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The term media ecology was first formally introduced by Neil Postman in 1968, while the concept of the theory was proposed by Marshall McLuhan in 1964. Media ecology theory centers on the principles that technology not only profoundly influences society, it also controls virtually all walks of life. It is a study of how media and communication processes affect human perception and understanding. To strengthen this theory, McLuhan and Quentin Fiore claim that it is the media of the epoch that defines the essence of the society by presenting four epochs, inclusive of Tribal Era, Literate Era, Print Era and Electronic Era, which corresponds to the dominant mode of communication of the time respectively. McLuhan argues that media act as extensions of the human senses in each era, and communication technology is the primary cause of social change.
To understand how media affect large structural changes in human outlook, McLuhan classified media as either hot or cool. Hot media refers to a high-definition communication that demands little involvement from audience, whereas, Cool media describes media that demands active involvement from audience. McLuhan with his son Eric McLuhan expanded the theory in 1988 by developing a way to look further into the effects of technology on society. They offer the tetrad as an organized concept that allows people to know the laws of media, the past, present and current effects of media.
Media ecology is a contested term within media studies for it has different meanings in European and North American contexts. The North American definition refers to an interdisciplinary field of media theory and media design involving the study of media environments. The European version of media ecology is a materialist investigation of media systems as complex dynamic systems.
In 1934, McLuhan went on to study at Cambridge University, a school which literally pioneered modern literary criticism and here he met one of his notable mentors I.A. Richards, a distinguished English professor. McLuhan admired Richard's approach to criticism view that English studies are themselves nothing but a study of the process of communication. Richards believed that "Words won't stay put and almost all verbal constructions are highly ambiguous". It was this element of Richards' perspective on communication that influenced the way in which McLuhan expressed many of his ideas using metaphors and phrases such as "The Global Village" and "The Medium Is the Message" two of his most well known phrases that encapsulate the theory of Media Ecology.
McLuhan used the approaches of Richards and William Empson as an "entrée to the study of media." However it took many years of works before he was able to successfully fulfill their approaches. McLuhan determined that. "If words were ambiguous and best studied not in terms of their "content" but in terms of their effects in a given context and if the effects were often subliminal, the same might be true of other human artifacts, the wheel, the printing press, the telegraph and the TV". This led to the emergence of his ideas on Media Ecology.
The first major attempt to make principles of media ecology relevant to the Internet age was the publication of the ecological cognition framework in 2007. Level 1 of the framework describes what drives individuals to carry out actions in online communities such as posting messages and adding content. Level 2 looks at the cognitions they use to determine whether or not to take such actions. Level 3 looks at the means by which they go about carrying out the action in the environment. The framework can be applied to the problem of encouraging members to participate in media environments taking into account how people can be persuaded to participate by changing the way they interpret their desires and their environment as part of their socially constructed media ecology.
According to the Media Ecology Association, media ecology can be defined as "the study of media environments, the idea that technology and techniques, modes of information and codes of communication play a leading role in human affairs."
In 1977, Marshall McLuhan said that media ecology:
- ...means arranging various media to help each other so they won't cancel each other out, to buttress one medium with another. You might say, for example, that radio is a bigger help to literacy than television, but television might be a very wonderful aid to teaching languages. And so you can do some things on some media that you cannot do on others. And, therefore, if you watch the whole field, you can prevent this waste that comes by one canceling the other out.
- Media ecology looks into the matter of how media of communication affects human perception, understanding, feeling, and value, as well as 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.
Corey Anton, Editor of Explorations in Media Ecology at Grand Valley State University, defines media ecology as:
- A broad based scholarly tradition and social practice. It is both historical and contemporary, as it slides between and incorporates the ancient, the modern, and the post-modern. . . .More precisely, media ecology understands the on-going history of humanity and the dynamics of culture and personhood to be intricately intertwined with communication and communication technologies.
Along with McLuhan (McLuhan 1962), Postman (Postman 1985), and Anton, media ecology draws from many authors, including the work of Harold Innis, Walter Ong, Lewis Mumford, Jacques Ellul, Eric Havelock, Susanne Langer, Erving Goffman, Edward T. Hall, George Herbert Mead, Margaret Mead, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Benjamin Lee Whorf, and Gregory Bateson.
North American and European contexts 
The European version of media ecology rejects the North American notion that ecology means environment. Ecology in this context is used 'because it is one of the most expressive language currently has to indicate the massive and dynamic interrelation of processes and objects, beings and things, patterns and matter' (Fuller 2005:2). Following theorists such as Felix Guattari, Gregory Bateson, and Manuel DeLanda the European version of media ecology as practiced by authors such as Matthew Fuller and Jussi Parikka presents a post-structuralist political perspective on media as complex dynamical systems.
The North American theory of media ecology is best phrased by Marshall McLuhan as "The medium is the message". The medium is a specific type of media; for example, a book, newspaper, radio, television, film, or email. We are accustomed to thinking the message is separate from the medium, McLuhan saw the message and the medium to mean the same thing. The audience is normally focused on the content and overlook the medium. What we forget is that the content cannot exist outside of the way that it is mediated. McLuhan recognized that the way media works as environments is because we are so immersed in them. "It is the medium that has the greatest impact in human affairs, not specific messages we send or receive The media shapes us because we partake in it over and over until it becomes a part of us. Different mediums emphasizes different senses and encourages different habits, so engaging in this medium day after day conditions our senses. Different forms of medium also affect what their meaning and impact will be. The form of medium and mode of information determines who will have access, how much information will be distributed, how fast it will be transmitted, how far it will go, and most importantly what form it will be displayed. With society being formed around the dominant medium of the day, the specific medium of communication makes a remarkable difference.
Assumptions of the theory 
- Media infuse every act and action in society.
- Media fix our perceptions and organize our experiences.
- Media tie the world together.
The media has penetrated the lives of almost all people on the planet, arranging people into an interconnected human community. Media scholar Marshall McLuhan used the phrase Global village to describe that “humans can no longer live in isolation, but rather will always be connected by continuous and instantaneous electronic media” . This global village let mankind step into a new "information age" in which human communication is "growing so fast as to be in fact immeasurable,"
Mcluhan's Media History 
McLuhan believed there are three inventions that transformed the world: the phonetic alphabet, the printing press, and the telegraph. Due to these technologies the world was taken from one era into the next. In order to understand the effects of symbolic environment, McLuhan split history into four periods: the tribal age, the literate age, the print age, and the electronic age. Throughout the structure of their distinctive methods of communication (e.g., oral, written, printed, electronic), different media arouse patterns in the brain that are distinctive to each and every particular form of communication.
Tribal Age 
The first period in history that McLuhan describes is the Tribal Age, a time of community because the ear is the dominant sense organ. This is also known as an acoustic era because the senses of hearing, touch, taste, and smell were far more strongly developed than the ability to visualize. During this time, hearing was more valuable because it allowed you to be more immediately aware of your surroundings, which was extremely important for hunting during this time. Everyone hears at the same time makings listening to someone in a group a unifying act, deepening the feeling of community. In this world of surround sound, everything is more immediate, more present, and more actual fostering more passion and spontaneity. During the Tribal Age, hearing was believing.
Literary age 
The second stage is the Literary Stage, a time of private detachment because the eyes is a dominant sense organ; also known as the visual era. Turning sounds into visible objects radically altered the symbolic environment. Words were no longer alive and immediate, they were able to read over and over again. Hearing no longer becomes trustworthy, seeing was believing. Even though people read the same words, the act of reading is an individual act of singular focus. Tribes didn't need to come together to get information anymore. This is when the invention of the alphabet came about. During this time, when people learned to read, they became independent thinkers.
Print Age 
The third stage is the Print Age, mass production of individual products due to the invention of the printing press. It gave the ability to reproduce the same text over and over again, making multiple copies. With printing came a new visual stress, the portable book. It allowed men to carry books, so men could read in privacy and isolated from others. Libraries were created to hold these books and also gave freedom to be alienated from others and from immediacy of their surroundings.
Electronic Age 
Lastly, the Electronic Age, an era of instant communication and a return to an environment with simultaneous sounds and touch. It started with a device created by Samuel Morse's invention of the telegraph and lead to the telephone, the cell phone, television, internet, DVD, video games, etc. This ability to communicate instantly returned us to the tradition of sound and touch rather than sight. Being able to be in constant contact with the world becomes a nosy generation where everyone knows everyone's business and everyone's business is everyone else's. This phenomenon is called the global village. "We have seen the birth of nationalism which is the largest possible social unit. It occurred because the print media made it possible for government systems to coordinate, which facilitated homogeneous cultures. Now other nations join our nation to form a global community. Nations can easily break apart as fast as they join together like we see in case throughout the former Soviet bloc, in the developing world, or in Iraq and with Al Qaeda. Strate hopes we can find the freedom to step outside the system to understand our media environment and that we can find the discipline to systematize that knowledge and make it available to others."
The Medium is the Message 
“The medium is the message” is the most famous insight from McLuhan. Instead of emphasizing the information content, McLuhan highlighted the importance of medium characteristics which can influence and even decide the content. He proposed that it is the media format that affects and changes on people and society.
For example, traditional media is an extension of the human body, while the new media is the extension of the human nervous system. The emergence of new media will change the equilibrium between human sensual organs and affect human psychology and society. The extension of human senses will change our thoughts and behaviors and the ways we perceive the world. That's why McLuhan believed when a new medium appears, no matter what the concrete content it transmits, the new form of communication brings in itself a force that causes social transformation.
Hot VS. Cold Media 
McLuhan developed an idea called hot and cold media. Hot media requires very little participation from the audience. It concentrates on one sensory organ at a time. This type of media requires no interpretation because it gives all the information necessary to comprehend. Some examples of hot media include radio, books, and lectures. Cool media requires the audience to be active and fill in information by mentally participating. This is multi-sensory participation. Some examples of cool media are TV, seminars, and cartoons.
HOT: high in definition; low in participation Media: porn; radio; the lecture; photograph
COOL: low in definition; high in participation Media: television; the seminar; cartoons
"McLuhan frequently referred to a chart that hung in his seminar room at the University of Toronto. This was a type of shorthand for understanding the differences between hot and cool media, characterized by their emphasis on the eye or the ear."
EYE: left hemisphere (hot) controls right side of the body; visual speech verbal analytical mathematical linear detailed sequential controlled intellectual dominant worldly quantitative active sequential ordering
EAR: right hemisphere (cool) controls the left side of the body; spatial musical acoustic holistic artistic symbolic simultaneous emotional creative minor spiritual qualitative receptive synthetic gestalt facial recognition simultaneous comprehension perception of abstract patterns
Laws of Media 
Another aspect of media ecology is the Laws of Media. The Laws of Media Theory is depicted by a tetrad which poses questions with the outcome of developing people's critical thinking skills and to prepare people for "the social and physical chaos" that accompanies every technological advancement/development. There is no certain order for the Laws of Media, the effects occur simultaneously. The four effects are: Enhance: What does it enhance? Obsolesce: What does it obsolesce? Retrieve: What does it retrieve? Reverse: What will it reverse? "McLuhan (1951) found inspiration in Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "A Descent into the Maelstrom," in which a shipwrecked sailor is trapped within a whirlpool, but escapes death by finding the pattern hidden within the vortex. McLuhan relates this to "the social and physical chaos" we feel as we move from one technological development to the other." "The maelstrom is our media environment, and the only way out is through synthesis or pattern recognition. We cannot get out through linear logic and cause-and-effect thinking alone. We need to work dialectically and ecologically, riding through complex systems on the edge of chaos."
According to Neil Postman, Media ecology is concerned with understanding how technologies and techniques of communication control the form, quantity, speed, distribution, and direction of information; and how, in turn, such informational configurations or biases affect people's perceptions, values, and attitudes . . . such information forms as the alphabet, the printed word, and television images are not mere instruments which make things easier for us. They are environments-like language itself, symbolic environments with in which we discover, fashion, and express humanity in particular ways (Anton 303). Postman focuses on media technology, process, and structure rather than content. Postman considered making moral judgments was the primary task of media ecology. "I don't see any point in studying media unless ones so within a moral or ethical context (Griffin 319)." Postman's media ecology approach asks three questions: What are the moral implications of this bargain? Are the consequences more humanistic or antihumanistic? Do we, as a society, gain more than we lose, or do we lose more than we gain?
McLuhan's critics state the medium is not the message. They believe that we are dealing with a mathematical equation where medium equals x and message equals y. Accordingly x = y, but really "the medium is the message" is a metaphor not an equation. His critics also believe McLuhan is denying the content altogether, when really McLuhan was just trying to show the content in its secondary role in relation to the medium. McLuhan says technology is an “extension of man” and when the way we physically sense the world changes it to will collectively change how we perceive it, but the content may or may not affect this change in perception. McLuhan said that the user is the content, and this means that the user must interpret and process what they receive, finding sense in their own environments.
One of McLuhan’s high profile critics was Umberto Eco. Eco comes from background in semiotics, which goes beyond linguistics in that it studies all forms of communication. He reflected that a cartoon of a cannibal wearing an alarm clock as a necklace was counter to McLuhan’s assertion that the invention of clocks created a concept of time as consistently separated space. While it could mean this it could also take on different meanings as in the depiction of the cannibal. The medium is not the message. An individual’s interpretation can vary. Believing this to be true Eco says, “It is equally untrue that acting on the form and content of the message can convert the person receiving it.” In doing this Eco does merges form and content, the separation of which is the basis of McLuhan’s assertion. McLuhan does not offer a theory of communication. He instead investigates the effects of all media mediums between the human body and its physical environment, including language.
As Lance Strate said: "Other critics complain that media ecology scholars like McLuhan, Havelock, and Ong put forth a "Great Divide" theory, exaggerating the difference between orality and literacy, for example. And it is true that they see a great divide between orality and literacy. And a great divide between word and image. And a great divide between the alphabet, on the one hand, and pictographic and ideographic writing, on the other. And a great divide between clay tablets as a medium for writing and papyrus. And a great divide between parchment and paper. And a great divide between scribal copying and the printing press. And a great divide between typography and the electronic media. And now a great divide between virtuality and reality. I could continue to add to this list, but the point is that there are many divides, which suggests that no single one of them is all that great after all. The critics miss the point that media ecology scholars often work dialectically, using contrasts to understand media."
The North American variant of media ecology is viewed by numerous theorists[who?] as meaningless or "McLuhanacy". Neil Compton said in 1968 that it had been next to impossible to escape knowing about Mcluhan and his theory as the media embraced them. Compton wrote, “it would be better for McLuhan if his oversimplifications did not happen to coincide with the pretensions of young status-hungry advertising executives and producers, who eagerly provide him with a ready-made claque, exposure on the media, and a substantial income from addresses and conventions.” Theorists such as Jonathan Miller claim that McLuhan used a subjective approach to make objective claims, comparing McLuhan’s willingness to back away from a “probe” if he does not find the desired results to that of an objective scientist who would not abandon it so easily. The theorists[who?] against McLuhan's idea, also believe that he lacked the scientific evidence to support his claims.Raymond Rosenthal said, “McLuhan’s books are not scientific in any respect; they are wrapped however in the dark, mysterious folds of the scientific ideology."
Recent Researches on Media Ecology Theory 
According to Neil Postman: "A medium is a technology within which a culture grows; that is to say, it gives form to a culture's politics, social organization, and habitual ways of thinking ." Many ecologists are using media ecology as an analytical framework, to explore whether the current new media has a "new" stranglehold on culture or they are just extensions of what we have experienced previously is one aspect of what the media ecologists mainly focus on.
The new media is characterised by the idea of web 2.0. It is coined in 2003 and popularised by a media consultant,Tim O' Reilly. He argues that a particular assemblage of software, hardware and sociality have brought about 'the widespread sense that there's something qualitatively different about today's Web. This shift is characterised by co-creativity, participation and openness, represented by software that support for example, wiki-based ways of creating and accessing knowledge, social networking sites, blogging, tagging and 'mash ups'. The interactive and user-oriented nature of these technologies have transformed the global culture into a participatory culture which proves Neil Postman's saying "technological change is not additive; it is ecological".
As new media power takes on new dimension in the digital realm, some scholars begin to focus on defending the democratic potentialities of the Internet on the perspective of corporate impermeability. Today, corporate encroachment in cyberspace is changing the balance of power in the new media ecology, which “portends a new set of social relationships based on commercial exploitation”. Many social network websites inject customized advertisements into the steady stream of personal communication. It is called commercial incursion which converts user-generated content into fodder for marketers and advertisers. So the control rests with the owners rather than the participants. It is necessary for online participants to be prepared to act consciously to resist the enclosure of digital commons.
As for the research method, it is not enough to only focus on how to read media texts since a lot of media audiences in general are already very capable interpreters of media content, with a critical eye and an understanding of contemporary media techniques. The new research methods should give emphasis to recognizing and taking advantage of peoples’ own creativity because "people are increasingly co-creative and participative partners in media production rather than mere consumers." In addition to that, media practice researchers should view the new ecologies of media as an unprecedented opportunity for creating our own independent networks of research-based production and distribution.
There are some recent researches which put the emphasis on the youth, the future of the society who is at the forefront of new media environment. Each generation, with its respective worldview, is equipped with certain media grammars and media literacy in its youth. As each generation inherits an idiosyncratic media structure, those born into the age of radio perceive the world differently than those born into the age of television. The nature of new generation is also influenced by the nature of the new media. According to the media ecology theory, analyzing today’s generational identity through the lens of media technologies themselves can be more productive than focusing on media content. Media ecologists employ a media ecology interpretative framework to deconstruct how today’s new media environment increasingly mirrors the values and character attributed to young people. Here are some typical characteristics of the new generation: First, it is “the world’s first generation to grow up thinking of itself as global. The internet and satellite television networks are just two of the myriad technologies that have made this possible.” Second,"there may actually be no unified ethos". With “hundreds of cable channels and thousands of computer conferences, young generation might be able to isolate themselves within their own extremely opinionated forces”.
See also 
- McLuhan, Marshall (1962). The Gutenberg Galaxy : the making of typographic man. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press. p. 293. ISBN [[Special:BookSources/978-0-8020-6041-2|978-0-8020-6041-2[[Category:Articles with invalid ISBNs]]]] Check
- Postman, Neil (1985). Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. USA: Penguin. ISBN 0-670-80454-1.
- Fuller, Matthew (2005). Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
- Gencarelli, T. F. (2006). Perspectives on culture, technology, and communication: The media ecology tradition. Gencarelli: NJ: Hampton. pp. 201–225.
- West, Richard; Lynn H. Turner (2010). "25". Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and Application (4 ed.). New York: Mc Graw Hill. pp. 428–430. ISBN 978-0-07-338507-5.
- West, Richard; Lynn H. Turner (2010). "25". Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and Application (4 ed.). New York: Mc Graw Hill. pp. 428–440. ISBN 978-0-07-338507-5.
- McLuhan, M.; Fiore Q.; Agel J. (1996). The medium is the massage: an inventory of effects. San Francisco: HardWired. ISBN 978-1-888869-02-6.
- Hakanen, Ernest A. (2007). Branding the teleself: Media effects discourse and the changing self. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-7391-1734-7.
- McLuhan, Marshall; Lewis H. Lapham (1994). Understanding media: The Extension of Man. Massachusetts: The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-63159-4.
- McLuhan, Marshall; Eric McLuhan (1992). Laws of media: The new science. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-7715-8.
- Nystrom, Christine. "What is Media Ecology?". Retrieved 18 November 2011.
- Strate, Lance (2004). "A Media Ecology Review". Communication Research Trends 23: 28–31. ISSN 0144-4646. Retrieved 18 November 2011.
- Marchand, Philip (1998). Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and The Messenger : A Biography (Rev Sub ed.). Massachusetts: The MIT Press. pp. 37–39. ISBN 0-262-63186-5.
- Bishop, J. (2007). "Increasing participation in online communities: A framework for human-computer interaction". Computers in Human Behavior (Elsevier Science Publishers) 23 (4): 1881–1893. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2005.11.004.
- "What is Media Ecology?". Media Ecology Association. Retrieved 13 August 2008.
- Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews, by Marshall McLuhan, edited by Stephanie McLuhan and David Staines, Foreword by Tom Wolfe. MIT Press, 2004, p. 271
- Anton, C.(2006). History, orientations, and future directions of media ecology. In Y. Pasadeos & D. Dimitrakopoulou (Eds.), Mass media research: International approaches (pp.299). Athens: Athens Institute for Education and Research.
- Strate, Lance. "Studying Media as Media: McLuhan and the Media Ecology Approach." MediaTropes eJournal. 1. (2008): 1-16. Web. 28 Nov. 2011.
- Griffin, Em. A First Look at Communication Theory. 7th ed. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill , 2009. Print
- West, Richard. Introducing communication theory: analysis and application. McGraw-Hill. p. 432. ISBN 9780073385075.
- Chen, Xianhong; Guilan Ding (November 2009). "SPECIAL COMMENTARY New media as relations". Chinese Journal of Communication 2 (3): 367–369.
- Grosswiler, Paul (2010). Transforming McLuhan: Cultural, Critical, and Postmodern Perspectives. p.52: Peter Lang. p. 238. ISBN 9781433110672.
- Gordon, W. Terrance (2010). McLuhan: A Guide for the Perplexed. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing. p. 214. ISBN 9781441143808.
- Rosenthal, Raymond (1968). McLuhan: Pro and Con. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. p. 308.
- Miller, Jonathan (1971). Marshall McLuhan. New York: Viking Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-0670019120.
- Postman, Neil. "The Humanism of Media Ecology". Retrieved 9 November 2012.
- O’Reilly, Tim. html. "What Is Web 2.0? Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software".
- Milberry, K; Anderson.S (2009). "Open Sourcing Our Way to an Online Commons: Contesting Corporate Impermeability in the New Media Ecology". ournal of Communication Inquiry: 393–412.
- Milberry, Kate; Steven.Aderson (2009). "Open Sourcing Our Way to an Online Commons: Contesting Corporate Impermeability in the New Media Ecology". Journal of Communication Inquiry: 393–412.
- Devoy, Jonathan (2008). "Dinosaurs and butterflies – media practice research in new media ecologies". Jounal of Media Practice 9: 243–256.
- Gumpert, Gary; Robert Cathcart (1985). "Media grammars, generations, and media gaps". Critical Studies in Mass Communication 2: 23–35.
- Huntley, Rebecca (2006). The World According to Y: Inside the New Adult Generation. Australia: Crows Nest NSW. p. 17.
- Serazio, Michael. "(New) Media Ecology and Generation Mash-Up Identity: The Technological Bias of Millennial Youth Culture".
- Rushkoff, Douglas (2006). Screenagers: Lessons In Chaos From Digital Kids. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press. p. 79. ISBN 978-1572736245.
- Media Ecology Association
- Media Ecology reading list on the MEA website
- A First Look at Communication Theory, see McLuhan Chapter = Media Ecology of Marshall McLuhan/ by Em Griffin and E. J. Park