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Mapping Media Ecology

Introduction to the Field


Dennis D. Cali

Until now, the academic foundations of media ecology have been passed down primarily in the form of edited volumes, often by students of Neil Postman, or are limited to a focus on Marshall McLuhan and/or Postman or some other individual important to the field. Those volumes are invaluable in pointing to key ideas in the field; they provide an important and informed account of the fundamentals of media ecology as set forth at the field’s inception. Yet there is more to the story.

Offering an accessible introduction, and written from the perspective of a «second generation» scholar, this single-authored work provides a unified, systematic framework for the study of media ecology. It identifies the key themes, processes, and figures in media ecology that have coalesced over the last few decades and presents an elegant schema with which to engage future exploration of the role of media in shaping culture and consciousness.

Dennis D. Cali offers a survey of a field as consequential as it is fascinating. Designed to be used primarily in media and communication courses, the book’s goal is to hone insight into the role of media in society and to extend the understanding of the themes, processes, and interactions of media ecology to an ever-broader intellectual community.

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Chapter 1. What Is Media Ecology?


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Depending on the perspective of a person posing the question “what is media ecology,” responses either arouse intrigue or shut down conversation. “Media” itself is commonplace, but compounding it with “ecology” places it just beyond the ability of the newcomer to the field to infer what it might imply. One might reason that it is related to the concerns of the Sierra Club: how media might “go green.” Or one might dismiss it from its unclear referents as some sort of esoteric media theory: the communication craze of today that is the rough equivalent of the medieval cogitation over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Is it about how the media industry pollutes or warms the environment? Is it about how various media form an eco-system in which one medium affects another media and all of its surroundings? Both attempts would be reasonable shots, yet the breadth and depth of the field far exceed what might be conjectured in considering the term on face value.

To arrive at an operational definition of “media ecology,” one does well to review the many uses of the term. Below I offer an inventory of various conceptualizations. Later, I review origins of the term and the field and then identify a distinguishing feature. While the uses of the term are not mutually exclusive, each does privilege certain aspects of the term not...

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