Accessibility links

One of my more eccentric school teachers had two things permanently written on her blackboard: "The word 'interesting' is banned!" and "The medium is the message!" I gradually came to appreciate that 'interesting' doesn't mean very much, and when I found myself wanting to use that word, I thought more precisely about what I was trying to say. I was never too sure what to make of the second statement though, but I found that if I ended my essays with "The medium is the message!" I was awarded with a big red tick, and extra marks.

One of my more eccentric school teachers had two things permanently written on her blackboard: "The word 'interesting' is banned!" and "The medium is the message!" I gradually came to appreciate that 'interesting' doesn't mean very much, and when I found myself wanting to use that word, I thought more precisely about what I was trying to say. I was never too sure what to make of the second statement though, but I found that if I ended my essays with "The medium is the message!" I was awarded with a big red tick, and extra marks.

The expression comes from Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian Professor, Patriarch of media studies, and perhaps most famous for a cameo appearance in Woody Allen's Annie Hall. McLuhan's point is that the way information is delivered is not innocent, because it defines and shapes our experience more than the information itself. So whether ideas are delivered in, for example, a book or a film, matters more than what those ideas actually are. The next time you write an inane text, or check your email (again) remember McLuhan's words: "we become what we behold".

Yesterday I was introduced to the idea of 'media ecologies' by Emma Agusita who has been doing research at the Knowle West media centre in Bristol . We are highly accustomed to thinking about our living environments as things we see, hear and smell, but we rarely think of the technology around us as part of that environment, perhaps because it is more functional- not so much somewhere we live but something we use. The Arts and Ecology team at the RSA is reflexive about the use of the term ecology, and William Shaw recently posted about how the web will inevitably change our relationship with art. But as far as I know we haven't dealt with the idea of media ecologies before- the idea of thinking of our media environment as a living enviroment which influences our view of ourselves and each other, rather than just a bunch of gizmos and gadgets.

The concept of media ecology could be quite important for the RSA's attempt to understand the relationship between digital capital and social capital. If you compare an affluent suburban area with a relatively deprived inner city area, the media ecologies will look very different. What remains unclear is whether there is an etiological relationship between digital capital and social capital, or whether this amounts to a distinction without a difference.

Knowle West, Bristol, is a relatively deprived area on most socio-economic indicators, but it has a relatively young demographic, a large media centre, and on most measures its digital capital is relatively high. What remains unclear is whether there is a way to harness the digital capital in such a way that social capital is increased. Whether you can do so depends a lot on definitions and measurements, but our hunch is that, at the very least, increasing digital inclusion is a promising strategy for lowering social exclusion. In other words, working on the media ecology of an area can improve the social fabric of a community. Does that sound plausible?

Comments

Be the first to write a comment

Please login to post a comment or reply.

Don't have an account? Click here to register.