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Rapid progress in social media shocks 

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We all know that social networks and Internet have changed the way we communicate and interact with each other, but do you ever stop for a moment and wonder what is the meaning behind? For professor Lawrence Mullen, that is his job. With a Ph.D. from University of Iowa, Mullen is an expert in visual communications and social media. Mullen talked to The Rebel Yell his job and social media.

The Rebel Yell: What classes do you teach here at UNLV?

Lawrence Mullen: My primary focus is on old-fashioned communications and visual literacy, so I have two classes that I teach in that area. I’m also teaching a couple of classes about new media. Right now I’m teaching introductory-level class on social media so we look at things topically. One week we’ll look at Facebook and Twitter, and another week we’ll look at different social media just to introduce students all the different media. I teach an upper-level class about the virtual world of games and we get more interacting, like designing a game so the students learn how to use a gaming engine and how to create a virtual world from scratch. I teach graduate level classes and social methodologies, media methodologies and how to study the media.

RY: How did you become interested in social media and visual communications?

LM: I think any media professor should be interested in social media in some level. It’s where all the students are at, it’s where the communication or information revolution is at and my interest starts from my general interest in media sociology and just a general curiosity of what’s happening in the media.

RY: What are some of your areas of interest?

LM: Another of my areas of interest was sense of community in the online world. Why people get together in these virtual places, how they get together and what it looks like and what brings them together. So looking at it from the visual point of view to discover what brings people together, those are some of my areas of interest that I write about.

RY: Tell me about your book “Las Vegas Media and Myth.”

LM: I wrote that several years ago, again, I was interested in the idea of how the media influence the sense of community, especially in a place like Las Vegas. I hypothesized that the media were the only thing that really created a sense of community here because this place is so transient. So what I did was, instead of writing it from my perspective, I interviewed people in the media, reporters, directors and I had some people with political positions. I did over 100 interviews, and narrowed it down to about 40 interviews so it’s all about the media and how it influences the community.

RY: What was the inspiration behind your book?

LM: I had lived in a place for five years and my neighbors moved every year and I never get to know them. This made me realize the only way to really get to know your community is through the media.

RY: Media have changed a lot in the past years. Did you ever suspect it would evolve as much as it did?

LM: I’m not sure I ever did. I’m always kind of surprised sort of the creativity and the idea that people come up with. I’m just kind of an explorer myself. I have never been big on predicting what might happen, but I always find it fascinating what people are doing and developing. But I think anybody could predict it five years ago that a thing like Facebook would be so huge.

RY: What are some of the changes that had surprised you the most?

LM: I’m not sure what the most surprising thing is, but I’ll tell you the things I find most delightful and interesting. There is like this interesting push-and-pull between high definition and low definition imagery. People want the imagery in social media to look more real, but then there is another side that pushes the other way that wants things to look less real and more fantasy-like. Most of them aren’t high definition, but we accept it and we like it and we watch it and millions and millions of people watch it, even though it’s not high definition. On the other side everybody sort of wants high definition imagery and the clarity and really perfect images that look real and sort of a push forward three dimensionality. The push-and-pull between fantasy imagery and low-grade and high-grade realistic imagery is kind of [an] interesting struggle for me as a research instructor.

RY: Now that our society depends on social media more than ever, how do you think that affect us?

LM: I think that media has always affected us and there are lots of indicators of how social media affect us. It puts everybody into this concept of multitasking, but there is no research that supports the idea of multitasking. It’s almost like a myth and what multitasking seems to have done, [it]seems to have created almost a generation of people who want things in short, little bits of information. It’s difficult to get the students in [an] instant to have a lengthy paper that is able to strengthen idea along to the very end. That’s how in one way in which I think social media today have affected people.

RY: In what good ways have media affected us?

LM: Of course there are lots of other ways; in how people interact, how we are able to reach across borders and connect with family, find long-lost friends and relatives. There’s no hiding atrocity now. You see things that happen in the Middle East that people can tweet or go on Facebook and reach out so dictators can’t hide the things that they do anymore. People have cellphones and stuff they can take pictures with. They can give breaking news where big news agencies can’t get into so there’s a lot of interesting things that are happening because, social media are changing. I think it’s changing the world in a lot of different ways, both positive and negative.

RY: With everything being accessible through the internet and with the popularity of the e-book do you think newspapers and books will be completely in digital form?

LM: No, I think old media will always be around in one form or another. There would always be somebody who wants to have a newspaper the feel, the smell, the look of the newspaper. There [will] always be newspapers, one form or another. Maybe it won’t be delivered to your home as often, if at all, but it will be there. Magazines  and books: They will transform, they will have digital forms but I don’t think the old-fashioned books are going away. People just like it. There are things you can do with an old-fashioned book that you can’t do with digital forms.

RY: Where do you think we are going with the social media?

LM: I like to think what’s happening now, I’m kind of a ‘now’ person … I see things to continue to break apart, even though we see things kind of like concentrations of media and the business incorporate and I see some of that possibly crumbling away in the future. I hope it happens I would like to see a greater kind of diversity in thought and dissemination of messages so forth.

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