word of mouth reviews. And, because those who use heterogeneous sites also tend to use homogeneous sites (Johnson, Zhang, Bichard, & Seltzer), a bridge between the two types of social media is formed (Chayko, 2008). It stands to reason, then, that at any given time we are exposed to a wide variety of causes and may be motivated to participate in them (online or offline) based on their perceived origins (i.e., because our friends told us about it).

word-of-mouth-620x250Because of the unique opportunity social media inherently has to facilitate social engagement, they are an ideal resource for activists looking to create social change. The more groups engage users via social media, appealing to their emotions and personal experiences, the more participation in those causes social media is able to facilitate.

References:

Brown, J. J., & Reingen, P. H. (1987). Social ties and word-of-mouth referral behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 350–362.

Chayko, M. (2008). Portable communities : the social dynamics of online and mobile connectedness. Albany: SUNY.

Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends:” social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4), 1143–1168.

Johnson, T., Zhang, W., Bichard, S., & Seltzer, T. (2011). United we stand? In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), A networked self : identity, community and culture on social network sites.  New York: Routledge.