The Future of Media Literacy (?)
As we collectively sit here in the aftermath of the 2016 election, one thing has become critically clear — we have a lot to learn when it comes to media. I have to begin by saying that I am a recovering rationalist. I love/d the sciences and math. There was a concreteness and an exactness in them that was comforting. I also have to say that I am recovering because over time I found that this rationalist view of the world simply failed too many times in practice. We, as it turns out and contrary to what politicians would like us to believe, are not rational and we often act in ways that are not in our best interests (without realizing it). Simply put, we are people, who somewhat frequently, act in irrational ways while being convinced that we are rational. That said, this aura of rationality is my default. I will defer to it as my understanding often unconsciously and I will get bit by it again and again. Case and point: I was struggling to formulate a response to danah boyd’s article, Did Media Literacy Backfire? This should not have been too difficult to do, but it turned out to be quite a struggle. I was torn between having a very good understanding of the irrationality associated with people’s online behavior and trying to match this up to the idea of media literacy. The two are so intimately connected that it should not have been that hard. As it turns out, I was finding it nearly impossible without writing a book. Until it hit me. The approach to media literacy is a decidedly rational approach. At it core, it assumes that people process information as follows: Stimulus (media) =>Cognitive Process (think about it)=>Output (conclusion, feeling, reaction) Or media => think => feel =>do Media literacy solutions focus on the thinking part assuming the rest will more or less follow. This is not a unique understanding. It is my default and probably the default of most other people. Unfortunate, this is wrong. This is a little closer to reality: Stimulus (media) => Process (feel) => Output (do and/or think) Or media => feel => do and/or think
And this is where everything gets turned around. Most people also have implicit in their brains the first model (media => think => feel => do) so that their understanding is that if they feel it, then they thought about it. And, since we have been told (and reminded by politicians) that we are reasonable people who act in our best interests, if we thought about it, then it must be reasonable and rational — hence our feelings are steeped in reason and thought. But what is really going on is that people are feeling first. Media is full of emotion-provoking messages which are often designed to derail thinking and to get us to act impulsively (support candidate, buy something, etc.). Emotions and feelings are what are in full control and we have literally turned the keys over to them unchecked because we are using the wrong mental model. And this is the challenge of media literacy, I think. We need to get people to understand this new model and how to manage their feelings by understanding how they are influenced so that what comes afterwards (doing and/or thinking) is constructive.
Lisa Snow is a problem solver and thinker which has taken her in many different directions and on different paths. She has published a book ("Embrace Change: Embrace Change") and helped with different documentaries, including "Brainwashing My Dad," "Finding Joshua," "Sila" and "Gatekeeper of the Arctic." Of special interest to her is how media is used to create problems and how media can be used to create and implement solutions.