Saturday, October 13, 2007

Dr. Bugeja and selling through media

Earlier this week I heard a talk by Dr. Michael Bugeja director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, and author of Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age. In his talk he railed against the use of technology, and commented that it only has two purposes: surveillance, and selling. I found this quote of his at Understand Media: The over-mediated world: technology creates its own value system

The key is to nurture interpersonal intelligence. That’s the ability to know when, where, and for what purpose technology is appropriate or inappropriate. I have been advocating that institutions such as high schools, but especially in higher education, focus on that topic for their incoming students and deprogram them from the agenda of media-marketers…. I don’t believe this is a problem of the emerging generation. I think this is a problem of the profiteers of new media. I believe the solution is, as it’s always been in this country, education and information.

I was looking around a bit at the Web site of the Greenlee School and taking note of the courses they offer. I noticed a lot of courses devoted exclusively to the topic of advertising and public relations. These courses accounted for twenty-nine percent of the curriculum. Hmmmm?

I'll have some upcoming comments regarding the copyrighting of textbooks, and then requiring your students to purchase them. I'm always excited at the prospect of faculty profiteering from their students. Hmmmmm again?

One last pet-peeve of mine is the use of publicly funded resources for personal gain. There are ninety-seven mentions of Dr. Bugeja's book on the Iowa State Web site, and the University has written no less than eight press releases promoting the book. Are these news writers not paid for by the taxpayer?


Greg said...

Seems to me his outraged and exaggerated view completely obstructs the truth in his message.

There's plenty of research to support much of what he suggests, even if he is being a jerk (and unethical) about it. There's a healthy middleground which says turning off the electronics and nurturing real relationships is not a bad thing.

For one example, see

Kevin Gamble said...

His message feels comfortable. We all long for a simpler time.

Michael Bugeja said...

Thanks for mentioning my research. The quote that you selected as a citation fairly represents my viewpoint.

There is an implication that the publicity about Interpersonal Divide somehow is unethical, and that concerns me greatly, in as much as I am a media ethicist. I also am a journalist, and I prefer facts. Here are a few:

1. Iowa State University is a landgrant university. As such, researchers are expected to give speeches to organizations and otherwise interact with groups when summoned. Perhaps the speech you attended was the most recent one I have to ISU Extension. Honoraria for such excursions usually are boxed lunches, such as I received earlier this month at this event. Sometimes I do get honoaria for outside consulting on ethics codes and the like, but I take vacation days for them and do most in the summer. (For instance, I was a scholar in residence in 2005 in another state). Also, if the organization is large enough, I might suggest a donation to our student scholarship fund, as I did with the ISU Veterinary Medicine Alumni Association. In sum, I give far more many free speeches and scholarship-based ones than I ever do on my own time consulting with universities on ethics codes or journalism associations on the state of the news media.

2. My book Interpersonal Divide was researched between 1999-2004 and predicted the culture that we now have before it arrived. That's why it is cited by most major media around the world. Iowa State University is a research institution; thus, it makes public research that has been dubbed noteworthy, as a message to taxpayers that its employees are making an impact on society, especially since our official name is Iowa State University of Science and Technology. The publicity results in more presentations, which I enjoy because I can interact with people face to face rather than what I am doing now, via Internet.

3. I don't teach, so I don't assign my books to classes, although my books have been used at Iowa State. Although Interpersonal Divide is one of the most cited books in the Oxford Univ. Press line, it has sold fewer than 1000 copies. I believe, when returns were counted, it sold 6 copies between January and July 2007. That's because the work introduces a new theory--interpersonal divide--and is a research book rather than a textbook. In other words, you can find it in libraries but not typically in the classroom.

More on text books: My How-To News Writer, which you might read--just send me an address to my email account, and I will send you a free copy--is sold to students throughout Iowa and the country. I donate all my royalties--which amount to $7 per book because the Iowa Newspaper Association published it--to our First Amendment Fund. So far I have not raised $25,000 through donated royalties, but when we do reach that figure, we can endow the account and then give students scholarships, about $1,000 per year. I would appreciate it if you would review the How-To News Writer on High Touch because it is for a worthy cause, explaining the basics of fact-based journalism while benefiting students.

Finally, it's up to your viewers to discern whether I'm a jerk for questioning why six media companies--Time Warner, Viacom, Bertelsmann, News Corporation, Disney and General Electric--have been allowed to dominate the news because of technology (as well as four new media companies--AOL, Google, Yahoo and MSN--which account for about 50% of the online ad revenue). I may be misguided as well for associating the student loan scandal with the typical digital gadgets that keep amassing student debt through iPods, cell phones and laptops, all of which take credit cards sponsored by banks making deals with alumni and other university-based associations; but I point this out because I care about students and want them to be able to explicate the motive of the interface or application so as to make an independent decision on use rather than a spontaneous purchase online.

However others may label me for my questions about technology, either accurate or inaccurate, I accept that, because we have the First Amendment, which I am using now to partially correct the record of your post--appreciating that you chose an excerpt that accurately voices my chief concern.