For several years now, I’ve had the dubious distinction of trying to explain to people what it means to be a media psychologist. The trick is to get the definition out before their eyes roll back in their heads. A larger problem, though, is that my definition of media psychology fits better with the term ‘transmedia multipsychology,’ which admittedly sounds a little silly.
Why does it matter how we define things? Because definitions create the field of play Media psychology has to address the convergence of technologies, the messaging process, the blurring of boundaries between roles of producers, consumers, and distributors. All of these create psychological shifts at individual, organizational, and national levels in a world because our basic assumptions about communication and interaction with everything is continually changing. Definitions, like cognitive maps, define our view and in doing so, limit our vision for innovative problem-solving and inquiry unless we take steps to change our perspective. In a time with blurring boundaries in so many things, our visionary boundaries must be fluid, too.
Let’s face it. The world is too complicated to look at it from one perspective or one set of theoretical glasses. The true innovators know that it’s not only OK, but also necessary to color outside the lines. The trouble with academics is that publishable research is always extending something already in the field. No one gets credit for chucking a dart out into space. Yet the real success stories throughout history have been people who were willing to suspend their beliefs and boundaries long enough to free their brains to see with new eyes. I read somewhere that the reason entrepreneurs are often young is that they don’t have to forget what they already learned to invent something new.
Youth is not the key ingredient to innovation, however. It’s the ability to see through new eyes. In fact, the ability to draw on the wisdom of experience coupled with a new perspective would beat the new perspective alone every time. But we don’t get new vision by staying within the walls of our academic disciplines or corporate org charts.
Normally, I explain ‘media psychologist’ as someone trained in psychology AND media technologies who uses the psychology to understand the interaction between people and media (and presumably acts upon that insight in a useful way). This is how I explain it, but that doesn’t come close to describing the complexity of media psychology if it is to stay fluid and responsive to the rapid rate of technological change.
First, my view of media extends far beyond communications defined as a sender and receiver and any single technology. For me, it is any technology that mediates human experience whether it’s instant messaging, posting a video, accessing augmented reality displays, or logging into a website.
‘Psychology’ is even too vanilla a word to describe how I think it. My psychological lens draws from a list that’s long enough to alphabetize: aesthetics, agency, cognitive processes, creativity, culture, design, emotion, flow, image, individual differences, learning, lifespan development, mental maps, metaphors, narrative, neuroscience, perception, persuasion, spatial fluency, self-efficacy, social cognition, symbols, and visualization. If I learn something new and useful from any discipline tomorrow, it will go on the list, too.
It isn’t just definitions that need to be flexible and adaptive. I believe that learning a new way of seeing is not only possible, but teachable. It’s my way of changing the world, one vision at a time. But if you get a better idea for how to describe it, let me know. I’m pretty sure ‘transmedia multi-psychologists’ isn’t going to catch on.
Cross-posted on Psychology Today’s “Positively Media”