What is Media Ecology?

It’s difficult to give a precise definition of media ecology, especially one that’s succinct and easy to understand. Perhaps that aspect of media ecology is its greatest strength in addition to its greatest weakness. As an intellectual tradition, media ecology generally focuses on a core group of scholars and philosophers that includes Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis, Walter Ong, Eric Havelock, Neil Postman, Lewis Mumford, Jaques Ellul, Susanne Langer, and a few others. For each media ecologist, a different group of ideas and angles define relationships to the tradition even if the general core remains the same. In that way, media ecology is always growing and branching out. It is always challenging itself with new perspectives and ideas.

Neil Postman wrote of media ecology in his 1979 book Teaching as a Conserving Activity:

Media ecology is the study of information environments. It is concerned to understand how technologies and techniques of communication control the form, quantity, speed, distribution and direction of information; and how, in turn, such information configurations or biases affect people’s perceptions, values, and attitudes. Thus, media ecology transcends several subjects of wider acceptance, including, for example, psychology and sociology, since it assumes that the psychology of people and their methods of social organization are, in large measure, a product of a culture’s characteristic information patterns. As I have tried to say earlier in the book, such information forms as the alphabet, the printed word, and the television image are not mere instruments which make things easier for us. They are environments – like language itself, symbolic environments – within which we discover, fashion, and express our humanity in particular ways.

For more information, I refer you to the Media Ecology Association website, where you can find more definitions, a reading list, and news related to the continual growth of the community.


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