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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 2. What Are the Primary Themes of Media Ecology?


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In familiarizing oneself with the media ecology literature, one arrives at a general sense that media ecology is a study of networks of scholars and their ideas on how media and technology affect human perceptions and interactions. But what are the main nodes of connection that media ecologists make between ideas and authors? Below are eight primary themes that surface in the media ecology literature. What must be emphasized, however, is that media ecology is concerned with the interplay of these factors: how they work together symbiotically to sustain, disrupt, or restore the human-media ecology. If a scholar writes about merely one of these themes in isolation, that scholar does not write as a media ecologist, at least not in the moment in which she or he disaggregates any of these themes from the other principal ones listed here. This chapter introduces these eight themes as well as key concepts that obtain within each of them.


Though not always identified explicitly, the investigation of the factors that shape human consciousness propels much of media ecology studies. This theme is presented here first because any human construction—symbols, monetary ← 17 | 18 → currency, cityscapes, televisions, and smartphones—can exert influence upon human consciousness. Along with philosophers, rhetoricians, linguists, neuropsychologists, and others, media ecologists have concerned themselves with the “metaphorical structure of the human conceptual system” (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980, pp....

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