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Wednesday, 24 January 2007


Robert K. Blechman

Thanks for posting this reference to John Naughton's reference to media ecology. I notice that The Guardian dates this article as published last March, but I hadn't seen it.

I like that fact that Neil Postman's notion of media ecology is getting some coverage, but I think Naughton missing the fundamental idea behind Media Ecology. Naughton's article seems to focus on the content of the media, or the particular business model that a medium supports. As I understand Postman, the idea of a "media environment" is not meant only to evoke a Darwinian competition among species of media. Media come and go, although, as Marshall McLuhan pointed out, older media can exist quite nicely along with new media, if they adapt. For example, in order to accommodate television, radio in the 1950's changed from a primary source of entertainment and news to a provider of background music. Furthermore, sometimes this is beneficial to a medium. There is a good case to be made that we never would have had FM radio without the competitive pressure of TV. And perhaps "movies" would never have evolved into "cinema."

Postman's more important idea as presented in the term "media ecology" is a play on the word "medium." In biology, a medium is an environment within which a culture can grow. In a similar manner, a communication medium fosters the growth of a certain type of human culture, favoring some individuals, neglecting others; promoting certain beliefs and assumptions and obsolescing others; changing the way we use the combination of our senses to interpret all the messages.

A medium is not just the box that we plug into a wall or the printed matter we hold in our hands. It encompasses the entire infrastructure to support the medium, including the choices and compromises a society makes to use the medium. Printing fostered individualism, the Protestant Reformation and nationalism, but it would not have happened without an infrastructure of paper and ink manufacture and the development of a distribution network, nor could it have succeeded without a vast education system designed to promote literacy.

Still, it is nice that Postman's "media ecology" is finally getting its due.

I invite you to visit my own blog, "A Model Media Ecologist" at www.robertkblechman.blogspot.com, where I regularly discuss these issues.

-Bob Blechman

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