Online advertising expenses grew to $15 billion dollars in the first half of 2011 alone. Kids spend more time with media-related activities than they do with their families or in school.Â And in 2012, the audience of America Internet users will expand to 239 million.
Itâ€™s clear that we live in an increasingly media-saturated world, one in which we are subjected to a highly organized, well-financed and powerful propaganda machine. So how do we shift to a more sustainable and global communications environment?
Antonio Lopez’s The Media Ecosystem offers provocative and fresh insights into how ecological best practices can contribute to empowered use of the media. The following excerpt is from his chapter on Green Cultural Citizenship. “Like” The Media Ecosystem on Facebook for more updates from the author!
Scan any major news website for information about the environment and you will likely be led to two places: the science and weather sections. Even if there is an area solely devoted to environmental issues, in most cases the topic is treated as distinct from media, culture, or society (unless it impacts business, travel, or sports). This contrasts with an emerging view that sustainability, ecological awareness, and environmental consciousness need to be integrated and holistic. This mediasphereâ€™s particular landscape view, if you will, has its origins in the Western division of knowledge. In 1873 the German zoologist Ernst Haeckel coined the term ecology, basing it on the Greek word oikos, meaning â€śhouse, dwelling place, habitation.â€ť Likewise, oikos is also the root of economics. That ecology and economics were initially associated makes practical sense. As the great urbanist Jane Jacobs pointed out, both are intimately linked to the idea of household management. This concurs with the notion that sustainability is essentially how we approach the allocation of resources so as to not endanger future generations, but in a globalized world, the household must be conceived of on a planetary scale.
Households are primary sites of mediation. For example, the house is where we often work on the computer, watch TV, use our phones, share meals, and socialize, and all of these activities are mediated through language, metaphors, and economic practices. Economic globalization is intimately integrated into our homes through the goods we consume, the power we use, the food we eat, the waste we generate, and the culture we share.
If we look at household as a planetary concept (akin to Buckminster Fullerâ€™s Spaceship Earth), it is vastly more expansive than the meaning assigned to it by the Greeks, given that such a global worldview is facilitated by electronically disseminated media or air and space travel. Maps, images from space, books about travel to remote places, film, pictures in National Geographic, 24/7 news streams, and the internet are all aspects of how many of us picture and hold an image of Earth. This is not to say other cultures at different times in history did not have a holistic or comprehensive understanding of Earth. Indeed, home for many ancient cultures extended to the cosmos. But their perceptions were also grounded in their immediate surroundings, and their ability to survive depended on an intimate knowledge of the land they dwelled in (for what itâ€™s worth, many in the world still live this way today). In many ways, then, mass media have facilitated â€śplanetaryâ€ť awareness, best symbolized by Marshall McLuhanâ€™s aphorism that we all now inhabit a global village. Though we know in practice that there is no such thing as a global village (the scales are contradictory), or that â€śglobal thinkingâ€ť is problematic (we canâ€™t know how everyone thinks), the increasing view of our planetary interdependence and connectivity is clearly apparent and necessary. After all, no matter who pollutes the atmosphere, we all breathe the same air. The melting of glaciers in the Himalayas is not a disconnected event; it has a cascading impact on water supplies, food, migration, economy, and regional conflict that reverberates globally. Additionally, events like the Icelandic volcano ash cloud, Indian Ocean tsunami, or the Haitian earthquake highlight the global character of calamity. The impact on global weather by the proverbial butterflyâ€™s wing flapping in Brazil should be less an abstract mental exercise in chaos theory and more of a graspable metaphor for the daily interconnected lives of all of us.
Awareness of global issues, whether we like it or not, is mostly mediated. Such networked mediation should enable us to grasp the matrix connecting a locally grounded reality with its international strands, such as when we buy food (choosing when possible whether it is local, fair trade, or biological/organic). We can also analyze the production stream of our shoes and other consumer goods, connecting them with the culture industry and globalized production stream in order to build a heightened awareness of the interconnected lives between consumers, workers, and the nonhuman world. Finally, the very electronic equipment we use has global implications in terms of energy consumption, mineral extraction for precious metals, water usage for chip manufacturing, and the massive trade in toxic waste that results from the built-in obsolescence of our â€ścheapâ€ť electronics (â€ścheapâ€ť because we donâ€™t factor in the external costs that are borne by unequal labor conditions and the material cost of the environment).
Consequently, one of the primary sites of contact with the larger global system is through media. Globalization, consumerism, industrialization, and information economy are accelerating the ecological crisis, and media helps facilitate this process by masking its dangers and touting the benefits of this system through the uncontested worship of growth, technology, progress, and consumerism. Critically engaging mediaâ€”whether itâ€™s advertising, news, or popular cultureâ€”provides opportunities to connect our daily perception with the bigger picture (a media metaphor!).
Image by HuberG on Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.