One of the sessions I participated on was called: Media Ecology and Health Promotion in a U-Shaped World, and it was organized by David J. Waters. David is Professor of Comparative Oncology and Associate Director of the Center on Aging and The Life Course at Purdue University, and since 2000, he has served as Executive Director of the Gerald P. Murphy Cancer Foundation, a not-for-profit research institute located in the Purdue Research Park. David started the session off by presenting a paper entitled, “The Challenge of Promoting Health in a U-Shaped World,” and another David,
David E. Duncan of the BioAgenda Institute ended the session with a talk entitled, “Getting Health Messages Right: A Science Writer's Perspective,” both presentations being outstanding.
So, I was sandwiched in-between the two Davids, and with the title, “Getting Health Messages Right: A Media Ecologist's Perspective,” which was supplied by David Waters. I started out by noting that the subject of health does not come up all that often in media ecology circles, but there is much that our field can offer to the study of health communication, and health and medicine.
I also mentioned my involvement in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety funded study of beer commercials, courtesy of Neil Postman, which was published as the research report, Myths, Men and Beer (by Neil Postman, Christine Nystrom, Lance Strate, and Charles Weingartner, 1987 which is still being distributed, for more information click here). We recommended that beer ads be banned from television, a proposal that many in Congress were sympathetic to, and which led to all of the designated driver and "know when to say when" campaigns on the part of the beer industry.
I also noted that the assignment for the first year of the late, lamented media ecology doctoral program was to research the history of a medium or technology that was introduced prior to the 20th century, and a number of the students in the program chose medical technologies like the stethoscope, the thermometer, eyeglasses, etc., and I also draw on that work, as it was discussed in our classes. Moreover, Postman devoted a chapter to medical technology in Technopoly, drawing in part on Ivan Illich's book, Medical Nemesis, and that's not to mention McLuhan's analysis of ads for aspirin and the like in The Mechanical Bride.
And of course I also noted my own experience as the parent of an autistic child, and the discussion that I include in my book, Echoes and Reflections: On Media Ecology as a Field of Study.
For my presentation, I prepared notes in an outline form, and I thought I'd share those notes here on Blog Time Passing, for what they're worth. As notes, they don't provide complete and thorough explanations of the subject matter, but perhaps they might be of interest and use to someone out there.
1. Thinking About Health From a Media Ecology Perspective
A. Body as a medium, as our primary medium, as the medium and mind the content
B. Medical intervention as altering the media environment, analogous to new medium, side effects as euphemism, undesirable, unanticipated, indirect, but real effects, Postman, Technopoly, iatrogenesis, e.g., prep for colonoscopy and kidneys
C. Medium as language, body language, how does body talk to us, how do we talk about the body, e.g., as recently came up in general semantics circles, refer to symptoms as complaints; clients vs. patients; baby was in distress vs. baby almost died; negative patient care outcome as euphemism for death
D. Relationships (Bateson systems perspective), how do I relate to my body, is it me or not me, a shell that I occupy, how do medical professionals relate to patients, as body or person, what kind of relationship, authority or guide?
2. Getting the Message Across
A. Preventative messages hardest to get across, e.g., seatbelts, smoking (anti-smoking campaign initially increased desire to smoke);
B. Henry Perkinson, No Safey in Numbers, computing leads to quantification of everything, leads to risk-aversive society. Quantify risk, but how much is acceptable, we demand that risk be eliminated, but while reduction possible, elimination impossible.
C. Risk only acceptable if it’s a matter of choice. Anti-smoking campaign ineffective because smokers say, it’s my choice to take this risk. Change came with second-hand smoke campaign, with victims who do not choose to take the risk, but are forced to.
D. Tony Schwartz, The Responsive Chord, know your audience, don't test ads, test audiences
E. Resonance, make message resonate with what audience already knows
F. Broader sense, understand the culture, Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers
G. From media ecology perspective, to know the culture, have to know the media environment out of which the culture emerges
3. Oral Cultures
A. Oral traditions, collective memory
B. Vast storehouse of knowledge about the environment, importance of botanical information for medicine
C. Emphasis on the specific, not principles
D. Except by analogy, Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind, superstition, e.g., rhino horn and male potency
E. Generally knowledge is shared and accessible, age important, limited specialization (medicine man or woman)
4. Literate Cultures
A. with writing comes accumulation of knowledge and specialization
B. writing enhances abstract thinking, ability to make generalization and posit principles, but downside is stereotyping, ignoring the individual patient and only look at class, one size fits all, one drug cures all
C. writing also enhances analysis, able to focus on specific organs and systems and understand them better, but perhaps at expense holistic view of body as system
D. ancient Greece, alphabet, 5th-4th c. BCE, Hippocrates, origin of medicine
E. literacy limits access to knowledge, creates divisions between groups, specialization, Joshua Meyrowitz, No Sense of Place
F. progress slow until 15th century printing revolution and knowledge explosion
G. Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change in Early Modern Europe, tables, diagrams, illustrations; empiricism & publication, Modern Science
H. Increasing volume of knowledge leads to increasing specialization
I. With specialization come specialized language which further limits access
J. High degree of separation between practitioner and client
K. Need for schooling
L. Innis, The Bias of Communication, Monopoly of knowledge
M. Growth of professionalism
N. Illich, Medical Nemesis, critique
5. Visualism and Technology
A. literacy and print lead to visualism, as opposed to orality based on sound
B. visualism fosters objectivity, objectification
C. body as object
D. Cartesian dualism, mind/body, body is visual, mind is oral
E. Shift from listening to patient to reading the body as text, through technology, visual and quantified
F. Stethoscope (acoustic but treats body as thing), thermometer, other medical devices objectify, measure, and provide visual output
G. surgery as visual examination; photography, X-rays, ultrasound (use sound to generate image)
H. Eyeglasses, visual, extensions of man, body can be modified, not stuck with what nature gave you
I. Medical technology and Jacques Ellul, Technological Society, technique as emphasis on efficiency, pills, drugs, as instant cure; Neil Postman, Technopoly
6. Electronic media environment
A. Reversal of print in some ways, extension in other ways (knowledge, specialization), creates a tension
B. Dissatisfied with objectification of the body, want to be treated as a human being, whole person, holistic medicine
C. Suspicious of monopoly of knowledge, which is weakened by accessibility of electronic media, from Dr. Kildare to WebMD
D. Want second opinion, choice, agency, alternatives, alternative medicine, while still wanting efficiency
E. Retrieval of oral culture, folk culture, homeopathic remedies, misinformation, can't just disprove, cultural problem
F. General decline of authority (Meyrowitz, No Sense of Place), mystification and legitimation, suspicious of medical establishment, motives, profit, withholding treatment, conspiracy; iatrogenesis
G. Example of vaccination and autism; fluoridation of water
7. So what now?
A. Medical professionals need to be honest about limits of their knowledge rather than invoke authority
B. need to focus on human person rather than just body
C. approach as relationship, partners
D. make information accessible, do not withhold, example of conspiracy of silence regarding autism
E. Neil Postman, Conscientious Objections, "Educationist as Painkiller," now, painkiller must be educationist, educate rather than inform and dictate
F. people want choices, there are always choices, and they also want to know what is the most efficient of the choices
G. Also need to focus on groups (peer groups, interest groups) rather than authority relationships with individuals, serve as guides, advisers
H. Family group, workplace
I. Social networks, in face-to-face situations, and online
J. Social media, have to be a member of the group, not specialized professional on a pedestal
And that's about it. I hope to be able to publish an essay on this topic in the future, time and tide willing.
So until next time, my friends, stay healthy!