It is 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. Media ecology is the Toronto School, and the New York School. It is technological determinism, hard and soft, and technological evolution. It is media logic, medium theory, mediology. It is McLuhan Studies, orality–literacy studies, American cultural studies. It is grammar and rhetoric, semiotics and systems theory, the history and the philosophy of technology. It is the postindustrial and the postmodern, and the preliterate and prehistoric.
—Lance Strate, “Understanding MEA,” In Medias Res 1 (1), Fall 1999.
It is, by now, almost a commonplace to remark that the 20th century is an era of change, of change unprecedented in its scope, its pace, and its potential for violent effects on the fabric of civilization.
One of the consequences of the change to which Boulding and others refer, or, better perhaps, one of its hallmarks, is a movement away from the rigidly compartmentalized, uncoordinated specialization in scientific inquiry which characterized the Newtonian world, and a movement toward increasing integration of both the physical and the social sciences.
One such perspective, or emerging metadiscipline, is media ecology—broadly defined as the study of complex communication systems as environments.
As a perspective, metadiscipline, or even a field of inquiry, media ecology is very much in its infancy.
Media ecologists know, generally, what it is they are interested in—the interactions of communications media, technology, technique, and processes with human feeling, thought, value, and behavior—and they know, too, the kinds of questions about those interactions they are concerned to ask.
But media ecologists do not, as yet, have a coherent framework in which to organize their subject matter or their questions.
Media ecology is, in short, a preparadigmatic science.
—Christine Nystrom, Towards a Science of Media Ecology: The Formulation of Integrated Conceptual Paradigms for the Study of Human Communication Systems, Doctoral Dissertation, New York University (1973).
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.
An environment is, after all, a complex message system which imposes on human beings certain ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
In the case of media environments (e.g., books, radio, film, television, etc.), the specifications are more often implicit and informal, half concealed by our assumption that what we are dealing with is not an environment but merely a machine.
Media ecology tries to make these specifications explicit.
It tries to find out what roles media force us to play, how media structure what we are seeing, why media make us feel and act as we do.
Media ecology is the study of media as environments.
—Neil Postman, “The Reformed English Curriculum.” in A.C. Eurich, ed., High School 1980: The Shape of the Future in American Secondary Education (1970)
Check out Media Ecology 101: An Introductory Reading List, browse through our list of past award winners, and/or grab virtual coffee with a media ecologist.