Exploring the Media Ecology

Of all the media theorists Marshall McLuhan is perhaps the most famous and in the 60s, there was perhaps no more well known academic figure in the entire communication discipline. McLuhan’s ideas have stood the test of time, yet at the time of their conception they were widely dismissed by the scientific community for reasons we will return to later (Scolari, 2012). In recent years the theory most accredited to McLuhan, the media ecology, has enjoyed a high degree of resurgence, with organizations such as the Media Ecology Association (MEA) leading the way. This theory, as Neil Postman proposed in a 1975 address, focuses not on specialization, but rather on making more generalize, bigger picture, connections (Salas, 2007). The media ecology can best be viewed as a framework, a way of looking at the world through the lens that mediums and technology are far more influential than the content of the messages they provide. This is the basic concept behind the phrase that epitomizes McLuhan’s contributions to this theory, “the medium is the message” (McLuhan, 1964, p. 7). Before we delve further into the tenants and contributions to the media ecology theory, it is useful to look at the metaphor around which it is organized, that of an ecology.

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I forgot. Oops. A case study in impression mismanagement in the political sphere

Every four years we hold elections for the most powerful position in the world, the President of the United States. It is a position that requires a strong, intelligent, even-keeled person because they represent our country on the world stage. The term “stage” is one that evokes images of the theater. In fact, you could look at any human interaction in that way, a performance on a particular stage. That concept is what Goffman’s Dramaturgical theory addresses. Goffman’s theory has been criticized for being apolitical, however, as this study will demonstrate, this is not the case and Dramaturgical theory can be applied to the political sphere.

One concept from Goffman’s theory is the idea of “Impression Management”. This is the way we go about assessing a situation, consciously or unconsciously, and determining which behaviors to portray and which ones to mask in a particular situation. In politics, this may be consciously monitoring what a candidate says during a debate in an effort to remain ideologically consistent. Mismanagement of ones impression can cause one to lose face, something that, especially in the modern political world, can be devastating to one’s campaign. In communications studies face refers to “the image of yourself that you want others to see and believe” (Wood, 2010, p. 243) The purpose of this study is to investigate the consequences of mismanaging one’s impression in the political sphere. These impression mismanagements are called “political gaffes” and have been the fall of many campaigns and even presidencies. During this study I investigated Rick Perry’s recent political gaffe and the consequences of it. The purpose of this study is to answer the question: how does impression mismanagement effect our perceptions of our leaders and potential leaders? A secondary question central to this research is how politicians attempt to recover from those gaffes. Hopefully, through a better understanding of the public reaction to political gaffes, we will be able to pave way for further study on the recovery from instances of impression mismanagement.

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The reddit Parlor

Imagine that you have entered a bar. It’s later in the evening when you arrive. When you get there you realize that many others had been there long before you arrived, and they are all engaged in heated discussion. The scene is overwhelming at first for the uninitiated, and with so many intense discussions surrounding you, it is hard to place yourself in any single discussion, so you go up to the bar for a drink and are surprised by what you see. At the bar is a very alien looking man polishing a glass, his nametag reads, Snoo. A group of people furiously engaged in heated discussion sits next to you, you finally get the courage to ask what all the fuss is about only to find out the conversation had been going on for so long that no one was left who could retrace it all the way back to the beginning for you; so you continue to observe. A hallway lined with doors at the back of the bar catches your eye, so you walk over. The door closest to you reads “Whiskey,” and the doors to each side of it read “Beer” and “Wine,” you walk down this walk down the hall this pattern continues, “Vodka,” “Rum,” “Tequila,” a room for each type of liquor at the bar. As you continue down the hall the labels on the doors become more obscure: “Chess,” “Movies,” “PlayStation” the doors are as random as they are numerous. Something else about the doors catches your eye, the fact that none of them have a lock. You reach out and turn the handle, swinging the door to the room labeled “Beer” open wide. You are taken aback as you walk inside a room that is almost identical to the one you were in before, albeit slightly less crowded. As you mosey up to the bar you notice there is something very familiar about the bartender as well and sure enough a check of his nametag reveals your assumptions to be true, it reads Snoo. You order a beer and lean against the bar, observing the goings on. Around the room there are many tables, each of which seems strangely to have room for more people to sit down despite already being bustling with activity. You watch as people walk from table to table, sitting down and offering their two cents to a discussion before wandering to the next table hoping to engage the crowd. After observing for a while, you finally garner up the courage to sit at one of the tables. As you do, you quickly begin to familiarize yourself with the conversation, and a wave of comfort washes over you as you dive into the conversation yourself. You speak your position, adding something to the argument. Someone responds to your comment, prompting an answer from you. As you speak up, someone comes to the defense of his position, and someone else speaks up in agreement with your side. As the discussion continues each person raises a point that adds something to your understanding of this ongoing conversation, and you begin to feel like a part of the living discussion. You check your watch and realize that you had been raptured in conversation for hours, lost in the unending argument. You push away from the table, stretching to reawaken your muscles as you walk out the door. On your way out of the bar you stop to peek inside a few of the other rooms in the infinite hallway, inside each is a scene similar to the one you had just emerged from, conversation still continuing rigorously despite the late hour. As you step out into the after-midnight darkness, you glance back one more time at the neon sign glowing above the bar “Welcome to Reddit, the front page of the Internet.”