What the heck is this Ecology stuff about?

Media Ecology is the main focus of this week’s lectures and readings and admittedly it’s been a very confusing experience. I’ve found that all of these authors are throwing definitions and terms into the air and getting my head around them has been something of a challenge. It was nice to see then an excerpt from Neil Postman (LINK) that acted as a key to unlocking what the whole point of media ecology actually is: “the study of media as environments”. Many authors have come to this same conclusion of media being considered an environment of interrelations involving but not limited to “rhythms, codes, politics, capacities, predispositions and drives” (Fuller, P.2). These environmental interrelations are constantly informing and influencing each other, perhaps especially so, in the intangibility of the digital age. During this process we’re seeing the development of culture through the creation of new relationships and meanings across what is now predominantly a digital landscape. Interestingly, Matthew Fuller suggests that this is why the word ecology is explicitly used to describe the phenomena, because it is the only word with a history and association with dynamic interrelations on a major scale (an ecology brings to mind something big after all).

Felix Guattari wrote some really interesting stuff on ecologies of media. Impressively he died before the web was even created so his response and theories were based mostly upon the traditional media of print, radio and television. Guattari speaks of an “ecologically informed variant of anarchism” where goals are negotiated as a collective rather than decided by the richest or the one with the most influence (LINK). Guattari was apparently very critical of television for this reason, it is a one way platform controlled by the content creators and gatekeepers of information. The evolved ecological landscape that the internet has brought about is really exciting for just the reason exactly it has the potential to avoid many of the gatekeepers of content and information. One area that really interests me in regards to this is piracy and the accessibility of film content. There was a time you had to wait for TV to air the movie you want to see, now bootlegging ‘thieves’ are sharing the films online while they’re still in cinemas. It’s seen this whole political movement open up online about access to content, with a lot of young people pining for copy-protection free media to do as they like, whenever they like with their video content rather than have their habits dictated by ‘the man’.

Now to change topics a little I just want to mention Bateson who talks a bit about the metacommunicative qualities of language and communication practices. Milberry writes about how “symbol systems and technologies…play an integral role in how we create and understand reality” a fact which Bateson’s writing expands upon by adding a bit of depth. “A message of whatever kind” he says “does not consist of those objects it denotes” (P.180). I felt like this is something we’re already aware of but it was interesting to sort of start thinking about explicitly. The phrase ’words are to objects as a map is to territory’ (Bateson’s words not mine) really help to start breaking down what it is to create meaning, especially in an increasingly immediate and digital age. The main thing however is that i feel like i’ve started to get my head around this whole ecology thing. Who knew writing all this stuff down and talking about it would help make sense of the whole thing? Learning in action folks.


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