Monday, September 15, 2014

Which Media Ecologist Are You?

So, back in June I saw a post on the Accrinet company's blog, written by the company president Jeff Kline, and I should add that the blog is a wonderful resource on online communication, especially for nonprofits—I highly recommend it!

Anyway, so back in June, Jeff Kline posted on How To Make Online Quizzes For Your Nonprofit, which I somehow found intriguing, even though I rare partake in those quizzes that seem to pop up almost daily on Facebook.

Now, I know what you're thinking, that as a professor I am more than a little familiar with the practice of quizzing and testing, and you're right, I am. But that sort of thing is far from my favorite part of the job, I hasten to add, and anyway, what we do in the classroom is a far cry from the kinds of quizzes that circulate on social media. I was going to call them "fun quizzes" but that would be presumptuous, and maybe suggestive of a subset of amusing (and amazing) ourselves to death, quizzing ourselves to death? I know sometimes it may feel like that over on Facebook.

Of course, as someone who teaches about new media, among other things, it never hurts to try things out for myself, and anyway no one, not even Neil Postman, said that you can't have a little fun once in a while. You just have to be aware of the distinction between entertainment and serious discourse.

And pertaining to testing, it is also important to remember that a test is only a test, and it may be a measurement of some sort, but we shouldn't confuse the measurement with the phenomenon being measured. An example Postman frequently pointed to was intelligence testing, which is supposed to measure some "thing" called intelligence which we're not even really sure exists, at least not as a singular phenomenon, let alone a quantifiable one. So, we don't exactly know what intelligence is, but we come up with tests for it anyway, and then say that the score you get on the test is your intelligence. That's exactly the kind of problem with the word "is" that Alfred Korzybski criticized long ago, the kind of problem that general semantics is meant to counter. And as Postman pointed out, saying that the score is your intelligence is an example of reification, of making real something that is only a measure, symbol, or representation. 

So, testing is inherently problematic, and intelligence testing especially so, since so much can be riding on it, from placement in schools to whether or not an individual is involuntarily institutionalized. And it has also been used to support bias and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class. A great book on this subject was written by the well known scientist, Stephen Jay Gould, entitled The Mismeasure of Man. It was required reading in Postman's media ecology doctoral program.

So, anyway, maybe these online quizzes serve an important critical function in getting us to think a little bit about testing in general, and not take them too seriously?

Be that as it may, to get back to what I was writing about before I got off on this tangent, Kline's blog post directed me to qzzr, a site where you can create your own quiz. Like many such sites, LinkedIn for example, qzzr offers two tiers of service, one for free, and a premium option that lets you capture leads and otherwise drive social media traffic to your organization's website, as well as providing some tracking data. And having tried qzzr out, let me say right up front that I second Kline's recommendation, creating a quiz was relatively easy and enjoyable, and the quiz I made got a great response from folks I shared it with. And it works perfectly on mobile devices as well as on computers. Also, I had some email interactions with the folks at qzzr and I found them to be responsive, entirely helpful, and quite pleasant to deal with.

Wait a minute, you made a quiz?, you may be saying to yourself, or saying out loud if you have no filters. And yeah, well, I did. I just had this idea to make a quiz on (can you guess?), Which Media Ecologist Are You? So I did it. It took a little bit of work, but I really did get into creating the quiz, and the end product was even more gratifying then I imagined. And you can take the quiz for yourself over on the qzzr site by clicking on Which Media Ecologist Are You?, but another cool feature they provide is the ability to embed the quiz, as I've done below:

So, what do you think? And who did you get? And if you don't mind, please share the result on Facebook and Twitter.

My intent was to have some fun with it, and most of the responses I got were along those lines, of folks enjoying the quiz, and happy or intrigued by the results. My intent was to promote media ecology and the Media Ecology Association, and I think the quiz did the job. What I didn't expect, and found especially gratifying, was that some folks said they found the quiz to be thought-provoking, in getting quiz takers to be aware of and think about the wide range of subject matter covered within the field of media ecology. I didn't give too much thought to the quiz's educational value when I created it, but I think it's great that it can work in that way. Some folks said they are going to use it with their students, again, something I never considered, but actually I think it isn't a bad idea, and I'm going to ask my students to take it as well.

I should add that there were a few people who were critical of one aspect of the quiz or another. You can't please everybody, after all, and some folks had issues with the questions on politics and geography in particular, or just were displeased with the outcome. For this reason, I will not reveal all of the possible results of the quiz, there are 26 media ecologists you might end up with, because I know some people will question why I included one or another, or why I didn't include someone they would have included. To which I can only say, hey, I did the quiz my way, based on my understanding of our field and on what I thought would work best in this format, and maybe you shouldn't take the quiz so seriously after all, hmmm?

I'll note that in response to one critical comment over on the Media Ecology Association's discussion list, I responded with the following:

while you may consider the questions and results "dubious" in some way, let me assure you that the quiz was prepared utilizing the most rigorous of scientific methodologies to render results that are entirely unassailable. While you may have found some questions to have more than one possible answer that you would want to choose, and some where none of the answers strike you as acceptable, understand that the formulation of the wording of each item was extremely precise, while the accompanying images were deliberately chosen to evoke subtle and subliminal responses, so that even when you were uncertain or unhappy with an answer, the choice you made provided data derived from your unconscious that aided in assessing you intellectually, professionally, and in regard to your personality profile. The quiz underwent extensive pretesting and refinement in order to insure the the highest degree of validity and reliability. In short, as all good media ecologists know, there is no arguing with science, and if the results say that you are Tony Schwartz, then that is in fact who you are.

I hope you get the fact that my rsponse was a bit of satire, bringing us back to my earlier point about reification and testing. Oh, and as for who I got when I took the quiz, it was Neil Postman.  And you?


HB said...

Tony Swartz

Vidhi Joshi said...

Leonard Shlain. But, I have no clue who he is :(

DW said...

I wanted to thank you for creating this quiz. I will be recommending it to my colleagues. It was fun to take, and upon completion, I was excited to find that I will become the NEXT Neil Postman!

Two questions for you sir.

1. When creating the quiz, did you include yourself as a possible outcome?

2. Why not name this quiz "Which Medium theorist are you?" Perhaps it would be more accurate.

Best regards,

Lance Strate said...

Thanks for the comments. In response to DW, no I didn't include myself, or any of my contemporaries. As for media ecology vs. medium theory, while I think the world of Joshua Meyrowitz, I don't see why "medium theorist" would be more accurate. The phrase media ecology has been around much longer, and refers to a field of study, rather than one specific theory, and that better fits the wide range of ideas represented here. Also, many of the media ecologists included in the results, especially Postman, McLuhan, and Ong, rejected the idea that what they were doing was "theory" for a number of reasons. One is that "theory" is scientistic, another is that its etymology has visual connotations. Overall, I consider medium theory to be a subset of media ecology, and is best used to refer to social and behavioral science approaches such as Meyrowitz introduced, as opposed to the more humanistic work of McLuhan, Ong and Postman.