The power of media to distribute information to a wide audience makes “stealing” media an effective method of disrupting or redirecting information flows. The Media Psychology Research Center homepage was hijacked yesterday by a Gaza protest group. (Thanks, Larry, for the heads up!) I have included a thumbnail of the intruding page below. The page, as you can see, is an angry display of outrage with photographs of people, mostly children, ripped apart (literally) by bombs and artillery attacks. The frustration and anger in the page was palpable even if the graphic display was rudimentary (i.e. no graphic design team had been hired to assemble the message.) At the same time, about half-way down the protest page was a small message: “Don’t worry. Nothing of your files deleted.” I found that kind of charming amidst all the chaos. Once I had overcome my panic given my lack of technical expertise in solving such problems and found a solution to restoring our files, I found myself quite empathetic to the need to share this expression of pain. Somehow the small bit of consideration for the hijackee (me) made me able to think about the content of their message. There is a lesson in that–it’s easier to hear if you feel heard. And it is, of course, always devastating to see children killed so brutally no matter whose side you’re on.
I know the Palestinian-Israeli issue is a complicated one. While I know something of the history of the region, and perhaps have a little objectivity as someone who is neither Jewish nor Muslim, I cannot come close to understanding the deep emotions and identities that drive the conflict. I do try, however, to learn as much as I can about both sides. As bystanders, the same power of media that makes hijacking websites an effective dissemination tool, also gives the rest of us the ability to learn more about the nuances of the conflict if we are willing to look and learn. That, of course, is the key: caring enough to learn. My recent research on the American view of China conducted around the Olympics showed overwhelmingly (and sadly) that most Americans just don’t care much about or give much thought to people outside our country. They believe what they believe and media only changes their opinion when it creates a personal reason to do so. That personal reason is usually fear or desire, since little else on media triggers our emotions so quickly and effectively. Just ask Madison Avenue.
My research also showed that what does allow people to have the mental flexibility to change their views was travel–experiencing places and people first hand. A hopeful finding is that experience trumps media. I know the lizard brain doesn’t always discriminate between virtual and real, but real experience triggers multiple sensory perceptions that code higher cognitions with emotional experience. Fortunately we have 3 layers of cognition (often called lizard, dog, and human), so we don’t have to rely just on the limbic system. Unfortunately, memories in the neo-cortex can degrade in a way that emotional experience does not.
One of our goals at MPRC, and one of my goal personally, is to figure out how to use media to provide some connection between peoples and cultures that counteracts the short-term “watch me” incentives of most media distribution channels. I realize that media isn’t the same as personal experience, but maybe we can make positive placeholders in people’s minds until we can get them on an airplane. With the increased cost and aggravation of travel due to security issues and the zeitgeist of fear, the possibility of Americans getting a more global view decreases, not increases. In my mind, this makes the positive use of media all the more important.
[Tech Notes about the Hijacking Solution: I found that two new files had been added to our public_html folder on the server. One was called "index.html" and one was a proxy ftp folder. Our home page file had been altered with an underscore so it didn't load first ("_index.html"). Deleting the intruding files and restoring the name on our index file was all it took, thankfully. We use Joomla! for our website, so I am now upgrading to the most recent version hoping that will provide increased security. Our hosting site, Lunar Pages, says that an intruder would have been unable to access our files through their system given their server security. If you use Joomla! you may want to check your version. If you have other insights or advice on this, I'd love to hear. My technical expertise is not in web programming.]