Erik Furlan An Introduction to Interactive Media Theory Essentially the text can be divided into two distinct parts – a wide‐ranging listing and discussion of past and present media theories and how they relate to the new realm of interactive media and an informational section with a technology timeline, a who’s who and suggested readings. We will do our best here to break apart the distinct theories discussed and their relationship to interactive media. To begin, one must define interactive/interactivity; the catch, there is no one, complete definition. Steur (1992): “the extent to which users can participate in modifying the form and content of a mediated environment in real time” Rheingold (1993): “asynchronous tools such as listservs, e‐mail and newsgroups are interactive” Downers and McMillan (2000): interactivity exists at different levels; there are “high‐values: and “low‐values” interactivity levels; two categories, each with three characteristics o Message dimensions (direction, time and place) o Participant dimensions (control, responsiveness and perceived goals) Koolstra and Bos (2009): “the degree to which two or more communication parties [human or computer] act on each other in an interrelated matter” o High level of interactivity results in more effective communication o K&B scorecard – elements: synchronicity, timing flexibility, control over content, number of additional participants, physical presence of additional participants, use of sight, use of hearing, use of other senses Nathan Shedroff – Continuum of Interactivity o Examines ‐‐ feedback, control, creativity/co‐creativity, productivity, communications, adaptivity – from passive to interactive Le Manovich – five principles of new media o Numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, transcoding Sprouting from the notion of interactivity is interactive design (first proposed by Bill Verplank and Bill Moggridge in the late 1980s), which is defined in Wikipedia as the “discipline of defining the behavior of products and systems that a user can interact with … [It] centers around software, mobile devices and other electronic devices, however it can also apply to other types of products and services and even to organizations themselves.” Interaction design has been broken into six major steps: design research, research analysis and concept generation, alternative design and evaluation, prototyping and usability testing, implementation and system testing. Overall, there are to key aspects of interaction design – social and affective. Key points of social interaction design (SxD) accounts for inter‐user interaction as well as interaction between user and device “dynamic of interpersonal communication, speech and writing, the pragmatics of talk and interaction – are critical factors in interaction design.” Key points of affective/emotional response in interaction design
Erik Furlan awareness of aspects of the design that ellict emotional responses in users “need for products to convey positive emotions and avoid negative ones is critical to product success.” Emotional and pleasure theories emotional design (Don Norman): human nature to “equate good design with intrinsic quality ….”; pretty things are considered more positively Human factors model (Patrick Jordan): good design looks “beyond usability to see how people’s values, aspirations, hopes, fears and dreams … can be studied and implemented.) Technology as experience framework (McCarthy and Wright): to understand the “felt experience of technology” … “consider the sensual, emotional and intellectual aspects of our interactions with technology tools” Key characteristics of a good interaction designer ability to conceive ideas; ability to communicate the ideas; ability to critique, analyze and judge IxDA president Robert Reimann – interaction designer skill‐sets o Core skills in research and design o Business skills o Communication skills o Interpersonal skills o Usability skills o Media skills o Technical skills o Personal skills Now we move on to actual media theories and examining how valid are they in relation to interactive media. But first, a few key terms: quantitative research: “systematic scientific examination [using] mathematical models, theories or hypotheses, and specific measurement is its fundamental basis.” (statistics most commonly used0 qualitative research: examination of “underlying meanings and the patterns of relationships …” looking at “language, symbols, signs and meaning.” o Not totally based in math o Data collection ‐‐ Observation, interviewing and content study Ethnography (culture study) Content analysis of written, physical material Focus group Case study One of the earliest, simplest descriptions of communications theory comes from Harold Lasswell (1948) when he defined the communications theory field as “the study of ‘who says what to whom in what channel with what effect’.” A 2004 model from Davis Foulger expanded on this simple, linear construction, showing the interplay and feedback that exists in communication today. Robert Craig (1999) outlines seven “traditions” of communication theory: rhetorical, semiotic, phenomenological, cybernetic, sociopsychological and sociocultural. Early on as well came the discipline of information theory from the arena of engineering. Claude Shannon (1948) founded the field, focused on how “the
Erik Furlan fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point, either exactly or approximately, a message selected at another point.” It can best be defined in the following diagrams:
Key points of activity theory (courtesy of the arena of HCI) key players: Kant, Hegel, Marx and Engles; Vygotsky, Leont’ev, Luria “originated as a way to assess the developmental process by which a person is shaped by and shapes experiences through his or her actions” based on that “people work to achieve their expectations ideals or utopian visions by taking actions and [changing] the social and material world [where] they exist” 1990s – human‐computer interaction (HCI) begins incorporating AT in its work o Henderson (1991) – all the circumstances and influences and factors that may impact HCI need to be taken into account in research
o Kuutti (1995) ‐‐ o AT used by HCI people to “understand and classify the social, physical and cognitive processes involved in performing tasks and how those tasks fit into a bigger picture” Key points of Symbolic Interactionism (courtesy of sociology and information science) came from the work of George H. Mead and Charles Cooley “Symbolic interactionism” – Herbert Blumer (1969) – three key elements o “human beings act toward things on the basis of meanings they ascribe to those things” o “the meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the soial interaction that one has with others and the society” o “the meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he/she encounters” in essence, individuals interact with each other not by just reacting to the other’s actions, but by the interpretation/definition assigned to the action by the ‘receiver’ Key points of Social network theory (courtesy sociology, information science)
Erik Furlan “assesses how the structure of ties influences individuals, their relationships and the results of these relationships. Social network analysis attempts to expose how ties develop and illuminate the ways in which structure and composition of ties affect norms.” Mark Granovetter (1973) – smaller, closer networks with strong ties often less useful than larger networks with many weak ties Key researchers today – Barry Wellman, Danah Boyd The idea of “small‐world phenomenon” (the “six degrees of separation/Kevin Bacon” principle) ‐‐ Ithiel de Sola Pool; Stanley Milgram o Duncan Watts, Steven Strogatz – small‐world networks exist throughout the universe o Albert‐Laszlo Barabasi – “scale‐free” networks – have few “high connected ‘super nodes’ or ‘hubs,’ … most nodes … weakly connected” Everett Rogers (1962) – diffusion of innovations – “process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system” Memes – Richard Dawkins (1976) – “a self‐propagating unit of cultural evolution. … [similar] to the gene, … information passed along to the next generation. … memes can undergo alterations” “… social network analysis is more than a method; it is a perspective on the world armed with tools and a body of applications ranging from questions of social isolation (and inclusion) to the structure of international relations and the web.” Key points of Online Communities theory groups that communicate mainly through “media such as blogs, e‐mail lists, synthetic online worlds [Second Life] and other digital forms rather than face‐to‐face” Peter Kollock (1998) – motivations behind contributing to online communities o Anticipated reciprocity – contribute information expecting the favor to be returned o Increased recognition – driven by a desire for prestige, “egoboo” (ego boost), higher visibility/fame o Sense of efficacy – feeling they have some effect on the environment o Sense of community – getting feedback to contributions serves as motivation to contribute again/more Phenomenon of “lurking” (join and not contribute) o Get what they need without active participation o Thinking that not posting is helpful o Wanting to scout the community before diving in o Inability to use the software o Dislike of observed group dynamics Now that we have touched on some of the more communications specific theories, there are several broader theories regarding humans and their behavior that have been applied to the study of communications. Key points of Uses and Gratifications (U&G) theory focuses on what people do and why they do it
Erik Furlan “identifies how people are motivated to use particular communications tools to meet particular needs” tied to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from the social sciences – physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, self‐esteem, self‐actualization Lasswell (1948) – functions of media on a macro‐sociological level: surveillance, correlation, entertainment, cultural transmission Katz, Gurevitch, Hass (1973) – media users have the same categories of needs: cognitive, affective, personal integrative, social integrative, escapist User‐oriented dimensions of interactivity, part of U&G – involvement, benefits, threats, inconvenience, sociability, isolation Ha and James (1998) ‐‐ Five dimensions of interactivity – playfulness, choice, connectedness, information collection, reciprocal communication Before we travel too far down the rabbit hole, let’s step back and examine why U&G is important, especially to the interactive media profession. Simply put, to make your communication as effective as it can be, you have to take into account your potential audiences and what gratification they may be seeking when using your communication. Also, the “interactive communicator” needs to remember that uses and gratifications are not static and set in stone, they differ from person‐to‐person, novice user‐to‐experienced, even day‐to‐day. Especially today, the multitude of multimedia options available to users has opened the floodgates to a wide range of uses and gratifications; each user with a smorgesboard of choices, their unique approach and a level of control thanks to the interactive realm in which they operate. Key points of Knowledge Gap Theory Tichenor, Donohue, Olien (1970) – first stated “with each new medium, the gap between the information‐rich and information‐poor widens because of differences in access to the new medium and the individuals’ capacity to use it effectively” AKA – digital divide when talking about Internet Schools of thought when it comes to theory – constructivists and determinists social construction of reality/social constructionism – social factors and technology features are connected and affect use together o Adoni, Mane (1984) – Three part model: Objective reality (real world, facts); Symbolic reality (art, literature, media); Subjective reality (constructed from objective and symbolic by the person) o Gerbner – cultivation theory – approach to research on social construction Exposure to the same messages produced a “long‐term teaching (cultivation) of a common worldview, common roles and common values” Technological determinism – advances in technology are the “central causal element in processes of social change” o McLuhan (1964) – “the medium is the message” o 1965 – technology effects don’t appear at the opinion level, “but alter sense ratios or patterns of perceptions …” (the technologies used affect habits or perception and thinking)
Erik Furlan Key points of Diffusion of Innovations theory diffusion research – how do innovations spread through a social system Ryan, Gross (1943) – four main elements of diffusion: innovation/communicated through certain channels/over time/among members of a social system Everett Rogers o innovation characteristics that affect adoption rate: relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, observability “generally innovations that are perceived by receives as having a greater relative advantage, compatibility, trialability, observability and less complexity will be adopted more rapidly than other innovations” o Innovation decision process: Knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation, confirmation o Categories of adopters: Innovators, Early adopters, early majority, late majority, laggards o Consequences classifications: desirable vs. undesirable; direct vs. indirect; anticipated vs. unanticipated Key point(s) of Spiral of Silence Theory Elisabeth Noelle‐Neumann (1973, 1980): mass media’s “ubiquity, cumulation and consonance [the single view shared by the majority]” cross to affect public opinion, “sometimes inspire individuals to contain their opinion for fear of social isolation or reprisal” (if someone thinks their view does not mesh with the view of the majority, they will likely not share that view out of fear of isolation/ostracization or backlash) Key points of Powerful Effects Theory Noelle‐Neumann (1973); Mendelsohn (1973); Maccoby and Farquhar (1975); Ball‐Rokeach, Rokeach and Grube (1984) Mendelsohn – “campaigns that are successful in changing an audience …” o “spell out extremely specific, reasonable campaign objectives clearly o “pinpoint the target audience” o “work to overcome indifference on the audience to the particular issue” o “find relevant themes to stress in the messages” Let’s stop here again and examine the powerful effect theory and its relation to interactive media. “Media effects are most powerful when they reach communications participants on multiple levels” (essentially, for a more powerful effect, the communicator needs to reach the audience in more ways than one). Here’s where the interactive comes in: by using multiple interactive platforms to convey the message, the odds of reaching more of the audience (on more than one level) increases, making the effect of the message greater than if it was repeated over just one channel. Power law effect – “system drives activity to reinforce unnaturally the behavior that caused something to be there in the first place” (i.e. – seeing that something is the ‘most clicked‐on’ draws people to click on it, making it even more clicked on; things on kept on top because they are on top)
Erik Furlan Key points of Agenda‐setting and media framing theories McCombs, Shaw – key people “the media we consume tell us what to think about, and how to think about it” o agenda‐setting: “transfers the salience of items of established communicators’ news agendas to our agenda” o framing: “transfers the salience of selected attributes to prominence among the pictures in our heads” “a central organizing idea for new content that supplies a context and suggests what the issue is through the use of selection, emphasis, exclusion and elaboration” can be suggested by visual imagery, headlines, leads, pull quotes, nut graphs, word choice; “advanced organizers” o inter‐media agenda setting: media reports influence and set the agenda for other media reports (i.e. – ’09 Iran election coverage from Twitter, mass media covered using/talking about the online postings) Key points of Perception Theory “process by which we interpret sensory data” Vidmar, Rokeach (1974) – “selective” processes o Selective perception – tendency for people to be influenced by wants, attitude, needs, other psychological factors o Selective exposure – tendency to expose selves to communications that agree with their existing attitudes, avoiding those that don’t o Selective attention – tendency to pay attention to the parts of a message that jive with personally held attitude, beliefs, behaviors; avoiding those that don’t o Selective retention – tendency for recall of information to be influences by wants, needs, attitude and other psychological factors Key points of Schema Theory schema – “cognitive structure consisting of organized knowledge about situations and individuals that has been abstracted from prior experiences” – used for processing new and recalling stored information (Graber 1988) people are “cognitive misers” forced to practice “cognitive economy” through simple mental models (like schemas) because of limited ability to handle information people tend to store the conclusions drawn from evidence/facts instead of the evidence itself (Graber) Let’s pause here again and examine the theories in relation to interactive media. The information people pay attention to and how they perceive the information they are paying attention to can be drastically affected by these “filters” through which the message passes before reaching the audience. People are most likely to retain and pay attention to things that fit their predetermined views and discard things that don’t fit. They see the world through their own personal set of glasses, recognizing only the things they can “see” based on the criteria/specs for those “specs.” If the message you are trying to communicate doesn’t fit into a persons schema or frame, they aren’t going to get the message, provided that the message
Erik Furlan was even “picked up” by the mainstream media and put on the agenda in the first place. The bottom line is “interactive communicators” need to keep all these theories in mind as they construct the platforms to convey their message. Key points of Image‐perception theory way to discuss/define how people process images/pictures Linda Scott (1994) – three ways of thinking about mass media pictures: transparent representations of reality; conveyors of affective/emotional appeal; complex combinations of symbols assembled to make rhetorical arguments “pictures and images can be used to construct subtle and complicated arguments” Key points of Propaganda Theory Harold Lasswell (1927): “Propaganda in the broadest sense is the technique of influencing human action by the manipulation of representations” Lee and Lee (1939) – seven devices of propaganda: name calling, glittering generality, transfer, testimonial, plain folks, card stacking, band wagon Generally effective, but only on some people (can’t fool all the people always) Key points of Persuasion Theories fear appeal – three key parts: magnitude of noxiousness of a depicted event; probability of that event’s occurrence; efficacy of a recommended response (Rogers) [highly unsatisfactory event, with a high likelihood and a solution shown as effective] Functional approach to attitude change (Katz) o humans are both rational and irrational, depending the situation (rational – people are intelligent, critical thinkers, make own decisions; irrational – people are easily influences by those around) o Functions attitude can serve – Instrumental, adjustive or utilitarian; ego‐defensive; value‐expressive; knowledge o Attempt to change attitude must be based on knowing what function(s) the attitude is serving Techniques of persuasion – visuals, humor, sexual, repetition Process models of persuasion theory o McGuire’s information‐processing theory: exposure, perception, comprehension, agreement, retention, retrieval, decision making, action o Anderson’s information integration theory: “cognitive algebra” Key points of Media Richness Theory the richer, more personal means of communication are generally the most effective rich media tend to be most effective in terms of feedback, use of many cues, message tailoring, emotional response sometimes “rich media” is equated with “interactive multimedia” – multiple platforms, multiple methods; audio, video, graphics integrated Let’s pause here again and recap the theories and how they may relate to our discussion of interactive media. Overall, the same rule expressed before applies here – the “interactive communicator” needs to keep all of these theories in mind
Erik Furlan when working to build the platforms to convey the message. A key piece of any interactive media is often images or pictures. Understanding how those images can be used to aid in conveying the message, or even how those pictures can be misinterpreted, conveying an unintended message, is paramount. Effective interactive communication is going to make use of all the tools available, including images and pictures. As far as media richness, interactive media is often viewed as the most ‘media‐rich’ method of communication – engaging the user on multiple levels, using multiple means of conveying the desired message, combining multiple forms of displaying the message. Interactive media offers a degree of personalization as well, which helps increase its effectiveness. The more personal the means of communication often the more effective it is. With the personalization potential of interactive media (each user in control of their experience), each person can have a unique, personal experience, making the interactive means of communication highly effective. Key points of the Human Action Cycle model (HAC) developed by Don Norman (1988) used to evaluate user interfaces involves the ways “humans pursue goals through a series of steps to achieve that goal through the use of computing…” (includes physical, cognitive) Stages of HAC – Forming a goal; translating the goal into a task or set of tasks needed to achieve the goal; planning an action sequence by ordering the tasks needed to achieve the goal; executing the action sequence; perceiving what happened/the results; interpreting the outcome according to expected outcome; evaluating what happened against what was intended to happen Key Points of Media Ecology Neil Postman – “looks into the matter of how media of communication effect human perception, understanding, feeling and value and how our interaction with media facilitates or impedes our chances of survival” “the word ‘ecology’ implies the study of environments: their structure, content and impact on people” Christine Nystrom – “the study of complex communication systems as environments” McLuhan – “means arranging various media to help each other so they won’t cancel each other out, to buttress one medium with another” So, we have bullet‐pointed, divided and subdivided countless communications theories, looked at their relative implications and overall relevance to the realm of interactive media, and where does that leave us? Generally, with a better understanding of the nature of communications as a whole, the history of communication theory and an idea of how those past theories apply to the new frontier of interactive media, if at all. First and foremost, the “interactive communicator” needs to be a student of the industry, learning what they can about the history of communications – including the history of the study of communications and the theories derived from that study. Even though the theories were formed long before the idea of interactive media was even imagined, they provide the base on which the house of interactive media will be built, because at its core, interactive media is still communications.
Erik Furlan The thing to keep in mind is that all of these communications theories are just that, theories; none of them are set in stone as absolute law. The very nature of communications ‐‐ the constant change, the numerous variables (technology, audience, etc.) – make the theory of communications a moving target. Much like the need for constant horizon scanning in futures thinking, communication theory needs constant evaluation and study. The multiple moving parts involved in communications – technology, audience (each with their own set of variables) ‐‐ and their ability to change at a rapid pace require communications scholars and professionals to always be monitoring the state of communications. Those monitoring need to keep the established theories in mind as well as keeping an open mind to altering or tweeking the theories if needed or constructing an entirely new theory because the circumstances have changed that much.