Just Pick Up the Phone

Can You Pick Up the Phone?

I’ve written about the lost art of writing with a pen. Now I feel like there is a need to explain in plain English that when you are having difficulties communicating via email or other electronic messaging systems that you can use the telephone, what you may know as your mobile.

Seriously, people never use their landline phones. And people increasingly do not use their mobile phone as a phone. Years ago, I had a speaker from Seattle, Washington, giving a talk in Oxford, and she told everyone to leave their phones on. Her argument was that no one would actually call during her talk, because people are using their phones for texting and for accessing the Internet and social media – not for talking to other people. And no one called.

This is a telephone
This is a telephone

This trend raises its head in a number of ways. For example, I keep receiving emails from colleagues, particularly administrators, who raise issues I want to discuss with them. Well, as you might guess, they do not list their phone numbers on their email, not to mention their office location. They cannot imagine that someone would want to call them, or visit their office to speak face-to-face, or they do not want to encourage such behavior. I managed to get the phone number of an administrator that practices this art of hiding from the phone and found that he not only fails to answer his phone, but also has no message on his answering service – so I do not even know if I have called the right person or phone.

Email is great. Don’t misunderstand me. I started emailing in 1974, and then we had to call a person to tell them we just sent them an email. I guess now we have to email someone to say we plan to call them. But when email fails, such as in trying to choose a restaurant or organize a meeting, think about actually talking to your colleague. It is easier and will save multiple emails.

So here is my advice, whether or not it has been solicited:

First, put your phone details on your email and blog or Web site. Be accessible.

Second, leave a message for those who call you when you are unavailable.

Third, when communication is not working, just pick up the phone.

In conclusion, it is important to remember that no media is always superior. You need to choose the right medium for the occasion. That will need to be the topic for another blog.

A Virtual Professor: Putting Herself in the Hands of Others

The Department of Media and Information at Michigan State University had one of its (now) annual retreats on a beautiful Friday in the clubhouse of a local golf course. One of our faculty members, Professor Carrie Heeter, was in San Francisco, but she worked with colleagues to create a means for her to participate virtually. Her explanation of the approach and how she experienced the day might be very useful for others experimenting with blending virtual participation into real meetings.

They used Zoom, a video service like Skype or Google Hangouts, to connect Carrie in San Francisco to an iPad mounted on a portable stand, and to a laptop, both present in the retreat room. Essentially, the laptop on the stand became Carrie’s virtual presence in the room.

As Carrie wrote, when the retreat moved into about 6 breakout groups, someone in Carrie’s group ‘agreed to “take care of” Carrie’.  As Carrie put it: ‘When Jeremy [Bond] took care of me, he actively turned the iPad to face whoever was speaking. It was amazing. It felt like I was right there at the table, but also weird to not be turning my physical head, while I was virtually looking all around. I also felt bad that he was working so hard thinking about what I was seeing.’

They planned to use a Mini-jam box speaker/microphone to enable Carrie to be heard by the larger group, but it did not work on the day. So it was hard to hear Carrie speaking when we were assembled as the whole group. However, she could hear others very well, even in the big group. Carrie notes: ‘we used the Zoom chat and I would type, then my caretaker would speak for me. A few times I wrote on a piece of paper and held it up to the camera. When I went to lunch I used the share screen function of Zoom to show a word document with big letters saying GONE TO LUNCH BE BACK SOON. I also occasionally Texted room participants. … I used the spotlight function of Zoom to control which of the three window’s was the main one on the iPad.’

Professor Robby Ratan took the table and stand to the flip chart in discussing the notes from his breakout group. Carrie noted: ‘When Robby took notes for our breakout session; he went to Share My Screen mode, which meant I couldn’t use my computer. But I could see really well.’

Carrie joined the retreat at 6am California time, and was “at the retreat” for 7 hours.

The departmental secretary, Heather Brown, carried the portable stand and tablet downstairs and outdoors for a photo of the retreat participants. I’ll post the photo here. As Carrie describes it: ‘When Heather carried me down the stairs and out onto the lawn, there was a visceral feeling of being carried.’ You can see Professor Heeter on the tablet in the front row of the photo, but in another use of virtualization, Carrie had to Photoshop her picture onto the tablet’s screen. Nevertheless, the WiFi was quite good at the retreat center, and even out onto the grass, letting Carrie virtually participate in the photo session, even if invisible [due to the bright sun] in the photo without the touchup on Photoshop.

Photo of Retreat Participants and the Virtual Professor
Photo of Retreat Participants and the Virtual Professor

Carrie’s evaluation of the experience is also useful. She argued: ‘That it “worked” is due in part to the good will, tolerance, and helpfulness of physically present folks, and to the resolve of all of us to make it work. The iPad on the stand was much better than being on someone’s laptop. It was more like having my own place at the table and in the room.

Connecting through both the laptop and the iPad provided continuity (when the iPad turned off or needed to be recharged) as well as providing a second window on the meeting.’

Carrie concludes with a fascinating observation: ‘I was very much in people’s hands — they would raise and lower me to choose the height.’

Professor Carrie Heeter
Professor Carrie Heeter

A Plea to Moderators of the US Presidential Debates

A Plea to Moderators of the US Presidential Debates and their Media Organizations

Lessons can be learned from this year’s primary debates and applied to enhance the value of the forthcoming US Presidential Debates, beginning on September 26th, 2016. The major lessons include the following:

  1. Moderators should aim to generate a debate between the candidates, and not move towards a series of interviews with the individual candidates. This was a problem with the primary ‘debates’. Ask questions that both candidates can respond to and debate.
  1. Put the candidates in the center of the discussion. It has been said that the moderator should not be the news coming out of the debate. The best moderator will be the one who can pose questions that will engage the candidates in an exchange among themselves and not a back and forth with the moderator.

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    Kennedy and Nixon in Debate
  1. Voters depend on the debates for information about the candidates and their views on the issues. The issues are those of domestic and foreign policy, not what she said or he said about the other. By focusing on the issues, the moderators have an opportunity to make the debates more valuable to voters, and that will be the test of the quality of these debates, not how entertaining, smart, informed or combative the moderator might be. The moderators are not running for office.

CNN argued that moderation of NBC’s “Commander in Chief Forum” with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump “exposed the many weaknesses of the moderator-driven format.” Actually, all of the primary debates, including those produced by CNN, proved this point quite dramatically. So, please set up a debate between the candidates rather than moderator-driven interviews.

The public can monitor whether the media organizations and their moderators follow this advice by critically viewing the debates on September 26, October 4 (Vice Presidential Candidates), October 9, and October 19.

Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces, and Reporting Your Research

On the anniversary of 9/11, and in light of the many recent stories about completion of the 9/11 memorial for Flight 93, I was reminded about my experience in reporting research on this tragedy, when I should have probably given a warning so that members of the audience might have avoided my talk.

thepennsylvaniarambler.blogspot.com
thepennsylvaniarambler.blogspot.com

Of course, it is well known that Flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, killing all onboard, and inspired much writing and even movies about the heroic efforts of those onboard to stop the hijacking. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I was struck by the reported use of wireless communications, cell phones and in-flight phones, in this disaster, as well as at all the crash sites, such as calling their families to say “goodbye”. So much was reported that I worked with a student to collect as much publicly available information as possible about the use of wireless phones at all the crash sites during the 9/11 tragedy. Our paper was published* and is available online on SSRN.

I spoke about my study at a few conferences and events in the year following 9/11, and for the first and last time in my career, I experienced individuals leaving during my talk in tears. I hadn’t appreciated the degree that discussion of the events on 9/11 would be so upsetting to individuals who had lost friends or family or had personally experienced events on that day. Perhaps academics can distance themselves from events through their studies. Study of the events was one way I felt I could respond, as an academic.

But I am reminded of those upset by my talks in the aftermath of 9/11, well before the concept of a trigger warning or safe space was a public issue. Perhaps this is a different issue, and in every case, the circumstances are often very different, but if I were to do a talk today, in an analogous situation, I would probably make an effort to warn students, who might not want to listen. I don’t think that would be coddling, but an opportunity to avoid exposing any individual to unwanted reminders of something that could be traumatizing.

*Dutton, William. H. and Nainoa, Frank (2002), ‘Say Goodbye … Let’s Roll: The Social Dynamics of Wireless Networks on September 11th’, Prometheus, 20(3): 237-45.

 

Moving the Academic Needle at MSU: 28 New Faculty Join Communication Arts & Sciences

At a previous university, I called the university’s press officer with the exciting news that we had just hired a new chaired professor. She responded immediately, saying: “Bill. ‘University hires a new faculty member’ is not news.” Granted, that is indeed what we do.

But hiring twenty-eight to thirty new faculty – yes, 28-30, depending on whether some early hires are counted – is really news in my opinion. Certainly in my career. All are joining departments of the College of Communication Arts & Sciences at Michigan State University this Fall. This caps an incredible year of recruitment that is certain to move the College and its departments up the ranks of their respective fields.

And this is not simply a story about numbers. They are an amazingly diverse set of strong academics joining the College. I will list them below. But take just a few stellar examples of faculty joining my Department of Media and Information – major, senior faculty, who on their own terms will lift our department in stature and impact: Keith Hampton, Natascha Just, and David Ewoldsen.

Keith N. Hampton joined the Department of Media and Information from Rutgers University, where he was the Endowed Professor in Communication and Public Policy and Co-Chair of the Social Media & Society Cluster in the School of Communication and Information, and an affiliate member of the graduate faculty in the Department of Sociology. Keith received his Ph.D. and M.A. in sociology from the University of Toronto, and a B.A. in sociology from the University of Calgary. Before joining the faculty that Rutgers, he was an assistant professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and Assistant Professor of Technology, Urban and Community Sociology & Class of ’43 Chair in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From his doctoral thesis onward, he has done seminal work on the role of new communication technologies in shaping community.

Natascha Just, an economist, whose research centers on innovation-inducnatascha-just-new-verted media change, such as on changing governance structures, competition policy, market power control, algorithms and platforms in the communication sector. She will join us from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, where Mag. Dr. Natascha Just has been a Senior Research and Teaching Associate in the Division on Media Change & Innovation, Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research (IPMZ) at the University of Zurich. She holds a Ph.D. in Communication Science (2001) from the University of Vienna. She was the recipient of a three year Hertha Firnberg Grant from the Austrian National Science Fund and worked as Hertha Firnberg Scholar at the Department of Communication, University of Vienna, Austria (2005-2008). She has also held visiting appointments at a number of US institutions, including Stanford Law School (2007), the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California (2004-2005), among other appointments.

David R. Ewoldsen joins the Department of Media and Information at MSU from The Ohio State University, where he was also a Professor in the School of Communication and Department of Psychology (courtesy appoint). He was serving as the Associate Director of the School of Communication and Director of Undergraduate Studies (since 2012). David received a joint Ph.D. in psycScreen Shot 2016-08-20 at 11.24.39hology and speech communication at Indiana University in 1990. After completing his Ph.D., he was a postdoctoral fellow in the cognitive sciences program at Vanderbilt University (1990-1991). He brings several research programs with him, including a long-standing program of research on ‘attitude accessibility’, for which he is clearly among the leading researchers. His work is focused primarily on the study of attitude and behavior change in the areas of health and race.

Also from OSU’s School of Communication, but joining the College’s Department of Advertising + Public Relations, is Associate Professor Nancy Rhodes. Nancy has a background in social psychology and is focused on health behavioral researchRhodes_Nancy-Photo1-938ef04ddea1266eeefd27af016d97e1-160x160, one of the College’s strategic areas for development. For example, she was the principal investigator on a recent large-scale ($700K plus) study of communication initiatives designed to reduce risky driving behavior.

Internationally, in addition to Professor Just, in the Department of Media and Information, as noted above, take Dr Tai-Quan (Winson) Peng, who has joined the Communication Department as an Associate Professor. I have frequently cited his work with Jonathan Zhu and others in the Web MininWinson_Peng_entryg Lab at the City University of Hong Kong, as being among the most insightful uses of data analytics to document the burgeoning growth of social science research on the Internet.

But please take a look at the full list (with apologies for anyone I’ve neglected to note):

Advertising and Public Relations

Bree Holtz coming from MSU; Nancy Rhodes coming from Ohio State University; Kjerstin Thorson coming from University of Southern California; Morgan Ellithorpe coming from University of Pennsylvania; Joseph Steinhardt coming from Cornell University; plus three Professors of Practice, focused on teaching roles, Ross Chowles, Louis Schiavone, and Gregory Taucher.

Department of Communication

Ralf Schmaelzle coming from University of Pennsylvania; Allison Eden coming from MSU; and Winson Peng coming from Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Department of Journalism

Brendan Watson coming from University of Minnesota; Esther Thorson coming from University of Missouri; Rachel Mourao coming from University of Texas at Austin; and three Professors of Practice, Amy Haimerl, Michael Castellucci, and Richard Epps.

Department of Media & Information

Keith Hampton coming from Rutgers University; Natascha Just coming from University of Zurich, Switzerland; Elizabeth LaPensée coming from University of Minnesota; David Ewoldsen coming from Ohio State University; and four Professors of Practice, Jeremy Bond, John Valadez, Carleen Hsu, Ricardo Guimares.

Also, in the Quello Center, which is a center within the Department of Media and Information, our Post-Doctoral Fellow, Dr Bianca Reisdorf, has been recruited to stay at MSU as the Assistant Director of the Quello Center and an Assistant Professor in the Department. More on Professor Reisdorf and all of our faculty in due course.

So, this caps a very remarkable year for recruitment in MSU’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences. Thanks to Dean Prabu David and the leadership within the departments, the College was able to create an initiative to make a step jump in its faculty ranks. In academia, this must be one of those developments that promises to move the needle for the College and our field and in my opinion, be newsworthy!

What Meetings Should Academics Avoid?

Colleagues will tell you not to waste your time blogging, or spending too much time doing this or that, but few ever tell you not to waste your time in meetings. In fact, they ask you to come to meetings all the time, and seldom if ever advise you not to attend a meeting, however problematic the topic or the expected likelihood of a meaningful discussion. Seeing my own colleagues on the meeting treadmill, largely of their own making, I thought I should give some unsolicited advice to the blogosphere of academics who need to have some framework for deciding what meetings to avoid.

So here are my preliminary thoughts on how to think about (avoiding) meetings that are unnecessary or otherwise a waste of time for academics on the publish, have impact, and perish road to promotion. But there are also some general rules:

  1. You can always say ‘no’ to being on a committee or taking on an administrative assignment. No competent administrator who understands scholarship would fault you.
  1. Leave as much governance and administration as possible to senior faculty, who have been promoted.
  1. Teaching trumps research, when teaching loads are reasonable. Research trumps administration and administrative meetings.
  1. Good citizenship is important, but citizenship does not overcome weak teaching or research.

That said, here is a framework to help you think about what meetings you might avoid:

 

Type of Meeting
Administrative Training Networking Research
Unavoidable, unless Conflicting with Higher Priority, e.g., field research, teaching Faculty Meetings; Review with Head of Unit; Required (increasing in number) Social Events for Colleagues; Introducing Yourself or Your Work to Colleagues Presentations or Evaluations of your Work; Meet to Solve a Problem or Assign Work
Avoidable, but Go Retreats, Away Days, Meetings You Call, Meetings that could talk about you or your work Topic or Skill or Procedure you Want to Learn Coffee or tea with a colleague; Meal or drinks with 2-5 colleagues Seminars, Lectures, Roundtables, Coordination of Research Projects
Should or Must Avoid Long Faculty Meetings; Routine Meetings w/o Important Items; Large Meetings Efforts of Administrators to Save Their Time; Cover Their Backside Meeting to Impress Colleagues; Talk about Other Colleagues Top Down Efforts to Promote Collaboration

I’m sure that many will disagree with my advice, or have better ideas or frameworks, so I’d like to hear them. Meeting overload is a real problem.

Ways of Being in the Digital Age: A New ESRC Project

Delighted to be on the Advisory Board of a new ESRC Project, entitled ‘Ways of Being in a Digital Age: A Systematic Review’.

The project is led by the Institute of Cultural Capital at the University of Liverpool in collaboration with 17 other partner Universities and organizations. It is a scoping review designed to inform potential future ESRC initiatives in this area.

This scoping review will focus on how digital technology mediates our lives, and of the way technological and social change co-evolve and impact on each other. The project will undertake: a Delphi review of expert opinion; a systematic literature review; and an overall synthesis to identify gaps in current research. The project will also run a programme of events to build and extend networks among the academic community, other stakeholders and potential funding partners. The project pulls together an impressive interdisciplinary research team with experience in running digital projects with partners across the social sciences, arts and humanities, engineering, physical sciences and health, representing 16 universities from the UK, EU, USA and Singapore. The core team of co-investigators from eight UK universities will provide expertise across a range of social science, arts, engineering and science backgrounds. The team also includes a broader international steering group, of which I am a member.  th-1

Its initial plans are to focus on seven domains:

  1. Citizenship and politics
  2. Communities and identities
  3. Communication and relationships
  4. Health and wellbeing
  5. Economy and sustainability
  6. Data and representation
  7. Governance and securityth

For each domain the project will undertake:

  • A Delphi panel review of international experts’ opinions on the state of the art in digital facing social research.
  • A ‘concept mapping’ of identified literature using digital humanities tools
  • A systematic review of a sample of the literature
  • Engagement events with non-academic stakeholders from the public and private sectors
  • An assessment of the theory and methods applied in each domain

The project will also conduct a feedback questionnaire on the findings, run workshops throughout, and hold sessions at a number of international conferences. The project will conclude with a symposium to feedback the findings and to discuss the future of digital research in the social sciences.

More details on the project are available online at: http://www.esrc.ac.uk/files/funding/funding-opportunities/ways-of-being-in-a-digital-age-scoping-review-specification/  But as time passes, just search for Ways of Being in the Digital Age, as we do.