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Media ecology is a multidisciplinary field that studies the evolution, effects, and forms of environments with a focus on both media as environments and environments as media. Scholars work within expansive definitions of media, ecology, and technology, drawing on systems theory to analyze the co-evolution of the human organism and technologies.
Media ecology as a field distinguishes itself from communication per se, positing an open, dynamic, interdependent, and living system of forces. When studying human communication systems, media ecologists work from an inclusive perspective, exploring the creation, exchange, mediation, and dissemination of information, as well as the reciprocally influential relationship among means/content of communication and communicators/users. Neil Postman is credited with coining the term “media ecology” in 1968. However, the history of this expansive approach to studying meaning- making and dissemination is often traced back to ancient times, with particular attention to analyzing contemporary media forms in context with the oral traditions of early humans. A foundational hypothesis is that each form of communication simultaneously evolves from and affects the nature of thought itself and therefore affects message content and perception.
A number of major themes and issues can be identified: (1) Tension between organisms as technologies and organisms as creators of technologies; (2) co-evolution of organisms and technologies, though scholars such as Mumford emphasize development of brain over development of external tools; (3) influence of a medium on content, users, and cultures; transformation through and because of technological use; (4) multidisciplinarity, in which art/science, literature/journalism, fiction/ fact, popular/elite, internal/external, figure/ ground, and visible/invisible reciprocally inform and transform; (5) concern about deterministic aspects of potentially out-of-control technology, particularly in relation to humanistic values and global sustainability; (6) tension between understandings of word and image, oral and written, visual and acoustic, organism and machine; (7) holistic, contextualized views of particular occurrences; (8) emphasis on synchronous and complementary, rather than distinctive and oppositional, processes and influences; (9) inclusive topics of study ranging from autism to artificial intelligence; (10) playful exploration balanced with theoretical commitment to relationships among organisms and ideas; (11) openness to creative approaches and intellectual risk-taking in the interest of discovery.
- McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New York: Alfred A.
- Strate, L. (2006). Echoes and reflections: On media ecology as a field of study. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton