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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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