Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Media Persuasion

This week, after reading the Introduction to Media Literacy from the Media Literacy Project, I decided to watch a few ads during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I watch the parade every year in honor of a tradition that my father started, and so for me, it’s a pleasant memory and a trip back to more innocent times. I figured that for most of the audience who take the time to watch the parade, it must be a similar feeling. As such, we are “primed” to be persuaded by certain heuristic cues (Griskevicius, et al, 2009) with the positive and sentimental emotions from watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. This gave me an opportunity to watch the commercials with a critical eye.

The first commercial was for the Lincoln Financial Group and the target for the commercial was the “Chief Life Officer” in all of us. An acoustic guitar played a non-descript tune in the background as a pleasant female voice spoke over the images. The images alternately flashed from scenes of the White House and Oval office to scenes of houses, offices, people at work in cubicles, people at play and images of small business owners; all comparing the life, role and work of the president of the United States to all of us in our respective roles, lives, offices, and work. The images were hard-working but happy people, with soft lighting and low sun angles.
Whether you were happy about the outcome of the election or not, the music and images provided happy emotional experience, as the female connected to us by saying “today, it’s not about who is in the white house or the oval office, but it’s about you….”  One of the “subtexts” of the commercial was that our happiness and security doesn’t come from whoever is in the White House. The message was that we are the commander-in-chief of our own lives as the commercial ended with “You’re in charge”.

The persuasion elements used in this commercial were an emotional warm and fuzzy appeal, a nostalgic feeling of friends and family, and use of plain folks to associate with the average person.
The second commercial I watched was for American Airlines. A soft piano playing in the background while images a young military serviceman in camouflage fatigues was making his way home. From the taxi dropping him off at the airport, through ticketing and boarding, to finally getting off the plane, he interacted with several people whom he thanked for their help: “thank you, sir”, “thank you ma’am”, with each interaction. The final scene showed him leaving the plane and thanking the pilot who then said “No, thank you” (ostensibly for his service to our country), and then faded to the tail of an American Airlines plane with a large yellow ribbon. There was no voice over to the commercial, just the voice young man thanking everyone who assisted him.

Of the three commercials I watched, this one clearly had the highest emotional element of persuasion. While American Airlines didn’t try to “sell” a product in this commercial, they were connecting their brand to a more noble cause by association – being thankful for and respecting our nation’s military. The timing of this commercial was also a persuasion element used: placed during the Thanksgiving Day parade.
To compare commercials from a different type of programming, I watched commercials in the middle of the NY Jets – New England Patriots Thanksgiving day football game, later in the day. A Honda Accord commercial appealed to a person’s need for quiet in the midst of a hectic life.  The background music was a piano playing softly, but building a slight tension by not resolving to the chord of the major key until the very end of the commercial. The camera angles showed people apparently at the end of their stressful days, as they finally relaxed in their Hondas with expressions of relief. The male voice of the commercial talked directly to the commercial watcher and used words to indicate that in the middle of a sometimes stressful, sometimes disorganized, always demanding life there was finally a way to escape with a car that starts with “you”.  The final scene was a man and woman dressed in evening wear and smiling going out for the evening, as the music resolved to the major chord.

The persuasion elements of this commercial were basic but cleverly disguised. A simple solution appeal was made to anyone with a complex life. As such, association was also used in that all of us relate to the desire to have a little peace in the middle chaos. And because no celebrities were used, Honda was making an appeal to the average person who could identify with the very plain folks used in the commercial.
Considering all of the commercials I watched through the day, I saw early on, my work as a media psychologist. This came clearly into focus as I perused the commercials during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Some commercials were aimed at kids or at parents with small children. For instance Samsung now has a “LeapPad” – an “iPad” for kids who can’t read yet – that lets them craft their own “commercials”. I immediately thought to myself, “We’re teaching kids who can’t even put two words together media literacy with commercial products!”.  Several of the commercials during the parade appealed to the digital native (Prensky, 2001), or the parent of the digital native. But these products can only teach them the “text” of media literacy. These products can’t teach them the “subtext” or “latent text” of media literacy. The work of the Media Literacy Project is a great start to teaching the subtexts and latent texts. This work needs to be expanded to real-life application where students of all ages have age-appropriate coursework with educated instructors to not only help them understand how to use the tools and skills enumerated in the Introduction to Media Literacy, but to be as proficient with the tools as they are with the text of the various media.


Griskevicius, V.; Goldstein, N. J.; Mortensen, C. R.; Sundie, J. M.; Cialdini, R. R.; and Kendrick, D.T. (2009). Fear and loving in Las Vegas: Evolution, emotion, and persuasion. Journal of Marketing Research 46, (384-395)
Introduction to Media Literacy. (n.d.). Media Literacy Project. www.medialiteracyproject.org

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


Monday, November 19, 2012

Media Bias Inventory

This week, I performed a media bias inventory, using the tools outlined in Digital Community: Digital Citizen (Ohler, 2010). I discovered that I tend to consume media that either entertain me (news and information about the subjects that entertain me, such as sports, cooking, collecting, etc.), or that deal with conservative issues. I try to listen for bias toward liberal issues, for editorializing, and for ideologies that are harmful (even some of the more conservative ideologies are detrimental to real political and democratic progress.)

One thing I have observed is that I consume media from a much wider variety of sources than I initially thought. I like to be informed about a wide range of topics, and many times will read the headline and one or two sentences at the beginning of the story. By doing this I can see trends (in much the same way that John Naisbitt did for his book Megatrends, 1982) in industries, countries, organizations, and cultures.  
If the article, news cast, or blog is presenting just the facts, I will tend to read it through or stick with the article until I get from it what I want: the point of the story or a useful datum point or two. If there is any editorializing (someone opining on someone else’s quote, or assessing value judgments on a decision or direction in the story) as if I am being persuaded to adopt the bias, I tend to begin discounting the veracity of the story and the facts presented until I can read more sources, understand the context for the facts used, and compare what I know from history. (For me, understanding how civilizations and societies have risen and fallen serves as a great filter on the logical extension of any bias or viewpoint, since we have about 6,000 years of empirical evidence to show that the forces of human nature tend to repeat in every society and civilization.)
I tend to be socially and fiscally conservative, so anything that I read or listen to for information, I realize is filtered by that bias. That said, however, I observed that even conservative viewpoints annoy me that have no logical consistency, and no supporting or corroborating facts. I also find myself avoiding any media where the character of a person is assassinated or impugned, in order to make an ideological point.
As a media psychologist, I’m interested in studying and understanding how media persuades public opinion and perceptions of the truth. I’m also interested in understanding the “chicken-and-egg” syndrome relative to the media we consume: do we consume what comports with our a priori bias, or does what we consume inform our bias?  Secondarily, as part of a broader inquiry into media literacy, I’m interested in how literacy furthers the honest dialog that is integral to democracy: establishing a considered point of view that makes one think and is consistent with the history of human behavior.
Applying these concepts to teaching media literacy for kids is difficult, but I believe they can be broken down into some easier-to-understand concepts that most anyone can grasp. The beginnings of literacy can be understood through the asking of a few simple questions. There are three simple questions which can lead a student (no matter what age) on a media literacy journey:  How do I know? What’s the point? And, does this make sense? These 3 questions can be applied to any information-related content, whether print, digital print, television and video, or radio. These three questions begin a thought process that becomes more critical, over time, and is a good way to teach students how to watch or listen to programs and content, or read news sources and blogs, learning to separate the concepts that are worthy of critical thought from the persuasion tactics that are unsupported (no matter how right they seem). Let’s explore these questions a bit further to mine some further understanding:
1.       How do I know? Are the claims of the story supported, and can I check out those sources to corroborate the facts? Can I verify, or do I have to presume that the author or producer is right?

2.       What is the point? I often ask it this way: “Is there a chicken in this story?” What is the author really trying to get me to understand or to think about the subject at hand? Are there other cues (verbal, visual, sounds, music) that are telling me something different? Do these cues have any bearing on the point of the story, or are they just trying to persuade me on a parallel issue? Could I remove them and not lose the meaning of the story? If so, why are they really here?

3.       Does this make sense? In other words, is it logically consistent? Is it consistent with history? If I take this claim to its logical conclusion, does it hold together? Can I think of exceptions?

I’m sure that within a given class, the answers to these questions would vary for any given news story, but at least students begin to think critically and develop literacy that encompasses more than just the reading of material or listening to a story. Real literacy must teach us to recognize and deal with not just the body of content, but the way it’s presented, the meta-information that surrounds it, and the cues and influences that are part of the delivery.

As Arke (2011) claims, this sort of literacy is far more encompassing than just the teaching of words and their meaning. It requires thought across several disciplines: from sociology, history, anthropology, and psychology to start. Additionally, it requires thoughtful research skills. Our education system requires that we stop “admiring the problem” and get to work on setting standards and developing consistent study material for our kids. Our children are growing up to compete for jobs in a global market, and media literacy will be as much of a basic job requirement in this decade as the “3 Rs” were in the industrial age.

Arke, Edward (2011). Media Literacy: History, Progress and Future Hopes. Unpublished.

Naisbitt, J. (1982). Megatrends. Warner Books. New York, NY.
Ohler, Jason (2010). Digital Community: Digital Citizen. Corwin. Thousand Oaks, CA.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Socrates and Technology

Perhaps in much the same vein as Socrates’ dictum, “the unexamined life is not worth living”, was a warning to the masses to take notice and understand why and how we know and believe things, the tenets of Ohler’s (2010) technology assessment call us to bring our innovations and media to the fore and into focus so that we can understand “how?”, “why?”, and “to what extent?” our technology impacts us.

Using the investigative tools of a good “de-tech-tive” (Ohler, 2010), we have a methodology to assess the physical characteristics, enhancements, reductions, predecessors, implications, contexts, biases, benefits and impacts (Ohler, 2010) of virtually any innovation or technology. Two technologies I’d like to assess are the smart phone and PowerPoint – in part, because my professional life revolves around these two innovations. These two technologies have become part of the “ground” of my professional life because I use them virtually everyday, whether on the road or in the office. I don’t get paid to understand them; I get paid to use them as part of my arsenal of tools in managing people and communicating effectively. What may be even more important is that I never think about the person or people who are affected by my use of these technologies.  It’s almost as if I’ve placed a higher priority on my communication than on their understanding. So, let’s bring them to “figure” and make an assessment on the “how?”, “why?” and “to what extent?”
The smart phone is an innovation that over half of American adults own; over 27% of the world’s 5 billion cell phones are smartphones.  It is a wonderful amalgamation of technologies – all in one little package, small enough to fit into a pocket. Physically, they consist of a small, printed circuit board that has a PCS radio, a WiFi radio, a GPS receiver, a processor for calls, an ear piece and mouth piece for a phone plus a microphone and speakers, a processor for data, electronic RAM (random access memory), silicon traces, glass (not just any glass, but special glass with a thin layer of liquid crystal in it to detect touch), plastic, an antenna, a camera, and some very sophisticated software. It’s difficult to imagine but the average smart phone has almost 1,000 times more processing power than on the original lunar landing module (Apollo 16).
The smart phone takes cell phone technology to a whole new level. It provides for not just phone calls, but e-mail, scheduling, contact databases, internet surfing, and application use : so far, more than 700,000 applications across four main operating systems (Blackberry, Apple, Android, and Windows). It amplifies our mobile experience for communication modes.
At the same time, however, it diminishes our face-to-face contact with people. The more modes of communication we have at our disposal at one time, the less inclined we are to travel to go see someone. Presentations can take place simultaneously with a call in progress.
The smart phone’s predecessors were the “plain old” cell phone – you know, the thing that you could carry in your pocket but only made phone calls and sent and received text messages. And the plain old cell phone replaced the plain old phone; that device that was bolted to the wall in the kitchen, and which limited your mobility to about 15 feet.
What do the current versions of smart phones imply for the technology? The office, as we know it today, may not exist in the next 5-10 years.  In fact, by 2014, mobile internet usage will overtake desktop internet usage. The class room is changing, the “gathering place” is changing, and the office will follow suit. These smart devices are rapidly becoming one’s information, entertainment, communications, and social media hub.  
What are the social expectations that produced our desire to have this smart phone? The social environment of the office has placed an expectation of location-independent productivity on the average front-line worker. One must choose between carrying a plethora of devices (a cell phone, a PC, a camera, an mp3 player or an iPod, a wireless modem card, a Kindle, and a GameBoy) or carrying a smartphone.
Smart phones favor those with money – they’re much more expensive than a regular ol’ cell phone. They also favor those who have sight and who have working hands and fingers.  Certain functions can be performed with the voice, but to get maximum productivity out of a smart phone requires a tactile operating environment.   Who gets left out? Clearly those without money, those without sight, and those without the use of their hands have been excluded from using the technology.
The qualities which drove the creation and adoption of smart phones were their compact design, their multiple functionality (keyboard, camera, reader, video watcher, web-surfer, and a phone), and their mobile nature.
Smart phones connect us to information and media sources we didn’t have access to – except on hard-wired networks. They connect us to audiences and communities we didn’t have access to. But smart phones simultaneously disconnect us from physical presence – audiences, meetings, the office, communities, friends and family.
Now a look at an older technology: PowerPoint. It is a much older technology than the smart phone, but is every bit at the center of productivity in corporate America. Physically, it can exist on paper with multi-colored ink, or it can exist electronically on the screen of a PC, Tablet, smart phone or screen.
PowerPoint enhances our communication and our ability to communicate complex concepts with phrases and pictures; however, it can diminish our ability to write critically and clearly. Too much gets communicated with cryptic phrases, acronyms, and “ducks and bunnies” pictures, graphs, and visual aids.
The predecessor to PowerPoint was the “slide deck”. I use to travel with my slide deck in my slide carousel. Flying between meetings, I would arrange the slides to fit the presentation I wanted to make. The predecessor to the slide show was the sepia slide with an overhead projector. Unfortunately, I also remember those days of using the sepia slides to make presentations.
An implication for PowerPoint is the ability to share point-to-multipoint in a conference environment, where each person is viewing a shared PowerPoint – appearing simultaneously on everyone’s computer or tablet- while the presenter is talking on a conference bridge.
The social expectations in the business world for using this technology are unspoken but nearly universal. Rarely does a meeting take place without someone asking the question, “do you have a deck for us to follow along?”
PowerPoint is biased toward those with sight, as well as those present in the meeting or with a video-share sight. Who gets left out? Those without sight, those who aren’t present in the room, and those who don’t have a computer or tablet or who don’t have access to an electronic exchange for video connect.
The benefits of PowerPoint which drove its creation and adoption were that a predominantly hardware and firmware-based presentation technology was reduced to software. This new software is highly editable, and is almost completely hardware-independent.
PowerPoint connects us to a presenter through concepts, thoughts, data, and trends, but it can disconnect us from the printed word, from critical writing and from scholarly articles. Especially in the corporate world, where billion-dollar decisions are made with the use of two to four succinct PowerPoint slides. Here brevity is king and verbosity is a liability.
Being able to assess technology in this manner gives me the same platform that Socrates’ students had. Upon hearing his wisdom, they could apply it to themselves, and once internalized, could turn around and ask the probing questions of those around them.  Ohler’s de-tech-tive assessment tools now give us, as media psychologists, the job to ask the questions of “how?”, “why?”, and “to what extent?” in order to bring our innovations into focus, lest they “roll over us” (McLuhan, 1964) completely unawares.

American Cell Phone Usage Statistics – 2011. Retrieved on 11/10/12 from: http://signalnews.com/american-cell-phone-usage-statistics-2011-686 
McLuhan, Marshall (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. Critical Edition, Terence Gordon (Ed.). Berkeley, CA. Gingko Press, Inc.
Mobile Phone Statistics retrieved from Digital Buzz on 11/10/12 from: http://www.digitalbuzzblog.com/2011-mobile-statistics-stats-facts-marketing-infographic/ 
Ohler, Jason (2010). Digital Community: Digital Citizen. Corwin. Thousand Oaks, CA.
Processing Power for the Lunar Landing Module. Retrieved on 11/9/12 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_Guidance_Computer


Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Mantra

This week we were encouraged to develop a mantra for our work as media psychologists. Since my interest in this program from the beginning lay at the intersection of social media and brands, I felt like this would be a fairly simple exercise. Here’s the rub: the mantra had to fit in a Twitter feed – 140 characters maximum (letters, spaces, punctuation, etc.). It’s easy for me to sit down and write two to three pages as I explore my philosophy and engagement in this field of inquiry. But getting it to a succinct statement that plumbs the depths and yet captures the essence of the subject is not so easily done. For consideration in this statement are concepts such as:

-   The 4 Laws of Media: the Tetrad (McLuhan, 1964) – the extensions, amputations, retrievals, and limitations of any new media or innovation
-   The effects of innovation, technology, and media, on literacy, education, cognition, social awareness/ social presence, and our public and private institutions
-   The ancient need for all of us to tell our stories and to be known (Isbouts & Ohler, 2011)
-   The ancient need for us to gather in communities and be part of a larger narrative (Isbouts & Ohler, 2011).
-   Our dependence on innovations that rapidly move from figure to ground and go largely unnoticed in our daily lives – until we don’t have them any more (Burke, 2009).
Using these foundational concepts, I envision using and being involved in social media to help individuals, organizations and corporations see the gains and losses, the extensions and amputations, as well as the limitations and effects of innovation, technology, and new media (including social media) so as to create intelligent personal and corporate brands in the always-on digital world. By moving the technology and media which have become part of our unconscious social competence into focus, we can see them as tools to enrich the narratives of our collective stories, to create an enduring, positive, digital footprint, and for the advancement of critical thought in the anarchy of the information age.

In essence:
Bringing media and technology into focus for a clear view of their effects on personal and corporate brands in the always-on digital world.


Burke, J. (2009). The day the universe changed, Episode 4: The way we are. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5V3zfLOMMh0&list=PL5DE4467071FD0EFD&index=4&feature=plpp_video. 
Isbouts, J. and Ohler, J. (2011). From Aristotle to augmented reality. The Oxford handbook of Media (Dill, Ed.)

McLuhan, Marshall (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. Critical Edition, Terence Gordon (Ed.). Berkeley, CA. Gingko Press, Inc.
McLuhan’s Laws of Media. Retrieved from: http://www.horton.ednet.ns.ca/staff/scottbennett/media/index.html

Ohler, Jason (2010). Digital community, digital citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin