Sunday, April 15, 2007

My friend, media...

This morning my dog had a fit. As soon as we stepped outside the sliding glass doors into the backyard all of the red hair on his spine spiked, showing his agitation with someone or something. At first I assumed it was the ominous weather that greeted us creating such doggie drama, however I soon realized that a gray tarp from the construction pile next door (where they're building a new home) had blown its way into the far corner of the yard. No, it was not large- probably about a 4 foot square piece. Such a menacing gray tarp, let me tell you. What followed was a series of growling, whining, sniffing, barking, and running away each time the tarp crackled with the wind. My dog had given life to this tarp, assuming it was real.

Amusing? Definitely. Far fetched? Apparently not, even for those of the human kind. In The Media Equation, Reeves, Byron, and Nass state that "media equals real life" (p.6). They argue that through research and investigation, we can conclude that all humans respond to media as if it is real. For example, in a U.S. congressional hearing in which Shari Lewis and her puppet pal Lamb Chop attended, Lamb Chop made a statement and a senator then asked Lewis if she held the same opinion. Laughter came only after a brief pause, as, according to Reeves, Byron, and Nass, people thought this behavior was normal and absolutely acceptable (p. 12).

This brings me to another personal experience, this time related to television. Last week, my husband and I were watching a Mets game. For those of you unfamiliar with this stellar (yes, stellar) team, they were the 2006 NL East division champs. April is the very beginning of the season so crowds are often sparse and subdued. It caught me off guard to hear the deafening roar of the stadium as the Mets rallied and took the lead from the Braves. Nonetheless, I was pumped! My heart was racing and I felt like I was right there. I said to my husband "Wow. If the noise level is like this in April, can you imagine October?" With that, my husband asked for the remote and turned off our surround sound. The crowd roar was still loud, but no longer deafening. It had never occurred to me that we didn't have surround sound last season and I was unaware of what a difference it made in the overall experience of watching a game. It took me from watching to feeling more like a participant. My point is that I was fooled. For me, the media equation was very real. Not only was I fooled, but it changed the way I wanted to enjoy the game. I immediately insisted we turn the surround sound back on so that I could feel those heart-palpitating cheers again.

Yes, I was fooled, however I do have some doubts. Reeves, Byron, and Nass believe that although the human mind has the ability to work itself around the media equation, it is often too challenging. They argue that "The automatic response is to accept what seems to be real as in fact real" (p.8). Haven't I learned from my "mistake" regarding surround sound? It seems all too likely that from this point on I will recognize the difference between what is real and what media creates. Sure I prefer to listen to the games with the more powerful, life-like sound, but does that really mean I am incapable of knowing the difference?

Whatever the case may be, there is no arguing the power and potential of media which affect so very many facets of our lives. It makes a valiant effort at bridging the gap between what is real and what appears to be real and it absolutely entertains. Perhaps we are no more inclined to decifer media from reality then a dog can decifer a tarp from a dangerous creature. I would certainly like to think so.


Ann V. said...


Ok, so I wanted to write like Richard when I grew up, but you ain't so bad yourself! Great real-life examples of the media equation at work! I am fascinated by the point of the equation that premises that we can get around being "fooled", but that it takes a lot of work. I think part of the reason the media trickery works so well is that we have become such a fast-paced society that we don't have the time to worry about something so intricately interspersed in our daily lives. We want to get on to the next thing. Period. No harm, no foul.


Richard Wells said...

Laine, your connection to personal experiences (as Ann notes in her comment) was especially insightful. I'm glad I wasn't the only one to disagree -- at least in part -- with what the authors had to say.

I think it's clear that most people choose to interact with media in the ways they do. People want to feel a connection with things, they want to feel completely immersed in something. Doing so makes one feel like an active "participant" rather than the sideline watcher who has no connection to that which he is viewing. Perhaps we are tricking our own minds in order to make media seem more "real" to us, but I argue that it is a conscious choice we make. This is evidence of a highly adapted brain, not the under-evolved processor to which Reeves, Byron, and Nass refer.