Media ecologies


Word: Metacommunication

The term ‘media ecology’, dubbed by McLuhan in 1964 and introduced by Postman in 1968, is the idea that technology not only influences but dictates how humans perceive and understand their reality. Simply speaking, and purely on an environmental front, the notion of ecology does not consider organisms independent of fellow organisms but within the landscape in which they survive. Similarly, when noting the idea of ‘media ecology’, the three following ecologies also come into play: that of the individual (mind), the society and the environment in which the technology performs.  

Previously, technology was not viewed in conjunction with the context in which it was adopted. Rather, it was argued that there was a clear disjuncture between nature and technology and, in relation to the ecology of the mind (individual), an insignificant relation between what was thought and what was expressed through media. However, with the growing acknowledgement among academics including Steigler that human life is increasingly becoming dependent upon non-human life (that is, technology), many began to wonder to what degree our thoughts were purely ours and not influenced by external forces through media technology. This suspicion, I believe, was and still is warranted as our environment undoubtedly positions those involved by determining what we are exposed to and how we come to view said events. Furthermore, it dictates our behaviour through established norms such as those existing in the classroom or work environment. To this effect, the idea of media ecologies has a tendency of following suit with McLuhan’s understanding of technological determinism as it is centred on media’s rather than society’s influence on society and human perception.  

While acknowledging the valuable contribution made by advocates of ‘media ecology’, one element of this theory struck me as inconsistent and self-defeating. Despite asserting the fact that ‘media ecology’ works to arrange various media so as to avoid the undermining of other technologies (e.g. radio assisting in literacy vs. television contributing to teaching language) the reality provides a very different picture. In fact, non-networked and independent media technologies are losing to networked technologies including the smart phone and as such, are being undermined through the ever-increasing and ever-changing nature of media.

Still, it must be noted that with Guattari not having lived through the technological developments that have ultimately brought the downfall of non-networked technologies, the theory of ‘media ecology’ was shaped within a very different media environment than we are currently experiencing in the 21st century. Thus, it could be argued that had he lived to see these advances, Guattari’s theory would have been more open to the co-existence of networked and non-networked devices.