Posted by: Katie Hamachek | October 17, 2011

Aren’t We More than Somnambulist “sheep-le”?

When I was presenting my senior thesis regarding Cialdini’s tactics of influence as used in political campaigns, a professor asked me poignant question. He asked,  “We have such a negative connotation associated with manipulation, yet we value influence.  So where is the line between the two, and is there a defining difference?”  This quandary came to mind as I read through each of the readings this week.

McLuhan’s point straddles the boundary between manipulation and influence.  His article defines the details and effects of hot and cold media.  Hot media is high definition, filled with detail and requiring low consumer participation.  It has detribalizing, fracturing, somnambulating effects.  On the other hand, cold media’s lack of detail necessitates active participation by the audience.  It results in re-tribalization, collaboration and engagement.  McLuhan posits that we could effectively control the emotional climate of societies by adjusting their intake of hot and cold medium to ensure a well balanced audience.  I know this was written before all the ethics review boards cracked down (Stanford Prison Experiment…), but this seems to veer into manipulation.  I don’t know if McLuhan’s hypothesis was intended as hypothetical or if he would have advocated a Utilitarian  approach.

I would argue that the internet, especially social media,has vastly changed the landscape of influence and manipulation.  Katz two-step method is a largely outdated communication model that McLuhan would criticize as being too linear and not concentric enough, failing to incorporate a significant feedback mechanism. Social media has amplified the platform of opinion leaders, but also provided a very real interaction with their followers.

The agenda setting in media could/is mitigated by the feedback routes provided by the internet.  Perhaps I’m idealistic, but I think that the public can push their own agendas back on traditional media sources through social media. The public is now able to directly interact with agenda setters.  Consider the examples of the middle east riots, or the execution of Troy Davis.

My questions:

1. McLuhan argues that “The printed word with its specialist intensity burst the bonds of medieval corporate guilds and monasteries, creating extreme individualist patterns of enterprise and monopoly” (22).  Is social media the “new” printed word, giving society the chance to break the monopoly of traditional agenda-setting media?

2. Does the internet simply further the agenda set by the media, or provide a resource to establish our own agenda?

3. I think it would be helpful to view McLuhan’s hypothesis regarding the balancing effects of hot and cold media through the model of Witte’s Extended Parallel Process Model (Fear Appeals).  Is there an ideal point/ratio of hot and cold media?  It seems hot media could be equated to danger controls, while cold media would equate to fear appeals, which actually allow the individual to change their behavior.

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