Archive for June, 2014

For many years I explained that the reason I lectured about the psychic and social effects of media was that I put the subject matter together differently than anyone else.  I could not find a text or a collection of writings that explained the subject in a manner that I found satisfactory. Marshall McLuhan came the closest, but even he seemed a bit obscure from time to time. I found myself saying ” if McLuhan didn’t mean it this way, he should have.” It may sound pretentious now, but I really meant it as a compliment. He inspired much of my thinking over my entire career.

I believe that media and communication subject matter should be assembled and organized from tested theoretical thinking and consistent research findings. And all of this should be confirmed through practical professional application. Therefore, I was always rethinking past ideas in light of new information, and never taught a class the same way twice.

What is most exciting about teaching in the digital media world is that it’s now possible to ask students to find basic information on their own before the class ever meets. This can be accomplished simply by searching this vastly expanded  “big data” world via the Internet. Class sessions can then focus primarily on clarifying and expanding on what students have already discovered. Teaching, then, is mostly facilitation and providing the most relevant lessons you learned from a lifetime of study and experience.

Teaching today is mostly inspiring others to search for answers to questions and solutions to problems. A love of learning therefore has actually become a love of the Internet search!


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Should we be teaching media literacy to everyone?  And if so, how should we go about it? Once again these questions come to mind as I consider a request to offer still another course about the consequences of media for undergraduate honors college students. The issues certainly are endless:

*So much news today is virtually unedited, and facts go unchecked.

*Too many people select their news sources to reinforce their biases.

*When politicians and extremists repeat lies over and over again they begin to sound true.

*Words such as “democracy,” and phrases such as “breaking news,” lose their meaning when so many manipulative people misuse them every day.

*One-way communication always breaks down, and the result is constant rumor and misunderstanding.

*More communication is not necessarily better in an already information saturated world.

*Television news images look real, but they too often mislead.

*Social media effectively mobilizes action, but rarely provides real substance.

*Many young people may be losing human intimacy capabilities through excessive texting and social media.

And the list goes on. Most of these issues are not new to us. Even so, we go about our daily lives thinking very little about the psychic and social consequences of our media obsessed world. So, should we be teaching media literacy? And if so, where and how do we go about it?

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On a recent trip to London I met with several university colleagues. I was interested in how they saw the challenges facing the future of our industry affecting those who market and communicate our institutions.

They shared my concern that many people new to our profession are focused so intensely on social media that they may be missing opportunities to learn about strategic thinking and planning, which is what really drives everything we do.

We discussed how social media use was changing almost daily. Experience is revealing what each one does well, and what it doesn’t. Facebook is good for reaching some constituents, but can be a waste of time when overused or when your “friends” are changing their patterns. Twitter can bring people to a website or meeting, but following or tweeting too often can be more fun than useful. It’s true that you can tweet links to connect people to more substantive material, but that works only when they follow those links and respond to them. True professionals in this field will be constantly evaluating all their tools, and will be making adjustments as use patterns change.

Leadership in marketing and communication happens at the strategic thinking and planning level. Knowing how to select the tools preferred by each audience, and then to use them simultaneously to increase intensity, is the key to success. And by the way, the tools selected will almost always include a mix of both old and new media.

With the coming sea change in higher education, this profession will have more opportunities for leadership than ever. Becoming an expert in new media might get you a job today, but learning about strategic thinking and planning just might get you a really exciting career!


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Every day we face frustration trying make sense out of the confusing clutter of this information saturated world. At first, trying to understand a complex problem can seem hopeless. Then, when we search the internet we can think we are moving toward understanding. And as the “water-glass” of information fills we begin to feel satisfied. But then, the glass suddenly spills over and confusion comes back again. So in this digital technology dominated world, searches for resolutions to complex problems can become never-ending.

A similar experience is likely to be had consuming daily 24/7 cable news. I first realized this trying to understand the Vietnam war. As I watched the news I began to think I knew what was going on.  And then, the very next day new events, followed by a deluge of more information, overwhelmed me. And so eventually I would have to conclude that I really had no idea what was going on in Vietnam. Suddenly I had to accept that more information wasn’t necessarily better. It all was turning to confusing clutter!

We live in a time when fleeting “ah ha” moments seem to be all we can hope for. And sometimes we must act on them. We can think we understand today, and then find out tomorrow we don’t. This is the reality of a digital world. And it certainly can make us crazy.

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