HELP: I need input to select Masters program


Hello!  As I near completion of my Bachelors in Applied Social Science at Colorado State, I am considering a number of Master’s programs.  In short, I thought I would reach out to my friends and associates to get your input, based on your knowledge of me, my skills, my gaps, and your view of the future.

I chose to pursue social science, because so many of society’s challenges and opportunities in both the public and private sector usually have solutions, but lack an understanding of how to organize the social environment for change; the environment, globalization, inequality, healthcare, and economic growth are all examples.  At the same time, we are in a period of great change with the advent of a global communication network, global transportation network, and the Internet, as we construct the social meaning of our future with these incredible capabilities.  As I consider Master’s programs, I am looking at it through the lens of social change in digital era, and the potential impact we can have on our major challenges, specifically focusing on the role of businesses, government, or NGOs in engineering the social element of solutions.

Therefore, I have thought about a Master’s program in the following ways:

  • Continue focus on social science, going deeper on communication as the key skill to affect change that can be applied to any situation.  These programs typically include focus on communication & media or communication & leadership.  The programs at Gonzaga, John Hopkins University, Seton Hall, University of North Carolina, and University of Southern California fall into this category.
  • Starting applying what I have learned about social science towards one of the most pressing opportunities and challenges of our time, environmental sustainability.  I think that both the public and private sector will need to address sustainability in a meaningful way in the future and will need leaders with a social science background to help affect change.  The programs at Colorado University, Duke, and University of Denver fall into this category.

The attached PDF, named masters thoughts, includes more detail for each program, including curriculum, costs, and duration.  I would very much like to hear your perspective.  Please provide your feedback using the blog comments.  Thanks!

masters thoughts


New Media, New Perspectives


Image from : Patrick Hoesly

In an era characterized by technologies that enabled one-to-one and one-to-many communication, media studies have been dominated by the relationship between producers and consumers of information, focusing on the effects of media.  Digital media, whose communication paradigm includes one-to-one and one-to-many, also includes many-to-many communication, forcing those involved in media studies to reconsider commonly held beliefs and theoretical frameworks in light of the new technology (Quinn, 2011).  Which theoretical approaches are most useful to cultivate in accounting for the fundamental changes brought about by new media, and conversely, which theoretical approaches may no longer be relevant?  In order to account for the fundamental changes that have occurred and are likely to occur, it is useful to consider the media ecology to understand the how changes in the media technology may alter society as a new equilibrium is achieved.  Already, the introduction of digital media has wrought unanticipated changes in the ecology and had a surprising impact on the world.

The introduction of many-to-many relationships in media is based on the internet; ubiquitous, global, social, and cheap, digital media allows consumers to also be producers and share information in ways not possible in the era of broadcast (Shirky, 2009).   Additionally, the number of possible interactions in the network is the number of participants squared; meaning the number of interactions will larger than ever before in human history (Shirky, 2009).  Symbolic interactionism states that meaning is created as a process negotiated through interaction between people (Nelson, 1998).  As the number of interactions grows, what new meaning will be created and what possible impacts can it have on society?

Photograph: Magharebia / Creative Commons

Consider the recent Arab Spring, where millions of people across many countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa, organized, protested, in most cases created significant social change, both intended and unintended.  “It all started with a desperate Tunisian shopkeeper who set himself on fire, which activated a transnational network of citizens exhausted by authoritarian rule. Within weeks, digitally-enabled protesters in Tunisia tossed out their dictator” (Nelson, 1998, p. 1).   Suddenly, people throughout the region were sharing their discontent and inspiration via social media, and in the process, circumventing traditional state-sponsored media entirely.  What new meaning did the image of the shopkeeper convey and how did it galvanize a country and ultimately an entire region?  A recent report from the Dubai School of Government found “empirical evidence suggesting that the growth of social media in the region and the shift in usage trends have played a critical role in mobilization, empowerment, shaping opinions, and influencing change” (Dubai School of Government, 2011, p. 24).  The democratization of media ultimately led to the democratization of some countries long known for autocratic rule.

When viewed through a lens of media ecology, it appears that in certain autocracies, like Egypt and Tunisia, digital media has given people a capability to circumvent traditional broadcast media, ultimately becoming an agent of social change. What new equilibrium will come about as governments grapple with digital media?  Will governments embrace social media to develop a more participatory political process or perhaps seek new media technologies that allow them to control or shape the new flow of meaning?  Of course, both are already occurring in different parts of the world.  Shirkey described President Obama using social media to mobilize his base of supporters and engage them in the political process during his campaign and described China’s wholesale shutdown of Twitter on the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square in an attempt to control the risk of digital media.   It is clear that both governments and mainstream media will seek ways to tap into the vast flows of meaning that span the network interactions in an attempt to either harness, subvert, or control digital media in an effort to maintain their gatekeeper role.

Image: curiouslee via Creative Commons

Given that digital media has begun to erode the power of traditional media gatekeepers, what of the gatekeeper theory, associated theories like agenda-setting, framing, and semantics and their relevance for the future?  Some suggest the internet has rendered gatekeeping passé (Williams & Carpini, 2000), however, gatekeeping will likely remain relevant as along as mainstream media are part of the media ecology, albeit with less significance given that information flows freely.  Additionally, gatekeeping will likely remain relevant in media-savvy countries like China that maintain tight control of all media.

It is clear that digital media will be a revolution in media unlike any the world has seen.  Perhaps generations from now, media historians will discuss digital media as more revolutionary than even the printing press.  Those in media studies have an unparalleled opportunity to rethink existing media theory in light of the changes taking place all over the world as society comes to terms with the new technology.  Many existing perspectives, like media ecology and symbolic interactionism, will continue to provide useful insights to media scholars, while others, like gatekeeping may become less germane.

References

Dubai School of Government. (2011). Civil Movements: The Impact of Facebook and Twitter Arab Social Media Report (Vol. 1, pp. 1-30). Dubai: Dubai School of Government.

Nelson, L. D. (1998). Herbert Blumer’s Symbolic Interactionsm  Retrieved July 23, 2011, from http://www.colorado.edu/communication/meta-discourses/Papers/App_Papers/Nelson.htm

Quinn, S. (2011). Module 2: theoretical perspectives and challenges of digital communication, from http://csuglobal.blackboard.com/courses/1/FALL11A-8-COM305-1/content/_320329_1/dir_xid-44757_2/com305_2.html

Shirky, C. (Producer). (2009, July 23, 2011). How Social Media Can Make History. Talks. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_how_cellphones_twitter_facebook_can_make_history.html

Williams, B. A., & Carpini, M. X. D. (2000). Unchained reaction: the collapse of media gatekeeping and the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Journalism, 1(1), 61-85.


Hypothesis: Liminal business


Major U.S. corporations that predate the Internet are liminal businesses that exist in the space between the traditional economics of the 20th century and an emergent economy characterized by fundamentally different human behaviors and values; as a result, many are likely to experience significant business disruption by new competitors that understand how the world is changing and have the flexibility to align their products and services to the new value system.

In a nutshell, I think that many mainstream businesses are embracing social media as tools without necessarily having an understanding of how human behavior is changing as a result.  Examples are all over the place, of people getting together in unique ways with their own agenda for change.
  • Open source versus corporate built: Linux, Wikipedia, Firefox, Shareware, Freeware
  • Product-service systems versus product manufacturers: hardware and software solutions versus SaaS
  • redistribution versus hyperconsumption
  • carrot and stick versus autonomy, mastery and purpose
  • peer recommended versus brand identity
  • trusted behaviors versus credit report
  • friction versus flow
  • me versus we
  • and on and on.
Early in the class I was struck by symbolic interactionism and the implication of the idea that meaning is created through the interaction between people.  What does that mean for a society that has developed an exponential capability to interact through many-to-many communication mechanisms when interaction volumes increase astronomically?  I suspect it means a period of rapid change where new ideas take hold and are implemented by people rather than institutions (open source, arab spring, collaborative consumption, etc), simply because of rapid growth of cognitive surplus applied in altruistic ways (e.g. microfinancing) to address pervasive problems that mainstream institutions can’t seem to solve.  I think there is evidence (on web sites) that many businesses do not understand how fundamental the changes are and simply view social media as a new set of tools by which to market, advertise, and reach people, rather than applying social media strategically to address fundamental shifts in behavior and values.