I recently listened to an interview with T. David Gordon talking about culture and how we look at it. In the interview he talked about the discipline of Media Ecology:
Media ecology looks into the matter of how media of communication affect human perception, understanding, feeling, and value; and 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 -Neil Postman
He said that when we look at a culture’s tools, we have to ask ourselves two questions, first what do the tools do for the culture and second what do they do to the culture? To explain what he meant he used the illustration of a nomadic hunter/gatherer culture. If you drop a plow into said culture and ask those two questions here is what you get. What this tool does FOR that particular culture is it allows the people to farm, grow produce for food. What this tool does TO that particular culture is that it makes them be no longer a nomadic culture. They get stuck in one place and become agrarian.
That being said, it got me thinking (I’ve contemplated the idea of Media Ecology ever since college and reading Postman for Communications 101), what do our tools today do TO us? It’s quite easy to come up with things our technological tools do for us. We can keep in closer (and constant) touch with people who are thousands of miles away or who we haven’t see for decades. We can share information we want a larger audience to know on an immediate and global scale. In my line of work it provides us with mobility, we no longer HAVE to be back at the station to get our video, scripts, emails or the like. Everything is at our fingertips at a moment’s notice. For some, especially on sites like YouTube, it provides a venue to get out their message and to become virtual celebrities. Technology has made our communication in these days, as I recently heard someone say, instant, constant, global and permanent. So those are some of the things these tools do FOR us, now on to the second question.
Some of the things that I feel our technological tools do to us are the following:
1) Positively, they force us to think more globally. Our communications are out there for the world to see. We are in conversations with people all around the world. We are forced to see in and to think of things in a more globally minded way (though not all are very good at this). It forces us to give everyone a voice to speak his or her ideas often times in response to our own ideas.
2) Negatively, they make our communication superficial. Great conversations cannot be carried out in 140 characters or less. The types of information we give out or respond to are short quips of wisdom at best, random irrelevance at its worst. To borrow an illustration from Postman, the Lincoln/Douglas debates that would last 3 hours and then resume for three more hours after a short break. This format of political dialog would not fit into the communication technology of our day. Conversation under our technological age consist of short quips with limited number of characters (as in Twitter) or at times longer one or two page expositions (as seen in the longer format of someone’s blog) but none the less, the electronic conversations get nowhere close to a 3 hour debate of the issues.
3) Positively, they do make us more mobile (that can be a negative I guess if you like to stay put). As we move around the world we are forced to be in touch with those with whom we must stay in contact with. Every one is a mere phone call, IM, or text message away. We’ve even coined a new term “telecommuting” working from home, allowing us to do that which is required of us without wasting time driving or using up gas etc.
4) Negatively, they take away any sense of privacy. All information is out there and accessible for all to see and judge. This both feeds our insecurities and our sense of pride, wanting all to look at what we are doing an approve.
So what effects do these technological tools of our day have on us and our culture and society? Negatives and positives, we are living in this world of instant technology and instant communication and none of that is going to change any time soon. Like the quote earlier said communication is instant, constant, global and permanent. My suggestion is that you think real hard before pressing that send button!