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New Information Age

All-encompassing communications endeavors and references in the Information Age are now being rapidly replaced with either the labels of the Empowerment or Engagement Age. This has been so true this quarter in MCDM as traditional psychological theories have been compared within the rapid development and deployment structures and designs of new social media.

It is obvious to me that Generation Next has become quite different throughout the world in their societal norms, cultures and social functioning using digital technologies and it is this generation and those embracing new social media technologies that our attention should be directed towards today and in the future.

With a background in local public information and affairs programming I have always, as many colleagues, continued seeking unique abilities to assist local governments, non-profit agencies, and small growing businesses in filling in the public communications gap for public outreach and information on available services and communications strategies. The information pick-up theory as described by J.J. Gibson’s “stimulus array” on our perception of information supports this changing digital environment and how individuals not only access and engage in the communications process.  It makes no difference what the messages are intended to communicate; water quality, habitat restoration, chronic homelessness, student leadership, and the epidemic of AIDS, the expansion of college degree programs, understanding Alzheimer’s, supporting cancer survivors or ending domestic violence. The plethora of issues in everyday life all over the planet are the same, and it’s the recognition of Gestalt Theory and the significance of stimuli and of information design that is now so relevant in enhancing effective public communications.

Why so appropriate now? What psychological reasoning should be embraced for optimum public communications to become more effective? The simplicity of good design using Gestalt Theory recognizes how people now process and attend to information and should be, I argue, part of any public outreach and communications planning effort especially in these economic times where cost effectiveness and efficiencies are continually being stressed. The recycling of digital content using perception theories such as those noted by Shepard and Metzler on mental imagery can be combined with current traditional, main communication resources such as television screen distribution in order to increase public communications effectiveness. Additionally, the use of accessible public spaces and locations that I’ll refer to as public sphere locations in supporting these theories is essential in combining both the technological and psychological aspects under this argument. As part of the current Recovery Act, the Congress and the President charged the Federal Communications Commission with developing a strategy to bring high-speed Internet and its benefits to all Americans. I argue that using public sphere outlets under the psychological theory of design and interactive engagement and combing traditional content dissemination such as public, local cable and broadcast public affairs programming with new media resources such as social networking greater success under the present U.S. broadband initiatives and development plans can be achieved.

First, in terms of transformative power, broadband is more akin to the advent of electricity. Both broadband and electricity are what some now call “general purpose technologies” – technologies that are a means to a great many ends, enabling innovations in a wide array of human endeavors. As we discussed and experienced in researching psychological theories during the quarter, especially memory attention and displacement, it is so important under information theory for something to “stick” in short term memory and then long term memory. Clustering, classification schemes, linkages and association all become essential in a design under this public sphere argument. If the next time you ventured into Seattle’s underground transit tunnel, waited at a light rail station, went to a public library or even a shopping mall connected using the public rights-of-way, you were greeted with an enormous plasma display so distinctive that it alone stood out would the information and messages on this screen have any influence? Just like the TEDx conference in Seattle where blogs, web-interface and streaming video were a normality, these public spaces or spheres would take on a robustness of combining social network interactivity with distinctive public informational content in order to support Maslow’s five hierarchy of needs and set the stage for the enhancement and opportunity of learning, recognition of group acceptance or individual identification, and provide physical safety and support. The combination of technology and psychological aspects from a social networker and content generator standpoint I would argue agrees with what Marshall McLuhan noted in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, that “in the long run a medium’s content matters less than the medium itself in influencing how we think and act.”

The persuasion theories of Petty and Cacioppo surely would be part of the increased public sphere environment because of the vast number of people in these locations and their various and separate needs for remembering information and stimuli or cognition. As we have discussed this quarter, both the central and peripheral routes to persuasion could and should be present in order to optimize the abilities of influencers and also reinforcement on the behaviors of the public sphere audiences. Relatedness as described in self-determination theory by Decci and Ryan might find meaning here in support of Maslow’s self-actualization with people relating with others.  This is nothing out of the ordinary as these public sphere locations would have a distinct technology design offering numerous methods of online two-way communication, interactivity, possible public gaming components, real-time surveys along with some potential immediate public services reward functionality, such as tickets to events, health checkups, and other creative social and human services rewards. All these communication methods and endeavors would have an enhanced public interest communications strategy along with standard commercial and private business transactional focuses. By offering both public and private venues and services, the audience would have optimum choices for their own communication styles, but the overarching technologies present in the public sphere location would emphasize public information, interactivity and engagement for public services and information. This emphasis would surround the arts, human services, public safety and health, and any other publicly provided and funded services. Overall, this activity would greatly extend much of the current methods of website portals, and access but also would combine all the capabilities of public information and content development underway, currently used, and repurposing of all relevant public content and interactivity to be included in these locations.  By combining public and private business online services or accessibility at these locations the opportunities for funding through public-private cooperative agreements, content creation, and multiple partnership arrangements could be enhanced and marketed.

The locations of this public sphere communications strategy need to coincide with all of the current so-called “broadband” initiatives and telecommunications technologies and be adopted as part of the national broadband policy under rulemaking proceedings pertaining to broadband deployment nationwide. The historical lessons learned from the rise of the Internet under U.S. telecommunications policy and the Telecommunications Act must be taken into account to ensure competitors and consumers alike have open, nondiscriminatory access to all public communications platforms. This would include wireless, joint pole and conduit infrastructure placement and all fiber optic connectivity, extension of current cable and broadband deployment under contractual agreements or franchises and by any public utility offering broadband services or using telecommunication provider partnership services.

Ah, what an opportunity for engaging the national broadband plan with the neutrality of the Internet and social networking psychological theories and potential research at the same time.  This could well pose a real possibility of the triple play of voice, video, and data high-speed connectivity in action. This method of engagement continues the work and energies of many people surrounding ways to enhance public services and at the local level. By using the linkage of new technical and broadband capabilities along with sound psychological theory, I believe this strategy will offer ways for increasing our public communications platforms and welcome many new and engaged participants.


  •  Psychology; The Science of Mind and Behavior, M.Passer, R. Smith (2009), McGraw-Hill, New York.
  •  Open Architecture as Communications Policy, Preserving Internet Freedom in the Broadband Era, M Cooper, (2004) V.Cerf, Chapter IX A Horizontal Leap Forward – Letter to Evans and Powell, Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law School.
  •  The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems, J.J. Gibson (1966), Boston, Houghton Miffin
  •  Broadband: Our Enduring Engine for Prosperity and Opportunity, Prepared Remarks of Chairman Julius Genachowski, Federal Communications Commission, (2010) National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners /NARUC Conference.