Saturday, June 11, 2005

MMS: Media Mental Set

Because I'm on a roll here with discussing media transitions - and creating new terms and acronyms - allow me to add just one more: Media Mental Set (MMS).

Traditionally, in psychology, "mental set" refers to a fixed pattern of thinking that fails to take into consideration new information or perspectives. For example, the early astronomers tried to calculate the movement of planets based on their assumption that all heavenly bodies revolved around the earth. They were caught in a mental set that led to bizarre conclusions about the shape of planetary orbits because they failed to see a different perspective: all the planets revolve around the sun.

Extending that concept, I'm proposing the idea of Media Mental Set - i.e., how people's thinking and perspective can get stuck within a certain computer-generated environment (media). They approach issues and problems, including psychological and social ones, strictly in terms of that particular environment, while failing to see alternative solutions and experiences offered by other types of environments (media). Their thinking gets "stuck" within that media.

MMS might be determined by personality and attitudinal factors, and not simply intellectual and critical thinking abilities. It's interesting how even some intelligent people who are quite knowledgeable about online communication can still get locked into a mental set about the type of communication modality they prefer. They tend to idealize that modality. They harbor nostalgic feelings about it, and feel they need to protect those feelings. Their intellectual defense of that modality postures like territorial behavior. They might also feel some of that media transition anxiety that I discussed in my last post.

A few times, when offering some consultation for professional groups operating via an email list, I've recommended that the group experiment with a discussion board format. Even when the group considers itself sophisticated about online communication and specifically wants to develop itself as an online organization, the resistance among some people to trying a new modality can be surprisingly intense. Every time I mention a benefit of discussion boards over email lists, there is a flurry of retorts about how "you can do that in email too." Or the points about the benefits are ignored, as if they flew right past people's heads. If I could see their faces, I imagine their eyes momentarily glazed over before their thinking snapped back into place and returned to the same old same arguments about why they prefer email lists.

You see the same sort of debates - the same sort of arguing from one's media mental set - between some PC and Mac users about their particular platform. In fact, in order to be here right now typing this post, I had to shake loose some of my own stiff thinking before I realized that creating a blog might be a worthwhile pursuit. I caught myself saying things like, "A blog is really just a web site".... "Chronological formats for posting aren't really useful".... "Blogs are just a fad anyway."

Now I don't want to overly pathologize Media Mental Set, because I think there is a natural human tendency to see things in terms of what we already know, according to the familiar mental templates that make our lives predictable and managable - and to overlook or minimize things that are novel. Ideally, we learn how to balance our familar and useful mental maps with the ability to challenge and modify them with alternative ways of thinking.... Read Piaget. He explained this very well :-)


Blogger Rick said...

Amazing, Dr. Suler, as I was reading your MMS post, Piaget and "accomodation and assimilation" sprang to mind.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Rick Howe

5:57 PM  
Blogger John Suler said...

Yep. Piaget's theory is very helpful in understanding media transitions.

5:02 AM  

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