On Flex Points and Endings: How Do We Easily Explain Media Growth and Development? Reply


I have spent the last few hours pondering Shel Israel's use of the Kubler-Ross Model to explain how social media has reached a "flex point."  Most uses of a "stage" metaphor offer a tidy textbook model explaining some part of the world around us.  Stage models are simple, clear, and easy to adapt into our interpretation of experience.  The street value of such tools can be quite high as they help people make sense of the world, choose, and operate at a reasonably efficient level.  I must admit Shel has opened my eyes to an application of this research which I most likely never would have considered.  But having thought about this for a while and done some additional reading, I am also struggling to see how the Kubler-Ross framework helps us understand media.  I hope I have not missed something here.

Flex Points and Endings

"It seems to me that social media is at the very end of it's beginning phase. It goes back at least a decade, but when it comes to business, the action really started in late 2005.

Since then it has been a messy, noisy, distracting and disruptive period of relentless growth and adoption. Nearly every institution has been changed by social media. Social media has sped across the first four phases of the Kuber-Ross Model and has now pretty much entered into acceptance."

The Kubler-Ross model explains what textbook authors have abstracted into a stage-model of death.  When we realize that we are dying–or experiences some traumatic event such as the death of a child or loss of our home (e.g., fire)–the argument claims that we proceed through a series of psychological stages.  A common example of the stage model would be the twelve steps we proceed through as we recover from alcoholism.

My personal sense is Kubler-Ross is, by a measurable degree, not the right model for explaining social media's evolution.  We seem to be mixing up "beginning phases," flex points, and endings in a rather messy way.  Kubler-Ross explains what we go through as we approach the end; I don't see social media's current place in social history as an ending point.  Explicitly Shel describes a "beginning phase," so the choice of this model seems somewhat more disjointed to me.

  • What is ending?  Traditional media is still around, we continue to use email and snail mail, and there are millions upon millions of people living on what I personally consider to be the disadvantaged side of the digital divide.  These people live today just as they lived yesterday.  From the outset, the choice of a stage model describing endings appears out of alignment with the world that I live in and observe.
  • Stage models are reliable?  Without dragging you through the academic mud, let's just say that most scholars who produce stage models openly admit they are generalizations to which real life does not neatly conform.   
  • Original Intent?  I believe the book offered insights on how the medical profession could better respond to dying patients and their families, and was not ever offered as a stage model in the sense that we report her research today.

Perhaps Israel's use of the "flex point" metaphor is more fitting to our media discussions?

Plenty of Research is Available on Diffusion of Innovation

We are not the first to ask how new technologies get adopted, diffused, and ultimately change societies.  If you want to focus on technology's spread, then the classic work is Everett M. Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations.  Some would argue that his modernist approach is too old school and deterministic, so other options are available which might seem more suitable than models of death and dying.  Last year I had the opportunity to participate in a large research study for APEC which examined SME internationalization.  The descriptions of how SME grow and internationalization immediately strikes me as a potential opportunity to understand how people adopt and use media instrumentally.  If you want to look at interactions within a network, then a third option would be to look at systems theory to see how anything–emotions, ideas, or products–moves through a network.  This approach seems especially inviting to me since it opens up an opportunity to compare and contrast centralized and decentralized networks.  I have not yet read Clay Shirky's latest book, but I am curious what economic thinking might add to the discussion. And if all we want is to explain the ongoing change, Kotter's research seems well tested.

For those who want a fun read on technology and world change, consider reading Guns, Germs and Steel

Right now I am thinking there might be better options for understanding the media changes around us. 

Just An Academic Footnote

Considering all that is happening in the world, adopting or rejecting the use of Kubler-Ross probably does not merit even a footnote in the larger discussion.  As I seek my own explanations of Digital Media Across Asia (and SNCR), really what I seek is my own description of media development which offers something of of operational value to either public or private sectors organizations.  So as I think about the Kubler-Ross model, I just don't see how it helps us better understand media or strategize. 

I read Shel (and I might be wrong) as looking for a simple model which explains how this beginning is coming to an end, thus the flex point.  Is there a better way of capturing this transition?  I would appreciate any feedback if I have overlooked something.    

P.S.  Go Argentina!  Ole Ole Ole…Ole Ole Ole Ola

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