Media ecologies

When first introduced to the term ‘ecologies’ my thoughts immediately turned to the natural environment. This in turn conjured the image of being approached by an overzealous Greenpeace activist on the street. However, engaging with the week three literature has broadened my understanding of the term ‘ecologies’ and how this can be applied to a media context. Rawlings’  ‘Games as a Happening, as a Service (Notes from my Talk at Goldsmiths)’has demonstrated that there is no need to abandon my initial preconception about ecologies. He points out that ecology is about the “relationships of energy” and the elaborate web that life weaves. Rawlings also uses the natural environment as a point of comparison for ecologies in a wider context, stating “We don’t look at an individual organism; we look at how it relates to its fellow organisms”. I interpret this to mean that ecologies are about the way various phenomena interrelate and the structures and patterns that can be observed.

In ‘Towards a Science of Media Ecology: The Formulation of Integrated Conceptual Paradigms for the Study of Human Communication System’ Nystrom defines a media ecology as the “study of complex communication systems as environments.” She goes on to state that media ecologists are primarily concerned with the impact that communication and technologies have upon human thought, feeling, values and behaviour. Furthermore, she describes media ecology as a “pre-paradigmatic science”. This was not a term I was familiar with and upon further research I discovered that it means that there are various conflicting paradigms associated with media ecologies.

One theoretical approach that I found particularly interesting was McLuhan’s distinction between hot and cool media. Here, he acknowledges that different media outlets demand varying degrees of participation from their audiences. Hot media refers to high-definition communication that requires the audience to do little more than sit on their behinds and absorb. This type of media also concentrates on enhancing one singular sensory organ at a time. Film, photography and radio are all categorised as hot media because they necessitate minimal interpretation from the audience. On the other hand, television, seminars and cartoons are characteristic of cool media. This multi-sensory type of media demands active participation from the audience as it is more difficult to interpret.

McLuhan’s framework caused me to consider the media ecology of virtual communication, specifically the social networking platform Facebook. Where would Facebook fit into McLuhan’s spectrum of hot and cool media? I concluded that social media websites like Facebook require such an extensive degree of audience participation that they actually exceed cool media and become cold media. Facebook users no longer serve merely an audience, but they also take on the role of content creators. Furthermore, Facebook’s inclusion of a range of different media (such as photographs, video and audio) ensures that users are engaging on a multi-sensory level.

By Emma Norris



Changing Minds ‘Kuhn’s Paradigm’<;

‘Media Ecology’, Wikipedia <>

Media Ecology Association ‘What is Media Ecology’ <>

Rawlings, Thomas (2011) ‘Games as a Happening, as a Service (Notes from my Talk at Goldsmiths)’, A Great Becoming <>

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