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“Ecologies”—Media Ecologies/Other “Ecologies”

Media Ecologies, Social Ecologies, Other “Ecologies”—What are “media”, “communications”, “interaction”, etc? How do our various concepts of these match up with what really happens?

The study of Media Ecologies, which Strate (1999) defines as “the study of media environments, the idea that technology and techniques, modes of information and codes of communication play a leading role in human affairs“, is not without it’s differences in how it is approached.

Marshall McLuhan’s understanding of media ecologies reflects his technological determinist view, in that “technology is the agent of social change” (Murphie & Potts, 2003) and that “the medium is the message”. It creates the views that:

  • Media infuse every act and action in society.
  • Media fix our perceptions and organize our experiences.
  • Media tie the world togehter.
  • ‘Ecologies’ refer to the enivironments, the social systems affected by media. (Wikimedia, 2012)

Media certainly ties the world together, and instigates social and cultural change in society, especially if we look at history in terms of the three inventions that transformed the world – the alphabet, the printing press, and the telegraph. We can see when observing history through categorical eras such as the Tribal, Literary, Print, Electronic, and now Digital ages, social and cultural practices were transformed immensely by the affordances the inventions created.

Yet, there is also the need to reflect the Cultural Materialism viewpoint, which expresses that (as I wrote in my previous post) Technology, on its own, cannot enact social or cultural change, and that social characteristics such as economics, politics, elites in power, and culture play a heavy role in how these new forms of media are implemented, adapted, and if at all used.

 As such, Neil Postman’s understanding of Media Ecologies, adapted from McLuhan’s work, provides a view that acknowledges the impact society has on media technologies, and thus, media ecologies.

“Media ecology looks into the matter of how media of communication affects human perception, understanding, feeling, and value, as well as how our interaction with media facilitates or impedes our chances of survival. The word ecology implies the study of environments: their structure, content, and impact on people” (Postman 1970)

As such, an understanding of ecologies as a society, a network, a connection of and between people and the environment, and different political, cultural and social ideologies, Postman’s understanding reflects a more interactive connection between the impacts media have on society and cultural change, and vice versa.

Journalism As A Media Ecosystem

It is through Postman’s understanding of Media Ecologies, where the media itself is not just an instrument, but an environment, that Journalism can be understood as a media ecosystem.Transformations in media in the last several decades have altered the current news-media landscape into one characterised by a multi-directional network of flows to and from producers and consumers, and one where media organisations begin to target a more active audience as opposed to a passive audience.

Journalist, author, and lecturer of Communications and Media Studies at the University of Western Sydney Milissa Deitz’s explains the Journalism as a media ecology:

“[Is] a phenomenon in which journalism is a joint project between journalists, non-journalists, accidental journalists, bloggers, politicians, celebrities, and the general public” (Deitz, 2010)

The Guardian’s most recent advertisement for their Open-Journalism explores how the story of the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf would be understood and reported in modern society. It highlights how journalism is a joint project between the organisations and the public through multimedia use and interactivity. What it explores is an important issue in Journalism (and how the media ecology operates) – truth and accuracy in what is reported.

Journalism has transformed into a practice and medium that is no longer primarily built on journalists and news organisations disseminating information and setting the agenda, but one that is more open, interactive and convergent (in terms of multimedia use). Essentially, it is not just the medium that influences changes, but society and individuals decide how media technology evokes change. As Deitz (2010 suggests:

“…the contemporary media landscape is questioning and continuing to question the conventional frameworks for analysing and reporting on culture, politics and society” (Deitz, 2010)

The media ecology that is Journalism is one where not only those affected by the media constitute the ecology, or the environment, but the media is the environment as well. The video shows people not just accepting newspaper headlines such as ‘Big Bad Wolf Boiled Alive’, or broadcast reports entitled ‘Three Little Pigs Arrested for Wolf Murder’ which presents one perspective, but audiences are interacting via Twitter, questioning whether killing an intruder is ever justified, and revealing information such as the wolf having Asthma. This demonstrates the multi-directional relationship being achieved in the Digital Age, and how journalism is evolving as a media ecology that focuses on the revelation of truth in news reporting. It’s an assemblage that functions both socially and mechanically.

References

Deitz, Milissa (2010) ‘The New Media Ecology’, On Line Opinion: Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate <http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=11410&page=1>

The Guardian 2012, ‘Guardian Open Journalism – Three Little Pigs Advert’, Youtube, published 29 Feb 2012, <http://youtu.be/vDGrfhJH1P4>

Media Ecology Association 2009, ‘What is Media Ecology?’, last accessed 10 March 2012’ <http://www.media-ecology.org/media_ecology/>

–  Postman,N, 1970, “The Reformed English Curriculum.” in A.C. Eurich, ed., High School 1980: The Shape of the Future in American Secondary   Education, as posted on Media Ecology Association 2009, ‘What is Media Ecology?’, last accessed 10 March 2012’ <http://www.media-ecology.org/media_ecology/>

– Strate, L, “Understanding MEA,” In Medias Res 1 (1), Fall 1999, as posted on Media Ecology Association 2009, ‘What is Media Ecology?’, last accessed 10 March 2012’ <http://www.media-ecology.org/media_ecology/>

Thussu, D K, 2006, ‘Contraflow in Global Media’ in International Communication: Continuity and Change (2nd Edition), London, Hodder Education, pgs 167-193

Wikimedia 2012,  ‘Media Ecology’, Wikipedia last updated 5 March 2012, last accessed 10 March 2012  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_ecology>

 

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Media Change/Cultural and Social Change – Foundations, Thinkers, Ideas

What Is The Catalyst For Changes & Transformation In Media, Culture & Society? Is It Socio-Cultural Factors, Or New Technology?

When people ask the questions, “Why is print media dying?” or,  “Why do people prefer to read their newspaper through an iPad app?”, the common answer is: “Because everything is online”. But the real questions we should be asking are: “Why Is Everything Online”? and “Who or What Determined That Print Must Die, and Digital Must Reign”?

The same thoughts can be applied to the use of Twitter, which has now become a present day journalists ‘must-need’ tool. “Why must we communicate in 140 characters or less?” Is it because the development of the technology has determined that everyone should communicate in short form, using a mix of hyperlinks, mentions and hashtags? Is it because society needed a tool to successfully communicate in 140 characters or less?

Questions such as these have been asked and analysed by many theorists about media and cultural changes throughout the last few centuries. While the answers to questions like this can be complex, there are two ways we can aim to develop an understanding and our own critical thought.

Technological Determinism

Technological Determinism advances the argument that “technology is the agent of social change” (Murphie & Potts, 2003). The theory is built on the notion that “a successful technical innovation, if implemented on a sufficiently wide scale, will generate a new type of society” through its own power and autonomy (Murphie & Potts, 2003).

Marshall McLuhan further extends this understanding through his proposal that ‘the medium is the message’. As Murphie and Potts (2003) explain, “McLuhan argues that the cultural significance of media lies not in their content, but in the way they alter our perception of the world”.

To use my own example, the introduction of digital and online media such as websites, apps and Twitter has transformed 21st century society into one dependant on instantaneous information. As such, print journalism begins to become redundant as newspaper websites can update information almost instantaneously, and this goes with television and radio broadcasts, whilst print news only becomes available once the paper is printed and distributed. Newspapers are now seen as primary for ‘analysis’ of news stories as a result.

The introduction of journalists has transformed the profession into one that requires one to apt in most, if not all cross-media forms. A “convergent” journalist must be able to film video, take photos, interview, produce audio content, and write for print, online & broadcast. As such,Twitter has transformed the industry and the expectations of journalists as they must now know how to tweet all their information to get the story out first.

Cultural Materialism

In the book Tragedy of Technology, Stephen Hill wrote that:

“Technological Change…is not, by itself, productive of social change. Instead, the direction of change is a product of the particular alignment between the technological possibilities and the society and culture that exists”.

The notion of Cultural Materialism expresses that Technology, on its own, cannot enact social or cultural change, and that social characteristics such as economics, politics, elites in power, and culture play a heavy role in how these new forms of media are implemented, adapted, and if at all used.

For example, Media Ownership gives elites the power to disseminate their political views and opinions through their programming and print media. Rupert Murdoch’s decision to implement paywalls in front of his online newspaper content challenges the widespread notion of the sharing content online, and now impacts the way digital media must work and develop to meet this need.

Essentially, technologies come about because there is a cultural or social need for them.

Summary & Thoughts

In understanding how changes in media, culture and society arise, a multi-directional ‘Cause & Effect’ relationship emerges, as media impacts society and culture, and vice versa.

It is from within the needs and wants of the social and the cultural that new media technologies emerge. While these new media forms are imperative in how they change cultural and social media practices and how they evolve the media industry, be it in the print, digital, broadcast, public relations and other sectors, the impact and effect of a new media form remains heavily dependant on how we use these technologies.

People do not solely follow the Hypodermic Model/Media Effects where they consume everything, but they are active, choose what they use media for (hence, Uses & Gratifications theory).

If media forms are used by people in different  or additional ways to what they were initially made for, technologies are not neutral,  transformable; adaptable to social and cultural desires. Simultaneously, while being subject to change, they themselves are agents of change.

References

Bauwens, Michel (2009) ‘The Internet as Playground and Factory’ <http://vimeo.com/7919113>

Jeffries, Stuart (2011) ‘Friedrich Kittler and the rise of the machine’, The Guardian, December 28, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/28/friedrich-kittler-rise-of-the-machine>

Miller, W, (2008) ‘Non Sequitur’ <http://www.gocomics.com/nonsequitur/2008/05/09/>

Murphie, A & Potts, J (2003) ‘Theoretical Frameworks’ in Culture and Technology London: Palgrave Macmillan: 11-38

 

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