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A THEORY OF MEDIA : The Media as an Effect :

Media researchers are supposed to have a Theory of Media, so here is my current take on how we evolved this ever growing  Techno Cultural Dimension into our social environment. I am going to examine the idea that the Media is an Effect rather than a cause of something. Granted Media causes many things to happen within a culture, we have seen the impact of social media in recent years, this has been widely studied but to look at media as an effect of something else, is i think, intriguing. So what causes the media?

If an alien from another universe observed the evolution of our species here on planet earth from our pre historic origins up to modernity and then into post modern times, it would notice that as human civilization advanced with more complex Communication Technology, it resulted in a pervasive social effect,  which we now call – the Media. This effect manifests itself now as Information Channels in all its forms as Print, Radio ,TV, as Advertising, as Movies, as the Internet and as consumer Pop Culture in general. I am coming to believe that all these various forms of Media are caused by hidden determining factors. These factors are deep driving forces common to us all, otherwise we couldn’t have collectively engaged in the manifestation of media to the extent we have. The economy of this environment runs to billions of $ globally, we cant escape it, we are all influenced by it, and some of us influence it.  Media provides a 24/7 distraction from our immediate reality, via an information screen whether it be tv computer or an iphone. We are hyper connected. Media grows around us and we are willing participants in its extension, we feed it and it feeds us. We wouldn’t spend the money we do in its economy and we wouldn’t allow it shape our lives … unless there were deep psychological influences at work to produce this Media Effect. So what are they? I think there are at least 3 major factors at work here.


The Pre Agrarian history of Homo Sapiens extends back in time for thousands of years, before we decided to settle down in farming communities about 12,000 years ago. Indeed 90% of our pre history has been spent as hunter gatherers on the move in small bands of individuals migrating seasonally from one part of the country to another. In this extended nomadic existence we developed some the characteristics and features of life today. One key feature is a desire to seek knowledge, of what is around us, about each other & about ourselves.We do this by gathering information about individual things and then  by connecting the dots between them to construct a map of reality that we can navigate. We hunt for information now the way we did for food to satisfy a hunger – for knowledge. Knowledge creates our world, all we ever really have is information. We have discussed the importance of accessing accurate quality information to make smart decisions. There is an evolutionary imperative to this. In a survival sense it starts with information about where to find food, once hunger for food is satisfied we automatically move to a higher kind of hunger but still a need for information about something.  
 Maslow states that there is a Heirachy of Needs (for information this applies too)  that influence our choices in life. Without this drive to know about things particularly about other people we would be disinterested in information about anything. This drive to know results from our innate Curiosity which has been a key Evolutionary determinant of our success on earth as a species. A lack of curiosity (and adaptability) ultimately signaled the demise of the Neanderthals  as a competing species of intelligent primates.

As intelligent primates we are first curious about each other, at a basic survival level the motivation for this curiosity leads to wanting to know what information does another person have that i could use to survive. Essentially you could say its about the survival of information.

Conclusion with factor number 1 :


Relevance to The Media Effect :

The Media Effect results from a curiosity to know about things particularly what other people know. As a basic survival instinct we want to know that we are safe & secure and we get confirmation of that from the knowledge of others and what they know. A need to know drives much of our social behavior.Facebook is a current example of where our desire for tribal information has been extended by technology. Like the slogan says Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life. This leads me to the 2nd factor.


By this i mean that as conscious individuals we are aware of our mortality, to the Ego this is not good ‘Breaking News’, the ego is invested in maintaining itself at all costs and will invent ways to ensure its continuation. At a genetic level it is the desire to have children to pass on our genes to the next generation. At an informational level it is about leaving some kind of evidence that you existed. Hand art cave paintings are evidence of ‘Hey bro ‘I’ was here…’ apparently anyone who has ever seen these pictures in real life are instantly connected with the artist as a real tangible person who once existed – just yesterday.

I was here !

Artifacts of any kind are evidence of their maker, whether it be pre historic jewelry or ancient stone circles all say I /WE made this, that i/we existed.  In more modern times since Photography was invented we have graphic evidence of the individual as artifact, the photo itself. A Film is more life like and is a visual record of someones existence, we base our confirmation about most things visually. 
All this ‘evidence of existence’ helps constitutes a story about who you were. This alleviates  the egos anxiety about extinction. This reasoning however irrational is that if someone is at least talking about you, you still matter, therefore you still exist. As long as there is a narrative that is a story to be told about you, you exist. 

Conclusion with factor 2 :


Relevance to the Media Effect :

Again social media has its appeal to the ego. We can exist as gossip, a blog, on facebook, as a tweet, as an artifact, as a video, a photo or as a news item. The ego finds creative ways to exist in social media as information. In one sense digitalized information exits as long as the technology does. The Cyberspace of the Internet is going to be around for a long time. Not to forget the egos of cultures living immediately prior to the internet, the TV & Radio broadcasts of 50 years ago still exist as radio waves that are traveling away from earths antennas, that may, millions of light years away be detected by alien media students looking for evidence of Jedi Media Knights. Of course the majority of people living before modern media did not have the means to be remembered other than a tombstone, if that, but even this is in a way an artifact of the ego….’Don’t forget me i am buried here i lived between this year and that’  

Take one look at the time people spend on Facebook these days to realize that we spend a disproportionate amount of time feeding the narrative of the self compared to other activities that we might engage with in the world.


Meaning that for all our intellectual reasoning abilities and intelligence we easily fall for a Story, illusory or real we easily believe someone else’s narrative or make one up ourselves. Part of the reason for this is because of the 1st factor, our pattern seeking disposition that connects the dots into a meaningful interpretation of reality. This has been primarily evolved to keep us safe, better to interpret a crashing noise in a vacant room as a burglar breaking into the house than something just falling off a shelf. This kind of pattern making narrative evolved to save early hominids from making bad decisions in the savannah, movement in the bushes could be the wind or a lion better to make up a story in your mind that a lion is there rather than to be lunch. Story is an essential part of our culture, told through myth & legend often via poetry as its metaphorical devices help to drop the rational logical intellectual interpretation of the related information. Theatre has been the medium for much of this ‘suspension of disbelief’  development going back to the ancient Greek Stage. Without it we wouldn’t be able to dismiss the real actor from the role he or she is playing. 

Conclusion to factor 3:


Relevance to the Media Effect:

For information to travel it has to be believed, at least accepted as possibly true, the suspension of belief allows news to circulate within a group until its validity is challenged. This challenge has been met by Science since the 17th century enlightenment with its investigative process of Injunction, Apprehension of Data & Data Confirmation. You don’t have to believe anything in science except for validation. Belief of course is the foundation of Religion and globally we can see the power of religion as a powerful cultural connecting force, that unites as well as divides people. It will not surprise me if Steve Jobs is elevated to god like status within the Apple community. We all know that rock stars & movie stars are treated as gods, as is royalty who have in the course of history taken advantage of the suspension of belief of their subjects. Psychological projection plays a big role in this, if you want to believe in something  you will find evidence for it, particularly when you begin connecting the dots (as in factor 1). When pattern recognition gets overloaded and things begin to get connected in weird ways the suspension of disbelief will result in paranoia. We all walk a fine line between madness & sanity with this. Given the right conditions anyone can get lost in Second Life.


These 3 factors coupled with technology as the MEANS OF CONNECTIVITY create the MEDIA EFFECT, but there is one more input that is deeply embedded in us all that must be taken into consideration.


As mentioned in factor 1 that we are born as pattern seeking information hunter gatherers hungry for more information, but we are faced with a choice between knowing information about something and having an experience of it. Remember the outcome of good information is smart decisions & smart decisions lead to successful adaptation.

The example i have given in class is that, knowing about the pressure differential in an aqualung does not constitute the experience of scuba diving. And as we have also discussed the 1st hand experience of something is simply more true, more immediate, more real than any 2nd hand MEDIATED information about it. In an evolutionary sense it has greater survival value if you yourself have experienced something over been told about it. Which is why in many disputations over the facts in a story you are going to believe someone who was really there over someone who has only read someone elses report about being there. But here’s the caveat in life, there are only so many 1st hand experiences you can have in a life time. Most of the information we have about the world has come to us in a Mediated form where someone has gone somewhere and returned to tell the tale. Travel is a good way to understand this and here is an extreme example.

7 of the 12 real Moon Walkers

There are exactly 12 astronauts who can mediate this adventure 1st hand for 6 billion people on earth. Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk not withstanding , the Apollo 12 are the only travelers who have been there, who have had the real experience, the rest of us at best will have to watch fictional movies like Apollo 18 or Moon, watch factual documentaries or read what the astronauts had to say about it. By being mediated you will certainly increase your understanding of what it was like to be there, and that is good, as long as we remember that it does not constitute a real experience. 

Yet there is this powerful desire for 1st hand experience, related to factor number 3 we easily suspend disbelief that a movie about the moon is not true so we can have at least have a visual emotional imaginative experience of of being there.

In life you are going to be making decisions all the time that weigh up Experience of versus Understanding about something  …

Now heres how i think that the Media Effect is evolving within culture, and setting a future trend for all of us. It is because of the developments in technology that are providing us with a more real 2nd hand experience of something.

Take a simple human conversation as an example: One to one face to face is a real experience of being with someone. The phone has provided us with this experience when we are separated by distance, Skype or Face Time has brought us back together and given us a more real experience of being with the person you are talking to. This fuller experience of the person you are talking to provides a greater fidelity to the medium of exchange. Psychologist studying face to face communication have discovered that only 7% of the total human information transfer is in the Words you speak, while 38% is Tone of Voice and 55% is in the Body Language. In the future i am sure Hologram communication will take this to another level, we have already seen it in Sci Fi films such as Star Wars. Speaking of movies look what Jim Cameron is doing with movie technology. 

The 3 D version of Avatar gave a lot of people a more real experience of being on another planet than any medium has so far. And we crave more of it, why because we value a 1st hand experience more than some one else’s. 

Technology will enable the Media Effect to bridge the gap between information about something and having an experience of it. And this means that in the absence of a Real Experience the Media will provide the Medium. Technology and Medium are one already but something we still  see as different, that is to say the medium of a film story is shown on a computer screen technology. We still say we saw a film on the internet or in a theatre but the story is the effect reproduced by the technology. It is the reality of this re production that is evolving and providing us with an experience which we will come to accept as reality itself. We will behave as if it is reality, so that information & experience are indistinguishable. The virtual becomes the real.

I recently noted that the provocative media theorist Slavoj Zizek maintains that the IMAGE IS REALITY simply because it is via the proliferation of images in the media that most people are aware of anything about the world. It is as if the experience of the real been relegated to the visual recognition of an image of what was real.

If every cause has an effect, and every effect causes something else to happen i think it would be wise to investigate the growth of the Media as an effect of forces, other than market forces that drive us to make money. Clearly the financial rewards of owning big media are great and one reason why the media has developed so rapidly. In a consumer world we are all consumers, but consumption is largely an effect from being exposed to the media. Contemporary modern Media in all its dazzling forms is a complex entity and we can get seriously lost in it by just studying it as Medium /Message, but seeing media as an effect will i think allow us to gain some distance from it by diverting our attention back to who we are. 

These are first thoughts on this fascinating subject, i am sure there are other deeper cultural & psychological forces at work shaping the emergence of the media in our lives. One thing for sure though the technology of Media is not going to go away.

How well we understand it depends on how well we understand ourselves.



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