Book ofthe Week: Developing a Mediacology for a Media Permaculture

How should we approach literacy in a digital age? For Antonio Lopez, it’s not just about using new types of media, but recognizing the different ways our brain deals with information, and that this is media-dependent but also inserted into the larger ecologies of our life, which must be sustainable. Hence the link between the new literacy requirements and ecology, and how similar logics and patterns can be seen to operate in both spheres.

Here’s the general description of the book, which advocates a ecologically-inspired Media Permaculture:

Traditional media literacy models are mostly left-brained, inherited from the legacy of alphabetic literacy, the Gutenberg press revolution, and industrial mass media production. New digital media radically alter the environment. Their nonlinear, multisensory, field-like properties are more right brain oriented. Consequently, rather than focus exclusively on deconstructing the products of design objects (such as an advertisement “text”), digital learning should respond to the design of the system itself, including cultural and cognitive bias.

Mediacology proposes a design-for-pattern approach called “Media Permaculture,” which restructures media literacy to be in sync with new media practices connected with sustainability and the perceptual functions of the right brain hemisphere. In the same way that permaculture approaches gardening by establishing the natural parameters of its ecological niche, Media Permaculture explores the individual’s “mediacological niche” in the context of knowledge communities. By applying bioregional thinking to the symbolic order, Media Permaculture redresses the standard one-size-fits-all literacy model by taking into account diverse cognitive strategies and emerging convergence media practices.”

Drawing on his extensive experience as a grassroots mediamaker and time spent teaching media at Native American schools, Antonio Lopez applies a practical knowledge of alternative media, crosscultural communication and ecology to build a meaningful theory of media education.”

See the slideshare presentation here, as well as a downloadable introduction to the book in pdf format.

The following excerpt explains in more detail the ecological design aspects of a Media Permaculture:

The necessary change in our pedagogy is quite simple, but incredibly profound. To quote graphic designers Bruce Mau and Jennifer Leonard (2004, p. 11), our work is not “about the world of design; it’s about the design of the world.” In a nutshell, this encompasses the tension between an old world approach to media literacy versus one that is ecological, because most education efforts focus on the world of designed products, meaning advertising or commercial media, but not the design of the system itself. By design I don’t mean an analysis of the economic power structure of multinational media corporations or the ideology of liberal capitalism, which are what I consider to be symptoms of deeper issues. Here I want to consider what environmental educator David Orr (1994) calls “ecological design arts,” which he defines as a “set of perceptual and analytical abilities: ecological wisdom, and practical wherewithal essential to making things that ‘fit’ in a world of trees, microbes, rivers, animals, bugs, and small children. In other words, ecological design is the careful meshing of human purposes with the larger patterns and flows of the natural world and the study of those patterns and flows to inform human purposes” (p.104). Orr proposes that we need “biologic”: “When human artifacts and systems are well designed, they are in harmony with the larger patterns in which they are embedded” (p.105).

In this context it is important to consider Wendell Berry’s (2005, pp. 33-4) concept of “designing for pattern,” which argues that design solutions should not create more problems, but on the contrary, should solve other problems as well:

“A bad solution is bad, then, because it acts destructively upon the larger patterns in which it is contained. It acts destructively upon those patterns, most likely, because it is formed in ignorance or disregard of them. A bad solution solves for a single purpose or goal…. A good solution is good because it is in harmony with those larger patterns-and this harmony will, I think, be found to have the nature of analogy. A bad solution acts within the larger pattern the way a disease or addiction acts within the body. A good solution acts within the larger pattern the way a healthy organ acts within the body. But it must at once be understood that a healthy organ does not -as the mechanistic or industrial mind would say-‘give’ health to the body, is not exploited for the body’s health, but is a part of its health. The health of organ and organism is the same, just as the health of organism and ecosystem is the same. And these structures of organ, organism, and ecosystem-as John Todd has so ably understood-belong to a series of analogical integrities that begins with the organelle and ends with the biosphere.”

* * *

If permaculture is a design solution for the biosphere, then “mediacology” is a design solution for the “semiosphere”-the “synchronistic semiotic space which fills the borders of culture” (Lotman, 2001, p.3). Mediacology achieves these permaculture principles by applying cybernetic thinking and paradigm mapping. Cybernetics takes the view that our information environment is inherently a feedback system. As such, mediacology uses natural models based on systems thinking to map and reconfigure media education pedagogy by applying a circular inquiry process called the “Media Wheel.”

It is my sense that media literacy represents a “sick” pedagogy, so mediacology is meant to “remediate,” using both senses of the term. On the one hand remediation means mending troubled ecological niches, and on the other the media theory concept that newer media forms incorporate older media forms with the contradictory purpose of having immediacy and opacity. Mediacology “remediates” (fixes) the industrial model of mass media literacy and its print literate perspective, and it also remediates (incorporates) alternative epistemologies to become more fluid.

As a design solution, mediacology promotes sustainable human cultural and economic practices in its approach to content by revealing patterns of thinking that underlie the forms of media systems. Intrinsic to this approach is a multicultural view that recognizes perceptual and semiological border worlds called “mediaspheric niches.” These zones are the mediacological equivalent of bioregions, which are ecologies defined by watersheds. As such, mediacology is an approach that can be flexible according to particular community needs, just as sustainable agriculture needs to be practiced according to the particular characteristics of a bioregion. To extend the cultivation metaphor, synthetic communication produced by corporate mainstream media can be likened to industrial agricultural, whereas community media is akin to organic farming and permaculture. This means integrating the local with the global, thereby “glocalizing” our practices. ”

About the author:

“Seeded by his experience as an old school punk zine publisher, Antonio Lopez cultivated a career in grassroots community media activism, citizen journalism, media education and blogging. His essays about media and culture are featured in numerous newspapers, magazines and book anthologies, most recently in the MacArthur Foundation’s series, Digital Learning in the 21st Century. Antonio was content provider for a groundbreaking Spanish language media and health CDROM, Medios y Remedios, and designed a multicultural media literacy curriculum, Merchants of Culture. He lectures, writes and trains in outreach, media production and digital media literacy throughout the world”

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