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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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Three formidable events kindled in me a fascination with the field of media ecology. The first one occurred in the early 1990s while teaching a class in communication criticism. The assignment, which seemed easy enough, was to locate primary source material for analysis. A few days later, one dutiful student asked to talk to me after class. He told me that he had searched for hours and hours but could not find the source he had been assigned. It did not exist, he insisted. Wanting to honor the diligence of the student while also hoping to recommend a source he might have overlooked, I went through a litany of sources that would likely contain what he was seeking—government sources, indexes, bibliographies, compendiums, reference sources, and the like—asking whether he had consulted each of those sources. The answer came back “no” to each of my queries. At a certain decisive moment, like when a thought hits you in the middle of the night, I realized that the student had consulted only online sources. It had not even occurred to him to walk over to the library and to check out print sources. The incident took place during that transition time in the mid-1990s when the Internet was just beginning to gain traction and electronic databases had not yet made it online. This student, I realized in a flash, came to represent the many—in fact, a generation—who vault first and sometimes exclusively to online sources. And...

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