Week 8

According to Media Literacy Project, there are 40 different approaches used to persuade viewers to believe something.  Advertising is the largest user of persuasive language, whether it’s convincing consumers what vacuum to buy or for which candidate to vote.  From political races to lobbying, persuasion has often been used in politics.  Public opinion is formed by on what is presented.  Persuaders use many approaches to get attention, trust and to motivate behaviors for their cause.

There are many groups trying to persuade media viewers at any given time.  Often, it is opposing groups trying to win supporters.  Each groups’ goal is to have more backers than the other and they may use a number of persuasive techniques to influence viewers. Politics is probably the best example of this, with each side presenting similar information in radically different forms.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6wpG2Xesbk

Here is a commercial that was created for the 2004 John Kerry campaign. The biographical clip was meant to introduce Kerry to the American people and persuade them to vote for him. The ad associate Kerry with the average American by showing his humble beginnings and numerous images of him with ”average people.” Many of those images are with kids to provide a “warm and fuzzy” association. The ad spends a majority of the time talking about his military service in Vietnam, portraying him as heroic and mentions the medals he was awarded. Plain folks with which he served provide testimonials about his bravery a service. Bravery is mentioned repeatedly during when talking about him as a soldier, prosecutor and senator.  The persuasive techniques the Media Literacy Project lists that are shown through the ad include association, nostalgia, average folks, testimonials, repetition, emotiol and charisma.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4Zk9YmED48

The second video is an anti-Kerry advertisement created by a group called Swiftboat Veterans for Truth.  This ad does not attempt to promote another candidate but to discredit claims made in the previous ad, particularly the part about his military services.   It is ad hominem and works as a diversion from current issues by focusing on one from 40 years prior.  The ad opens using a line by Senator John Edwards in a favorable speech that is taken out of context and edited to appear as an introduction to this ad.  Like the previous ad, this one has plain folk that served with Kerry providing testimonials.  The word “lied” is used repetitively by those in the ad.  The ad uses fear and extrapolation to convince the viewer that Kerry would not be a good leader.  The testimonials include use of name calling and generalities.  The men in the ad are associated with Kerry by showing them in pictures with him, making their claims seem credible.

Kerry is trying to use his military service to persuade voters to his side, while the Swiftboat Veterans are using his military service to persuade people not to vote for him.  Literacy Project points out,  “political rhetoric is more difficult to analyze, not only because it involves more emotional issues, but also because it is more likely to be seen in bits and fragments, often filtered or edited by others.”  This is an important statement.  Some of the same images are used in both ads, but how they are framed in order to persuade is vastly different.  Neither ad provides solid evidence, just sound bites that either sound good or bad for Kerry.  Each ad was created with an agenda of convincing the public, not necessarily providing reliable information.  Much of the information in both ad is little more than opinion and glittering generalities.

Identifying persuasion techniques is important because of the significance public opinion holds in a democracy.  Understanding the language of persuasion can help in understanding arguments, define issues, and solve the problems.  This is even more important today in a world of media fragmentation where exposure to opposing ideas may be limited.  Getting information in bits and pieces may not lead to a full understanding of facts especially if the presentation of those fragments are structured to cater to an audience.

Week 7

When considering media preferences we only focus on what we seek out and consume.   However, with the rise of media participation through outlets such as Youtube, these preferences also influence what is created.  Just like many other aspects of life,  we have certain preferences when it comes to media.  Certain visual styles of media may have more appeal to some than others.  Certain types of media are preferred, like comedy, drama, science-fiction or horror.  Some may prefer certain emotions be evoked or not evoked like l happy, sad, scared or angry.  Many of these preferences and more form the building the media that is consumed and created.

An important part of media is the message the sender is trying to convey, whether or not that is a message we prefer may determine whether the sender’s intent is received.  Personal media bias can be shaped by a number of factors in a person’s experience.  Factors such as cultural background, economic status, sexual orientation or religious and political preferences may influences media bias.

People automatically filter information, gleaning their preferred elements from what enters.  In this way, we tailor the message we receive, applying our bias so it fits our expectation.  As mentioned in previous writings, the medium alone can influence the message, ensuring a bias toward one particular form over another.  Media preferences can be basic, individuals may have a preference for the media form he or she imbibes.  A person may prefer video to written media or radio to film.  The way information is taken in can be very personal.

Despite the massive amount of media consumed on a daily basis, we seldom stop to consider our preferences.  Those in the media business understand our biases better than we do.  It is their job to understand what people want and cater to those desires in an effort to influence thinking.  Targeting the bias of a certain group, like republicans or democrats can garner a large audience.  An interesting way to assess just how many different groups can be targeted, look at the various niche magazines, from Cat Fancier to Guns and Gardens, there are a number of bias groups that exist.

The internet allows people to not only consume media that fits their bias, but create and distribute as well.  One such example is the documentary Loose Change, a film created by a teen that did not believe the accepted reports of the September 11, 2011 events in the U.S.  In this case, the film maker literally filtered information from news reports into a message that conveyed the information as he perceived it.  He the posted it to the internet where his ideas could be distributed to the masses.  Many with similar bias, who thought official accounts of 9/11 were untrue found the documentary fitting well with their preferences.

The vast amount of media that exists means one can find almost any outlet that fits well with personal bias.  Essentially, that is why so much media exists, because there are many preferences.  However, constant avoidance of ideas contrary to our own preferences is not good either.  Sometimes we have to experience new thoughts and ideas to better understand the world around us.

Week 6

Seldom does anyone act as a de-tech-tive, following the process of analyzing and evaluating those items which improve lives.  Technology is so pervasive within our environment that it often goes unnoticed.  Just as people seldom stop to consider their senses, so too do they forget the constructed extensions of those senses.  Any technology can be deconstructed and analyzed for the consumer to better understand.  The following example of a de-tech-tive analysis using the flashlight.

 The origin of the flashlight goes back over 100 years.  At first, the light they emitted was not steady, coming instead in flashes, hence the name flashlight.  Flashlights replaced fire based lanterns and torches.  Whatever the iteration, these lighting system have always been an extension of the eyes, allowing one to see better in the dark.  This extension is also its bias, focusing on those with vision.  The flashlight allows greater access and safety in dark conditions.  Electric flashlights are also much safer than old fire lanterns, as the city of Chicago can attest.  Many modern devices such as phones have flashlight apps, but not being designed to provide light via a bright screen for a long period of time, most devices burn through power quickly.

Ironically, the flashlight tends be most utilized when other technologies fail or are not present.  For example, when the power goes out the first thing people reach for is a flashlight.  When away from modern conveniences, such as camping, most people bring a flashlight.  The flashlight is seldom thought of in terms of social significance until it’s needed.  Imagine having a party at your house and the power goes out, suddenly having a flashlight becomes an important social issue. 

The HybridLight is a recent example of the thousands of variations that have existed within flashlight technology.  The Hybrid Light is a flashlight that charges via solar panels, has back-up lithium batteries and is water proof.  According to the Hybrid Light’s manufacturer, their focus was on creating an environmentally friendly flashlight.  One way they achieved this was to use solar power to charge batteries, thus eliminating the need to use disposable batteries.  The Lithium back-up batteries are quarter sized and designed to last for up to 7 years.  Like many newer flashlights, the HybridLight uses a light emitting diode rather than the older incandescent bulb.  Thus allows longer life and lower temperatures when lit.  

Despite these changes in technology, the design is consistent with many other flashlight designs; cylindrical to be held in a fist; the light at one end with a power button behind it, and the opposite end designed to be screwed off for access to the internal components.  This simplicity and universality of design makes it user friendly for almost anyone of any age and educational level.  The basic concept, the circuit, also means that it can be understood by most, perhaps even repaired if necessary.

The flashlight and similar technologies have allowed people to work in dark conditions with greater safety.  Miners, for examples, were once dependent on flames to work.  This often led to explosions when pockets of methane gas were unknowingly tapped by workers.  Flashlights and headlamps decreased the likelihood of explosions increasing worker safety; canaries were not as fortunate.  Any work being done at night or in the dark has benefited from the flashlight.  From bank robbers to surgeons, flashlights have been their when needed.

It’s difficult to say what innovations will influence the next generation of flashlights.  As already mentioned, technologies such as solar power, LEDs and Lithium batteries have been integrated into these devices.  The main issues with any flashlight seem to be brightness, portability and power.  As power sources become more powerful and easier to carry, they will likely continue to influence flashlight design.  Perhaps a levitating hydrogen fuel-cell powered light is in our future.

All technology is subject to evaluation and evolution as new advances are made.  Some technologies, such as the flashlight, are so universal that it’s often forgotten to be technology.  An evaluation of the technology allows one to understand the past, present and future of such devices.