Thinking about the literature graveyard

http://nyti.ms/fxioH4There is great article in the NYTimes this morning about a conference on thinking–or more appropriately, on patterns of thought that may obscure or illuminate our understanding of our world. The Einstellung Effect, for example, addresses how we try to solve today’s problems by using yesterday’s solutions “instead of looking at each situation on it’s own terms.”. Although I didn’t know it by name, this effect is one that I have been talking about for years.Here’s the problem: Everything around us is changing at a furious pace. Many local media have gone out of business, merged, or just set up a mini-versions of themselves on the Internet. Books and music stores are closing, because people now download books and music from the Internet. News is now carried by social media. Some of us are so attached to our iPads that we fall asleep with them balanced precariously on our stomachs. As communication scholars, we try to explain these and other changes as a way of predicting what is yet to come. But our reliance on The Literature Graveyard as a starting point for every study, for every article and book is getting in our way — the Einstellung Effect has struck. The mass communication literature graveyard is about as old as I am. Not so old when compared to anthropology or sociology. Young, when compared to psychology. About the same age as television. The media world is on the cusp of even a bigger change than we have yet seen. Can we hope to understand the importance of these changes –of continual change — by beginning with studies conducted when we had only 3 television channels in the US? in some cases yes, in many others no. Today, our literature is more graveyard than a bustling center of ideas. We’ve been teaching our students to do research in a way that guarantees we are unable to understand the change around us. If we don’t tell our students to rely more on their understanding of today’s world than on a graveyard of mouldering ideas, then we might as well go out of business.

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