This week was the Gilder-Forbes Telecosm Conference, full of tech-types, entrepreneurs, physicists, inventors, investors, and the generally curious. It is an interesting and intellectual challenging group with inventors and innovators like physicist Carver Mead whose pioneering work led to microchips and a dozen other things we take for granted on a daily basis.
Heady stuff. Here’s where it lead me:
First, from a purely practical point of view, with all the cool inventions on the horizon, it is more important than ever to get media psychologists on board. Knowing if and how technology will be experienced and used is a pretty important part of the process. A fellow from Qualcomm was talking about some extraordinary health/wellness features under development, but admitted that getting people to use them was sometimes a problem. To use a technical media psychology term, DUH!
Even some of the inventors with their outside-the-box creations are still thinking of wireless devices as “cell phones.” Language is an important clue about innovation.
‘Media’ is a perfect example. I have commented (complained? possibly even ranted?) in the past about the view of media as mass media, rather than as information flows. Stuart Fischoff, who I think is smart guy, has been one of the psychologists with media experience who has worked toward forwarding the concept of Media Psychology and is now doing so as a Psychology Today blogger. His recent blog talked about our “media-crazed life” and touched on media establishments, the inundation of media, user choices, and thinking about the good and the bad of it all. There are a lot of people asking those questions, so it clearly touches a nerve.
But I keep wondering if those are the relevant questions to the world we’re living in. Those questions not only box media into a mass media framework, but they imply a perspective that is by no means universal. My young nephew does not view the world as media-crazed. Whatever it is, he’s comfortable with it and likes it fine.
It’s hard not to be guilty of a mediacentrism when our views of media use and communication technologies are, by necessity, informed by our experience and hence our age. Is it agocentrism? We can’t use what isn’t invented yet. We take for granted those things we didn’t learn to see any other way. Media for we boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and whomever is up next are all vastly different experiences with vastly different meaning. As neuroscientists will tell you, learning goes from being a fluid biological process to the hard work of cognitive change as we age. Doable but involving sweat. Kind of like staying fit past 40.
I hesitate to use a pseudo-science term like paradigm, but we definitely need what Minnie Driver in Grosse Pointe Blank called a “Shockabuku,” that swift spiritual kick to the head that alters our reality forever. Communications technologies have done that for us and we really do have to take notice. In Media Rules, Reich and Solomon suggest that media is a utility, which I like, because it establishes it as a tool to be used by all rather than something independent of us. ‘WE MEDIA’ they call it. Very nice, I think, as a new paradigm.
Back at Telecosm, Carver Mead and Louisa Gilder talked about the physics of entanglement. The meaning of that term in physics is profound, highly mathematical, and beyond my grasp. What I did take away, though, was that entanglement seemed to me the perfect description of human experience and media. Not pejorative, like a bad romance, but elegantly intertwined and mutually reactive. Our ability to proactively develop and use communication technologies demands that we shed the metaphoric confines of the what media used to mean.