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Media Ecologies

A Lecture for the Creative practice MA at UWE

Sy Taffel

on 16 March 2011

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Transcript of Media Ecologies

What Is Media Ecology? What is Ecology? Not the study of things in themselves
but the study of interconnections
relationships and the transferal of energy within networks of matter
Key Concepts Sustainable Growth Feedback Scale Media Ecologies What is Ecology? What is Media Ecology? Not the Study of things in themselves
but the study of the interconnections and
transfers of energy between nodes within
complex networks or ecosystems Not just GDP as a measure of growth or wealth

Inclusion of environmental sustainability and personal wellbeing

Measures like the ecological footprint calculator and HDI

Value of diversity within ecosystems Negative (homeostatic)

Positive (runaway/greater complexity)

Discovery associated with Cybernetics

Within complex systems governed by feedback
causality is rarely linear

Systems at various scales are governed by
the same processes of feedback and emergence

Bateson & Guattari: Three Ecologies of Body/Mind
Society/Culture and Environment

It is quite wrong to make a distinction between action on the psyche, the socius and the environment... We need to kick the habit of sedative discourse... in order to apprehend the world through the interchangeable lenses of the three ecologies.
Guattari 1992:42

Utility Within Media Theory and Practice Rethinking Technological Determinism Analysing Dynamic Processes Rather than Objects Materialism and Media at different scalar ecologies, we see the emergence of
new qualities, tendencies and capacities, which are not
attributable to any of the subcomponents of that ecosystem

Emergence instead proposes that the ecological system
as a whole can exhibit behaviours which emerge only at larger scales

Emergence Ecocentricism Monism Different to the anthropocentric, humanist perspectives
common to many Western approaches which stem from the
science and philosophy associated with Descartes and Newton

Nohumans are not seen as automatons: they have forms of agency too

In the posthuman view, conscious agency has never been ‘in control.’ In fact, the very illusion of control bespeaks a fundamental ignorance about the fundamental nature of the emergent processes through which consciousness, the organism and the environment are constituted. Mastery through the exercise of the autonomous will is merely the story consciousness tells itself to explain results that actually come about through chaotic dynamics and emergent structures.
Hayles 1999:288

Let us consider for a moment the question of whether a computer thinks. I would state that it does not. What thinks and engages in trial and error is the man plus the computer plus the environment. And the lines between man, computer and environment are purely artificial, fictitious lines. They are lines across the pathways along which information or difference is transmitted. They are not boundaries of the thinking system. What thinks is the total system which engages in trial and error, which is man plus environment.
Bateson 1972:491

free will/determined
civilized/savage We invoke one dualism only to challenge another. We employ a dualism of models on in order to arrive at a process that challenges all models. Each time mental correctives are necessary to undo the dualisms we had no wish to construct, but through which we pass. Arrive at the magic formula we all seek- PLURALISM = MONISM – via all the dualisms that are the enemy, an entirely necessary enemy, the furniture we are forever rearranging.
Deleuze and Guattari 1982:23 The term ‘ecology’ is used here 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 A usable definition of media ecologies is that: Media ecology is the study of connections between actors and processes in media systems at various scales.

the medium is message
the primary meaning or effect of ‘any medium or technology, is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.’ (1964:16)
‘our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how it is used that counts,’ which he terms ‘the numb stance of the technological idiot.’ (1964:26).
Technology as the 'extensions of man'
The older patterns of mechanical, one way expansion from the centres to margins is no longer relevant to our electric world. Electricity does not centralise but decentralises’ (2003:55).'


‘If the medium is the cause, all other causes, all that men ordinarily see as history, are at once reduced to effects.’ (1970:130)
'If the effect of the medium is the same, whoever controls or uses it then we can forget ordinary political and cultural argument and let the technology run itself.' (1970:131)
we have to reject technological determinism, in all its forms.' Reasons to recosider this within a contemporary ecological framework:

Complexity theory: for open, or negentropic systems, while there may be ways to formally (mathematically) describe the systems using simple deterministic equations, the results of these equations are not deterministic, they can be drawn as a field of probabilities, but never reduced to a single answer.
Determinism becomes about defining spaces of probability rather than linear certainties.
Nonhuman systems are no longer automata but have 'choices': humans become 'at home in the world'
'Old' media texts: film, radio, print etc tend to deal with finished objects.

'New' Media processes: blogs, social media, mmorpgs, wikis

When we look for conceptual tools with which to analyse the way these processes evolve, there seems to be some quite productive homologies in using some of the tools that are used to analyse other registers of ecology, as the form of the distributed network and the patterns of emergent behaviours and feedback loops are common to these types of network at all scales.

By offering a methodology which affords analyses between different scales ranging from the extremely local to the global, media ecologies affords a synthetic method which allows us to address the complexity of ethical and political problematics faced in an increasingly globalised society without neglecting local concerns. As such it cuts across the dualisms of global/local and macro/micro

Media Ecologies resists the metaphors of virtuality, informationalisation and post-industrialism. The problem with these types of discourse is primarily the fact that they seek to de-materialise media systems, which are always predicated on a huge amount of matter and energy. By seeking to analyse media systems as virutal, somehow not quite real, these approaches have the effect of obscuring the ethical issues pertaining to social and environmental justice which are abundant throughout the contemporary industrial production process. Cognitive science: Neuroplasticity

'It is well known that the brain’s plasticity is an inherent biological trait; human beings are born with their nervous systems ready to be reconfigured in response to the environment. While the number of neurons in the brain remains more or less constant throughout a lifetime, the number of synapses—the connec­tions that neurons form to communicate with other neurons—is greatest at birth. Through a process known as synaptogenesis, a newborn infant undergoes a pruning process whereby the neural connections in the brain that are used strengthen and grow, while those that are not decay and disappear (Bear, Bear, Connors, and Paradiso 175–96). The evolutionary advantage of this pruning process is clear, for it bestows remarkable flexi­bility, giving human beings the power to adapt to widely differing environ­ments. Although synaptogenesis is greatest in infancy, plasticity continues throughout childhood and adolescence, with some degree continuing even into adulthood. In contemporary developed societies, this plasticity implies that the brain’s synaptic connections are coevolving with an environment in which media consumption is a dominant factor. Children growing up in media-rich environments literally have brains wired differently from those of people who did not come to maturity under that condition.' Hayles 2007

All technical objects constitute an intergenerational support of memory which, as material culture, overdetermines learning and mnesic activities' Stiegler 2009:9
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