What is Media Ecology?

Over the past few decades, the phrase media ecology has become a prominent reference point in media studies. Roughly, it relates to the theoretical framework that deals with the multifaceted relationship between media and society. 

Moreover, media ecology theory is becoming more and more relevant because it deals with the present-day technological environment. But what does this exactly mean, and what is the focus of media ecology?

What is Media Ecology?

Media ecology aims to describe ways in which diverse media environments shape today’s society and our everyday lives. And the central premise of the theory is that the communication content doesn’t exert nearly as much influence as the medium of communication itself does. 

Origins of the Theory

The phrase media ecology was officially introduced and coined in 1968 by the media theorist Neil postman. However, what initially inspired the phrase was Marshall McLuhan’s theory proposed in his 1964 book, Understanding Media. 

McLuhan was the first to suggest that the focus of the study should be media and not the content it communicates. Aside from McLuhan, today, the media economy theory recognizes various influences, which are rooted in sociology, history, education, and economy of the 20th century. 

Over the years, many theorists have offered their definitions and views of media ecology. Aside from Postman, the most significant among them are Christine Nystrom, Lance Strate, and Robert Logan. 

Media as Environments

Postman, Nystrom, and Strate have defined media ecology in quite similar ways. They suggest that media, or rather, a medium is a technological context; that is, the environment that consists of communication systems within which we live, and which shape our culture. As such, that environment inevitably affects our perceptions, feelings, values, and beliefs. 

Logan expanded upon the definition by suggesting that media ecology is also based on feedback that flows back and forth between an environment and a medium. Medium receives data, processes it, and returns it to the environment, which in turn processes that output, and returns the new data to the medium. 

Thus, media ecology studies the reciprocal relationship between media as an environment, and language, technology, and culture of society. 

Influence of Media Environments

The reason why media ecology is so relevant today is that it’s impossible to understand cultural and social change without analyzing the mechanisms of media as environments we live in. 

In other words, this means that we experience and perceive everyday life through the lens of various media, such as film, internet, digital media, and television. These mediums give us information about the world and the environment we live in; they provide us with knowledge about what is acceptable and what is not. 

They are also influenced and dependent on technology, culture, and language. For example, to understand the media content of a particular culture, you have to be acquainted with a variety of factors, such as language, traditions, political climate, etc. You should also have access to the internet as it is the primary form of communication technology today. 

Digital Media

Our present-day environment, as it is suggested, is the digital media environment. What this means is that communications media are no longer controlled by journalists, production, television, and advertising companies. 

Quite the opposite, in the digital media environment of today, the internet has enabled everyone to create and access all kinds of content, and consequently, shape the environment they live in. 

Therefore, media ecology is a complex field of study that seeks to explain the ways media environments – abstract spaces produced by technology – affect, and shape our lives. It posits the digital environment of today as a space of constant interaction between people, and diverse media that are products of our technological reality.

[1] “What Is Media Ecology?” Medium [Online] Available at: medium.com/@brylieharris/what-is-media-ecology-14fa7e8d51f1 [Accessed on: 6 May 2020]

[2] “Media Ecology – How Media and New Media Influences Life.” Kaialiisa [Online] Available at: https://kaialiisa.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/media-ecology-how-media-and-new-media-influences-life/ [Accessed on: 6 May 2020]