Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Trend in Media Development

A major trend in media development that I see is the changing and perhaps redefinition of the classic narrative arc as discussed by Drs. Isbouts and Ohler (2011). In classic literature, the story arc had an easy-to-identify arc of tension or dilemma to transformation to resolution, all held together through the story.  The medium was constant and the story-teller was constant throughout the story.  Two things, in my estimation, are driving this new trend. First, in the world of new media, and social media, in particular, the lines between “story-teller” and “story-listener” or “story-viewer” are becoming increasingly blurred.  Second, the medium can switch forms and technologies in the middle of the narrative.

Let’s explore the blurring lines between story-teller and story-viewer. What starts as a tension with one person, can be picked up by a second or third who either extend the tension or create their own narrative arc. The first person with the dilemma switches from being story-teller to story-viewer as he or she sees the dilemma now being “owned” by another. The dilemma may give way to a transformation, but then again, it may not until it has developed its tension further by others.  Such would be the case when someone has a critical comment about a product or service. What was a single person’s complaint suddenly branches into 10 or even 100 dilemmas, all searching for some transformative process or event. The complaint can even grow in scope, starting out as a complaint about a server at a restaurant, for instance, and growing to a complaint about the server, the food, the location, the manager’s response, and so on. The very same process can take place when a scorned person has a gripe about their now ex-friend.    The dilemma may never have a transformation but just floats from one storyline to another, and from one story-teller to the next. The more concurrent storylines, the more difficult resolution becomes for all of them. It’s like trying to put all of the feathers back in the pillow on a windy day!

Next, let’s look at the switching of media in the course of the story. Dr. Ohler in his book Digital Community, Digital Citizen (2010) writes of new media “coalescing into a collage”. This is especially true in social media. So think of the message of the complaint about the server. It may start on Twitter, but then automatically get posted to Facebook. Someone else picks it up and posts it on their LinkedIn site. Someone else wants to own the story and so they blog about. Someone important picks up on it and wants to make a point in a speech that is getting video-taped and posted to YouTube. You get the point. What started out as one person’s complaint is now the embellished and enhanced story of one hundred people, all looking for some sort of transformation and resolution.  Before long, the story line that the restaurant was using in its ad campaign has been co-opted by a hundred voices with a counter-story.  It doesn’t have to be a complaint. It could be a story of pain. Perhaps someone is finally brave enough to tell a story that no one wanted to hear, yet everyone else with the same pain was looking for someone brave enough to step forward.  All of a sudden what started as one person’s story of pain, transformation and deliverance becomes a hundred story arcs of others now brave enough to share their story. And it’s told in different forms on different social media sites: some with bit-by-bit Facebook postings; some with blogs; some with a collage of clip-art and a voice-over creating a video clip on YouTube. And then there will be some with all of the above. The narrative can be contained in an individual collage and a collective collage. 
Throughout the evolution of narrative media, as discussed by Ohler and Isbouts, the needs of the human condition are met from two perspectives: from the perspective of the story-teller, and; from the perspective of the story-listener (viewer).  The basic human need for the story-teller is to “tell my story” – to be known.  All of us desire for someone to know something about us.  The story-listener has a different need:  to get lost in the story. One of two conditions could exist here. The listener might be looking for something to identify with that makes his/her condition “alright”.  Or, the listener may have a need to disengage from reality and “live in a different world” – be someone else.  Even though narrative has evolved with technology and media changes to engage the different senses, these basic human needs have persisted.  Now, with readily available tools, the story-teller is no longer dependent on someone else to tell the story – they can develop their own story and even design their own audience.
I think the trend here is the converse of “back to the future”.  Call it “forward to the past”. Before print and the printing press, narrative and story were the main form of passing on current and historical events.  The collection of personal narratives was the information “feed”.  Since the invention of the printing press there has been a long, slow history of a relatively few “publishers” of information, whether a radio program, a television show, a video, or even a homepage. Additionally there has also been a long, slow trend to centralize the control of information and narrative about current events. Now, six media conglomerates, worldwide, control the news we see. With the meteoric rise in the use of social media, and the availability of easy-to-use tools, the tide is shifting. Control of the narrative is moving back among the masses and news from anywhere in the world can travel around the world ahead of the mainstream news sources.
Today, social media is viewed as a way for consumers to co-own the “brand” with a company. But in a world where story-owner and story-sharer can rapidly and subtly change places, how does a company ultimately maintain and protect its greatest asset – its brand? First, any company with a strategy for social media, should look to guide (as opposed to control) the "story arc". This takes a very pro-active effort. Social media has become the great "dumping ground" for every disgruntled customer. These story arcs, left to themselves, have a high potential for unhappy conclusions for companies. In fact, they can quickly become brand-killers. A sound social media strategy should include an investment in a "media control center" of sorts (it doesn't have to be sophisticated), where social "praise" can be pushed to and promoted by influencers - extending the narrative arc - and social "gripes" can be quickly detected and funneled to a "resolution desk" (one that is answered by a real person with no voice-response required) in order to guide the resolution of the narrative arc, and keep it from promulgating itself through the social media network.
 Second, even if a company does not employ social media (and I can’t imagine a company not having a social media strategy these days), they should understand that their customer base uses social media increasingly to convey their feelings about products and services. Knowing who your consumers are that have big circles of social influence is helpful, and then managing their perception or quickly reacting to negative perceptions can go a long way to getting good "net promoter scores" from your customer base. There are tools available to monitor social sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and others, as well as measure who is “listening to whom”. This monitoring can feed analysis tools to give a general sense on the relative sentiment of your customer base in general, and of the big influencers, specifically. Part of a good marketing strategy is to have good news stories more often than bad news shows up. These days of sitting back with a quarterly advertising strategy are over.
Successful companies in the use of social media will hire digital citizens, as opposed to digital immigrants. Marc Prensky (2001) makes the case for the generation of kids who are born with digital media all around them. They are fluent in the language, the lexicon, and even think “digitally” – like someone born into an English-speaking family who thinks thoughts in English. Those of us born before the digital age are immigrants. Some of us grasp the language fairly easily and “speak with very little accent”. However, we still think in old media terms and translate to digital – just like the English citizen transplanted to Germany, speaking German but thinking original thoughts in English. As Ohler suggests, new media demand new literacies.  Perhaps the next narrative arc in need of transformation is that of the American educational system.


Isbouts, J. and Ohler, J.(2011). From Aristotle to augmented reality. The Oxford handbook of Media (Dill, Ed.)
Ohler, Jason (2010). Digital community, digital citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin

Prensky, Marc. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, Vol.9, No. 5. University Press

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Media Literacy - PSY 724e

For the next eight weeks, take the trip with me as I explore media literacy and the social impacts of technology. I'll have some interetsing insights as we study how technologies have shaped our culture and society and then look at media and its persuasive nature and uses in our culture.....and yes, we'll be studying Marshall McLuhan! What course in media technologies would be complete without that!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Capstone for PSY 700

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices”
– William James

The mere possession of critical [thinking] skills is insufficient to make one a critical thinker (Hare, 1999). In my contemplations during this critical thinking course, I see two major obstacles to critical thinking, fair-minded assessment, and well-reasoned conclusions.  They are: unexamined and unchallenged bias, and; undisciplined and unpracticed use of readily available tools for anyone desiring to have an impact in their world. 
Let me first explore the obstacle of unexamined and unchallenged bias.  Webster defines bias as a “tendency or inclination, especially one that prevents an unprejudiced consideration”. While it is important to note that being human means that we can’t be free of bias, it is also important to understand whether our bias affects the outcome of our assessment, and how.  Conversely, because we’re all human, even the things we read, watch, and listen to have a bias to them, whether old media or new.  It’s neither good nor bad, it just is.  The problem comes when, in the process of trying to arrive at a well-considered and well-reasoned decision, we’ve either been unwitting victims of someone else’s bias or we have not considered one or more divergent perspectives because of our own bias. There are several good methodologies for discovering bias in the media, whether on the web or elsewhere.  Such methodologies can be found, for instance, at Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit  (, Scott Wrobel’s Evaluating Sources and Arguments: Credibility and Bias (, Alan November’s  Who Owns the Websites Your Kids Access?, and Rhetorica’s media bias detection site (  While this is not an exhaustive list, there also happens to be differences in approach by each of these.  For instance, Michael Shermer’s focus is more centered on analyzing the content, the data, and the sources behind the data, as seen in the following video:

Michael Shermer's Baloney Detection Kit

Alan November’s approach gives one the tools analyze the writer, the owner and the publisher of the content and to understand their bias and their purpose in producing the content. The following video shows November teaching parents of school-age children how to examine people and organizations around the content.

Alan November: Who Owns the Websites Your Kids Access?
Once the bias of the content is discerned, we have to examine our own bias. Questions like, “have I considered enough viewpoints?”, or “do viewpoints that don’t agree with mine have enough of a voice?”, need to be answered before arriving at a conclusion. These are important questions, because they will keep us from inadvertently leaving important perspectives out of the iterative process of discovery, analysis, application, assessment, and solution generation.  This avoids having a one-sided view of the problem and/or an uncritical or naive solution.
Next, is the obstacle of undisciplined and unpracticed use of critical thinking skills. Bertrand Russell, the great thinker and philosopher of the last century, believed that critical thinking was a habit of the mind – a process formed of practice (Hare, 1999). Russell maintained that relevant skills should be exercised regularly until they become part of our behavior. During our course we were introduced to Richard Paul’s Foundation for Critical Thinking. His website ( is rich with material explaining both the tools and the application of the tools one can use to be a serious and maturing critical thinker. The following graphic from the foundation for Critical Thinking shows the elements of thought.

Elements of Thought (Paul & Elder, 2009)
It's important to note that there isn’t a “starting point” here, nor a prescribed order in applying these skills, but rather the critical thinker must know when and how to apply each skill as they move through the process from inquiry to solution. To Hare’s point, however, just possessing these skills, either singularly or collectively, does not make one a critical thinker.
The maturing critical thinker demonstrates the ability to apply intellectual standards (Paul & Elder, 2009) such as clarity, accuracy, breadth, precision, fairness and depth (and there are others) to the elements of thought in a disciplined manner. The maturing critical thinker also uses daily opportunities to practice and apply these intellectual standards to the elements of thought to solve problems, assess approaches and find solutions.  Paul and Elder (2009), have given us a roadmap to maturing as a critical thinker with their article Critical Thinking in Everyday Life: 9 Strategies, which can be found at:  

Maturation takes discipline and a commitment to the process plus time and practice. These tools, strategies, and methodologies are available to anyone who is interested in improving their critical thinking abilities. With the discipline of practice comes habit. With habit comes behavioral change. The behavioral change yields character traits which are fundamental to a critical thinker.  Breanne Harris (2010) enumerates six characteristics of great critical thinkers:
1. Curiosity. Great critical thinkers tune into their desire to continue learning and understanding how things work.
2. Humility. Great critical thinkers understand that their ideas may not be the best and that they do not know everything.
3. Ability to research. The ability to research things and bring in multiple resources will unveil a lot.
4. Active Listening. Don’t just hear what others have to say, engage in conversation.
5. Objectivity. Great critical thinkers have the ability to remain objective. They don’t let their emotions (or others’) cloud their judgment.
6. Creativity. Brainstorming without judgment can spark amazing ideas. Thinking outside the box may create a solution.

Relating these concepts to clear and critical use of media, with the tools from Michael Shermer, Alan November, Scott Wrobel, and others, I now understand how to detect bias in the media. With the added tools from the Foundation for Critical Thinking, the Richard Dawkins Foundation, Emerald Insight and others I have discovered how to challenge my own bias. Together, these tool sets can help me be thorough in my approach to determining bias – mine and others’ - and assessing its impact on my conclusions or solutions.
I have found that in my own professional setting, these skills are beginning to change the way I approach problem-solving.  One of the hazards of being promoted in a large organization is the tendency to make decisions based on intuition from experience. After all, with each succeeding promotion, there is a push to make faster decisions on fewer of the facts.  Time is of the essence, especially in the fast-moving field of technology.  This becomes the critical thinking killer. When time is of the essence, our very nature as human beings will gravitate toward what we know or are familiar or comfortable with, versus what we don’t know or with which we’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable. Very subtly our bias creeps into the assessment and solution, without any critical assessment. It can be helpful for speed, but potentially dangerous in that the best path forward may very well lie (and often does) in areas of a divergent perspective or unfamiliar or even uncomfortable concept. Instead of allowing the time necessary to consider other perspectives and concepts, we might find ourselves trying to get to a practical solution as quickly as possible. But as the old adage goes: “there’s never enough time to do it right the first time, but always enough time to do it over!” These concepts have really challenged the speed with which I make decisions, and have made me far more deliberate in making sure to find the right question and use all of the elements of thought in arriving at the best path forward.

The newly learned tools and methodologies gained in this critical thinking class will inform my scholarly development and ongoing research during this doctoral program by making me more aware of the need for discipline and intellectual honesty for every area of inquiry.  As applied, these methodologies will help me be diligent in examining and challenging bias and develop good thinking habits. Further, with the multiplicity of tools available on-line and in print, there are ample opportunities for me to practice, mature as a critical thinker and develop character – not just for the sake of this program, but for my on-going work as a practitioner in media psychology.  

Dawkins, R. (n.d.) Foundation for Reason and Science. Retreived from:

Emerald Insight.  Retrieved on September 20, 2012 from:

Hare, W. (1999). Bertrand Russell on Critical Thinking. The Critical Thinking Community.  Retrieved from:

Harris, B. (2010). 6 Powerful Characteristics of Great Critical Thinkers. Retrieved Septmber 2, 2012 from
November, A. (2007). Who owns the websites your kids access? Retrieved September 2, 2012 from

Paul, R. (1995). Glossary of Critical Thinking Terms.  The Critical Thinking Community. Retrieved from:

Paul, R. and Elder, L. 2009. Critical Thinking: Concepts and tools. Foundation for critical thinking press.
Shermer, M. (2009). The Baloney Detection Kit. Retreived from:
Valuable Intellectual Virtues (June 1996). Foundation For Critical Thinking. The Critical Thinking Community.  Retrieved from:
Wrobel, S. (n.d.).  Evaluating sources and arguments: Credibility and bias. Anoka Ramsey Community College. Retrieved on 8/28/12 from:



Sunday, September 2, 2012

Critical Thinking and Detecting Bias

Webster defines bias as a particular tendency or inclination. Richard Paul (1995), in his Glossary of Critical Thinking Terms, supports this definition by describing it as a “mental leaning or inclination”. However, Paul goes on to talk about the differences between “thinking within a point of view” and “being blind to or having an irrational resistance to a weakness” within that point of view. It is my very blindness or irrational resistance to a weakness that makes it important I employ critical thinking and “sleuthing” skills (Shermer, 2009) for everything I read on the web – no matter if I am reading or watching to just be informed or if I want to apply material as evidence for corroborating or dissenting viewpoints for a well-rounded argument. For my observations, conclusions and solutions to have any credibility, I need to verify the veracity, accuracy, and bias of the underlying information I am using to support my thesis.

When I view or listen to something that seems rational, or even innocuous, what tools can I deploy to detect bias and further, to verify truthfulness and authenticity of the material I am reading, watching, or listening to? This quote from the Freeman Institute ( is an exaggeration, to be sure, but pokes fun at the credibility which we often give the web for the information we find there.

"The trouble with quotes on the Internet is that it's difficult to determine whether or not they are genuine."

-- Abraham Lincoln

Quote From the Freeman Institute

Since I can’t remove bias from the equation (minimally, a point of view), the very first critical thinking skill I need to apply as I scan web materials is a question: “Do I keep watching or reading or listening because the bias of the material comports with my own bias? (Further, how do I know?) Conversely, do I stop watching, reading or listening because the bias of the material disagrees with my bias? (Further, do I discount everything that agitates me?). In either case, how can I know which of the two materials is really biased? (In the sense that it plays into my own irrational resistance).

Michael Shermer’s video, below gives a quick way to make an assessment on bias by asking 10 questions that are particularly helpful when reading or watching material that is ostensibly evidence-based and purporting to bring the reader to a rational conclusion.

 Michael Shermer's Baloney Detection Kit

Alan November’s work ( goes beyond the purported “facts” of any material on the web, to get to the underlying bias or agenda of the producer or owner of the information presented. Here he is in a seminar, teaching parents on how to do the “search behind the search” for information.

 Alan November - The Search Behind the Search

In a rather quick search, I found several other sources, among them, professor Scott Wrobel's syllabus for bias detection (, and Rhetorica (, for material in applying critical thinking skills to ask a few questions which get to bias, veracity, and accuracy. Additionally, my colleagues in our critical thinking class found six to eight other sites useful for objective scrutiny of web-based material. All of these sites vary in their respective approaches, but all of them provide quick ways to assess bias when viewing web material. The methodologies include ways (and this is by no means an exhaustive list) to:

            Evaluate the author, publisher and owner of the information (Do they have a history of supporting only a particular point of view? Or do they just report the facts with no value-oriented adjectives or adverbs?);
            Interpret the format, emphasis, and words used in the text and the titles (Are value statements implied by the clever use of words, or the arrangement of words and claims?);
            Discover the owner of the website (does the owner have and agenda or a history of supporting a particular point of view?);
            Corroborate the information, supporting data, and concepts from other sources (Is this the only place where a particular argument or data set is used? Can it be found in other locations in a similar argument?);
            Verify the original sources for the data or quotes (Use of second sources is dangerous – can the original source be found?), and;
            Apply scientific or philosophic logic in evaluating the claims (claims and conclusions which run counter to logic should be carefully evaluated).

So I applied the very principles that Shermer, November, and Wrobel espouse on the materials that we were asked to read. I looked up background information on the authors of the material I read, and on the publishers and the organizations represented by the publishers. A closer look at Michael Shermer’s video on Baloney Detection reveals that it was produced by the Richard Dawkins Foundation. In going to the web site for the Richard Dawkins Foundation (, its mission statement reads as follows: “The mission of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science is to support scientific education, critical thinking and evidence-based understanding of the natural world in the quest to overcome religious fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance and suffering.” A noble statement on behalf of reason and science in overcoming superstitions and intolerance, but does the very fact that “religious fundamentalism” is listed with superstition, intolerance, and suffering reflect a bias toward anything of formal faith? (Further, isn’t tolerance advanced by those who can acknowledge the validity of other world views even in disagreement?) Shermer’s use of examples only for an evolution point is one of the very “filters” listed in Scott Wrobel’s material on detecting bias: there are no examples from an opposing world view with a different interpretation of the same facts to support his points. In fact, by inference, any such belief would run counter to most of the points he makes.

Now comes the question about bias – does the bias of the Richard Dawkins Foundation affect the credibility or usefulness of Michael Shermer’s 10 points on detecting baloney? It would be easy to just dismiss the points that Michael Shermer made because of the bias of the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Since we discovered in earlier work that we all have bias - it’s a part of being human and growing up in any culture, society and family. The question behind the question is this: “Will my own bias keep me from an honest evaluation of material, given its bias?” This is where my critical thinking skills get to be applied again. I happen to think that Michael Shermer’s points have validity and are very useful, even though I don’t embrace the world-view of the Richard Dawkins Foundation. While the approaches used by November, Wrobel, Rhetorica, and others, vary, the core concepts in searching for bias are corroborated (cross-referenced and validated ) by these other sources. Alan November and Scott Wrobel may or may not share the same world view, but their personal biases are never revealed in the way they (or their respective organizations) present information about themselves or the subject at-hand. So I think the larger point is this: there are critical thinking (and sleuth) skills to be applied to detect bias on the web AND there are critical thinking skills to be applied to determine if the bias effects the validity, neutrality, or usefulness of the material presented. It is the totality of our critical thinking skills that help us find bias, and once found, evaluate its effect on the material at hand, in light of its intended purpose.

Richard Dawkins. Richard Dawkins Foundation. Retrieved on 8/27/2012 from:

The Freeman Institute. Retrieved on 8/27.2012 from:

Paul, R. and Elder, L. (n.d.). Distinguishing between inferences and assumptions. The Critical Thinking Community. Retrieved from:

Paul, R. (1995). Glossary of Critical Thinking Terms. The Critical Thinking Community. Retrieved from:

Rhetorica. Retrieved on 8/30/201 from:

Alan November. November Learning. Retrieved on 8/27/2012 from:

Wrobel, S. (n.d.). Anoka Ramsey Community College. Retrieved on 8/28/12 from: