When a natural disaster strikes a random place in the world, the general public usually feels bad enough to passively pay attention to the news, myself included; however, when the same weather phenomenon, Hurricane Sandy, attacked my childhood hometown, a place that I have no desire to live again, a weird sense of ownership slowly arose that made me want to save it, even though I was 351 miles away in Rochester. Over those first few days of chaos in Connecticut, I saw various videos from the national news at first and then numerous photos through Facebook and Twitter that gradually made me care more about that little bioregion where I grew up more than I ever had previously, reducing the space between Rochester and Connecticut to simply a click. Despite some of what writers such as Gary Snyder claim, these media compressed my life in New York with my world in Connecticut to make me much more connected to the place where I grew up.
It all began with sensational newscasts such as this one from Good Morning America that I happened to catch over the days leading up to the storm. As the beaches and floods in Jamaica crossed the screen, I had terrible visions of my house being in the same situation. Quite frankly, if it were not for these short broadcasts on television, I probably would not have worried very much about the effect of a hurricane on my hometown, a realization that contradicts Gary Snyder’s idea that “our relation to the natural world takes place in a place” (Snyder 42). Even though Snyder thinks that I must be in Connecticut to appreciate the looming disaster, I felt much more territorial about my hometown by being up in Rochester because very few people actually understood the potential magnitude of what could happen.
I remained glued to any online broadcast I could find for footage of the flooding and destruction that was happening to places I have been. Although Battery Park formerly had just been another annoyingly windy place my parents dragged me when I was younger, suddenly seeing it pelted with water transformed it into a spot with which I had personally connected so each crashing wave the reality of my memories just a little bit more. After watching numerous clips of places I knew, I finally called my parents to see how they were doing, only to discover that I actually knew more about what had been going on than they did. Despite being significantly more local than I was to Connecticut, they knew virtually nothing about the destruction I was seeing on the news because their internet and electricity were nonexistent. Snyder claims that “bioregional awareness teaches us in specific ways” (Snyder 42) which are “grounded in information and experience” (Snyder 42), yet in this particular case, I had more knowledge about my former region than the current inhabitants did. Peter Adey, author of “Mediations,” explains that planes “[provide] a window or way for ‘gazing’ upon a nation” (Adey 185), a notion that seems to aptly apply to the television as a vehicle for watching my region. Because of the internet broadcast, I got to be the omniscient narrator for my parents about everything beyond their immediate vicinity, thus allowing me to be a part of my bioregional community without being there. While my perceptions of what occurred could have easily been skewed by the media’s need for an extraordinary story, it still felt like they were more clueless than me about the extent of the havoc Sandy was wreaking.
As I explained to my mother what information I had gathered, my dad texted me that image of what happened to our backyard, instantly bringing me out of Rochester and even out of the regional perspective I had adopted through television. This texting technology, in the words of Rebecca Solnit, author of “The Annihilation of Time and Space,” brought me “elsewhere in space and time, pushing away the here and now” (Solnit 19), throwing me right into my backyard. Looking at that picture from the initial aftermath of Sandy, that bioregional nostalgia for the physical yard occurred ever so slightly to which Snyder refers: “All of us carry within us a picture of the terrain that was learned roughly between the ages of six and nine” (Snyder 28).
This terrain was not so much a place to learn about the plants as Gary Snyder initially proposes, rather it fills his argument about childhood locations: “Revisualizing that place with its smells and textures, walking through it again in your imagination, has a grounding and settling effect” (Snyder 28). While I love remembering building that abnormally tall snowman, that place no longer is truly the place I once spent an absurd amount of time. Even though it was not unceremoniously “ripped up by bulldozers” (Snyder 28), this hurricane ravaged my childhood memories, thus transforming this natural disaster from a public problem to a personal insult.
After talking to my family a few times on the first day, I began to gauge the directly isolated nature of the situation; however, as the electricity was slowly fixed, Facebook and Twitter began to flood with pictures and posts about the storm’s aftermath. People whom I barely see suddenly became a part of a story that I needed to constantly follow to the point that I was disappointed when they did not post a few hours. Snyder claims that “we experience slums, prairies, and wetlands all equally as ‘places.’ Like a mirror, a place can hold anything, on any scale” (Snyder 27), but I do not think he considered that this ambiguous “place” could be more important when in a virtual setting. Despite never having been to some of these exact spots, I experienced them almost as if I were there because of the constant link these social networks forged.
These images were all from an album on Facebook that my cousin, Christine, and her wife, Erin, in New Jersey were consistently updating over the course of the storm. While I only see the two of them maybe once every two years, Facebook suddenly made their awful hurricane experience a part of my everyday life as I avidly followed their story to make sure they were okay. Although Snyder tells us that “our place is a part of what we are” (Snyder 29), somehow these photographs turned Christine and Erin’s place into my place as well, if only for a few days. I have never been to their house before but experiencing their part of the destruction on Facebook brought me (and a myriad of other people) into their world.
As we consider what Gary Snyder says about how to connect to a particular place, the definition of a place constantly changes when social media comes into the picture. By experiencing Hurricane Sandy from afar, I bonded with my bioregion much more than I think I would have actually being in Connecticut. Perhaps we should try to see social media as an assistive device for being a part of a distant homeland as opposed to a blockade that prevents us from being in our actual location.
Media as Ascension: An Examination of Transhumanism
Proprioception is the ability of human beings to perceive and process exactly where individual parts of the body are at any given time. This phenomenon is often called the seventh sense after taste, touch, smell, vision, hearing, and balance and it is integral to the idea of the human being as not just a tool user but the tool-using species that became the dominant race on the planet. This is because humans possess what seems to be the unique capability to use our sense of proprioception to conceive of tools as natural extensions of our selves.
This idea of tool as extension of self applies to media as well. A piece of media is defined as anything that alters the status quo of interaction either between individuals, the individual and society or the individual and his environment. By their definition, tools are objects that can be taken advantage of to affect an environment in a meritorious way for the tool-user. Thus, logically, all tools are pieces of media since they alter the relationship between the user and his environment. As such, our use of media is affected by proprioception as well. When we use media, it is not as a separate entity but rather it is an extension of our self. The flaw in this perception of both tool and media is the error of the tool or media itself. When using a piece of media, it becomes an extension but an incredibly limited one that it is focused on what it was made to accomplish. What if this weren’t the case? What if instead of acting as a limited extension, there existed a tool or a piece of media that fully replaced the users own original bodily inputs? What if one could replace their arm with a better, more durable and more capable arm?
This is a question asked by the intellectual and cultural movement self-identified as transhumanism. Transhumanism is a school of thought that theorizes that it is possible to transcend the limits of the human body through the application of advanced (and currently uncreated for the most part) technology. Furthermore, through the liberal application of such technologies, we can remake the human experience at the base level, into something different but wholly better. Transhumanism is a broad movement across a number of fields including robotics, computer science, mathematics, biology, ethics and the arts and despite a common end goal, no one field approaches transhumanism from the same vantage point. In this regard, I feel that transhumanism is one of the most introspective and self-critical intellectual movements that I’ve encountered. And to a large degree, this originates from transhumanities, literature, art or other such creative work (i.e. humanities) that deal with transhumanist topics.
Transhumanism is important to the field of media studies because it represents, in an unintentional way, an extreme version of a number of topics such as media as augmentation and media as homogenizing agent. Transhumanism has a goal by which humanity transcends its current physical, biological and potentially psychological limits through the use of some technology whether it be cybernetics (the combination of robotics with organic beings), genetic manipulation or some other unknown source. Either way, all of these use technology and various pieces of media to achieve the end goal. In doing so it creates a new paradigm wherein media isn’t an extension of humanity but rather it is a method of ascension into something that is, to some degree, objectively better. This is perfectly exemplified by the video in the included link:
The video itself is a promotional piece for a video game entitled Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which came out two years ago and it plays like something seeking to deliberately invoke the sentiments of Susan Davis’ “Touch the Magic” essay. The game actually dealt with the concept of transhumanism effectively and has been praised within the medium for the developers’ willingness to take on such themes in an interactive medium. The video itself focuses on Sarif Industries, a company in the games’ universe that is creating human augmentations to replace limbs or in one case, a man’s eyes. The video deliberately makes the prospect of artificial limbs or eyes appealing but it also deliberately frames the question of them as being ambivalent. The three individuals shown are implied to be quite affluent individuals. Regardless of the product that it’s attached to, this video is an excellent example of using the stylistic themes and cinematography of a typical commercial to touch on themes of classism and arguably the subtle racism of modern marketing (all three individuals are white). As in Davis’ piece, they are altering using the medium of the commercial to alter the perception of something like human augmentation into something most palatable, the same way that the Seaworld ad condenses nature into a visual experience.
On the other side of the spectrum, transhumanist works can be exceptionally dark and cynical pieces that are self-critical of the movement. A good example of this would be these pieces of art from a tabletop RPG (think along the lines of Dungeons and Dragons) called Eclipse Phase. The following are a pair of character concept pieces:
Both are playable characters, which is part of the appeal that Eclipse Phase is going for, but neither is particularly alluring figures, especially since in the games’ canon, both are technically human consciousnesses piloting “shells.” One thing that sticks out to me is that both machines are seem to be incapable of expression, any expression is artistic expression and in both cases through the eyes. In both cases, the appearance is lifeless, vacant, or not to put too fine a point on it, homogenized. Eclipse Phase creates a world where Mchluhan’s Global Village model, the model where enhanced media will eventually lead to a homogenous society in the structure of the tribe but on a massive scale, didn’t just come to pass, but it has created a horror scenario. Indeed, this homgenization is achieved via another one of transhumanisms’ theoretical extremes. In both cases, the above art depicts characters who used to be human and who have been separated completely from their initial biological bodies. This is the single most effective disconnection from the environment that I can find in any piece of fiction across any medium. At this point, the human being, as a more or less digital consciousness according to the games’ lore, is himself a piece of media. This is an almost satirical extreme of Mcluhan’s medium as message theory.
In Eclipse Phase, everybody is different on the outside since everything about appearance and physical capabilities is tailor made, but every human consciousness is the same underneath the unique exterior. The human experience has become so customizable that it has lost all sense of self and is just a blank canvas, a terrifying (if esoteric) prospect. In this hypothetical situation, the humanity is the new medium, and the message has no context. Eclipse Phase itself puts it best with its tagline:
My own feelings on transhumanism, both as a movement and as an idea are ambivalent. Which isn’t to say that I have no strong feelings on the matter, quite the opposite. I have simultaneously strong and conflicting feelings on the matter. On one hand, I have to admit that the allure of active, working and possibly common cybernetics would be amazing and the same could probably be said for be able to a number of things that transhumanist claim could be possible. On the other hand, I realize that I’ve been brought up consuming a lot of the same media influences that have sparked transhumanism, so maybe accepting it comes easier to me. Still, the utopia that transhumanism promises looks an awful lot like some of the more unsettling aspects of what we’ve discussed in this class. In some ways it preaches a total separation from nature and it encourages bringing an end to the human experience, as we know it in favor of some only potentially benevolent unknown.
In the end though, transhumanists will tell you that the movement isn’t about robotic limbs or digitized consciousness. It’s about being optimistic for the future and what humanity can achieve. True transhumanism doesn’t preach the superiority of one group over another but rather it calls for the ascension of everyone regardless of race, class and identity. While in many ways it wants to destroy the human experience, it wants to do so because the human experience is flawed and transhumanists believe that we can fix that. Transhumanism is appealing to me because for the most part, it understands that our problems are fixable and that we are capable of amazing things. Such a sentiment is one that I share.
I don’t believe that transhumanism will ever become a driving force in the mainstream; perhaps it’s just a bit too esoteric for that much. But I do hope that it continues to foster thought and argument for years to come.
Marshal Mcluhan sparked a dialogue about the implications of the over-connected and heavily mediated world that we live in, years before the advent of modern social networking. His revolutionary insights about the effects of media on us and our environment are critical to understanding the rapidly changing world and the places that we no longer truly inhabit. But despite Mcluhan’s genius, his writing, and concepts, can be hard to digest.
Take, for example, one of his pithier quotes: “The personal and social consequences of any media, that is any extension of our selves, result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology” (7). First, he introduces a preliminary definition of media, “any extension of ourselves.” This, of course, applies to most modern communication technologies such as computers, telephones, and mail, but also transportation technology, such as trains, airplanes, and cars. As both Mcluhan and Thrift describe, transportation technology cannot be disentangled (Adey 174). Most importantly, though, he introduces the idea that the impact of any media comes from the “new scale that is introduced into our affairs,” essentially that the introduction of new mediums, be they written language, boats, or Facebook, into society significantly alter our personal and social lives. When he says “the medium is the message” he means that the medium itself effects how we live our lives much more than the messages that these media happen to convey. Which is a lot to dissect from just one sentence.
I wanted to create a project that illuminated Mcluhan’s idea and make his abstract concepts concrete and tangible. What I came up with was part experiment, part performance, and, hopefully, part art. I attempted to create media with no message whatsoever. I struggled with trying to conceptualize media that did not carry any specific message, but still fit the definition of media. Mcluhan argues that the electric light is a form of messageless media. This is true, since it did drastically alter human’s interactions with each other, themselves and their environment (9). Yet electric lights, and most other types of media, have some practical or marketable purpose. I wanted to create a message-free media with no commercial or practical purpose at all.
What I came up with was the idea of working with fliers, a familiar form of media on most college campuses. I created fliers that contained random combinations of words and spaces, and posted them at various locations around the University of Rochester campus. Since the “message” appeared to be ambiguous, I assumed that people would try to divine a meaning by filling in the blanks to create a word. In reality there was nothing ambiguous about the posters: there were no correct or incorrect answers. They were entirely meaning free.
In an attempt to gauge people’s reactions to meaning-free media, I created a page on Facebook (www.facebook.com/URthemessage) for people to post questions, inquiries, or even online suggestions about the meaning of the physical fliers. I posted pictures of many of the fliers that I hung around campus in order to create a virtual space for flier feedback that paralleled the physical fliering space.
I immediately noticed a change in people’s behavior due to the fliers. As soon as they were placed, I saw multiple people look at the fliers curiously, jolted from their busy routine by the unusual sight. Though there were other posters surrounding them, the nature of my posters almost always seemed command people’s attention.
In just one night there were multiple responses on the physical walls of UR, and the virtual walls of Facebook. The first response read “cold ass honkey,” a reference to the lyrics of a popular song.
One simply read “fatty.” I assume that this did not refer to the nutritional contents of butter, but rather a mean spirited attack on someone’s body type, though I may be wrong. The anonymity provided by this form of media mirrors the anonymity of the internet, which is often used for similar hateful expressions. This wasn’t the only instance of these fliers being used to attempt to offend or shock (though I did try my best to create them so they could not be used this way). Interestingly enough, the use of the media in this specific manner highlights the similarities between fliers and the internet, two forms of media that we perceive as quite different due to their differing messages, but have similar effects on (some) human behavior.
Another was an attempt at creating multiple meanings with the same ambiguous prompt, and read “craze,” “trace,” and “grate.”
The following was my favorite. It read “wheee!” in small, curved letters and seemed to be an abstract and artistic expression of joy. It was also the only one I have seen, thus far, that does not attempt to use an actual English word, and instead creates its own unique utterance.
In just a day there was immediate online activity as well. A few people, having seen fliers around campus, “liked” the page on Facebook, but did not end up posting anything. After I posted a link to my Facebook group on a public UR message board, I did get a comment that seemed to highlight a common feeling among people who had been noticing the fliers around campus.
These reactions seem to demonstrate that media without clear meaning confuses us. Mcluhan states that “The electric light is pure information. It is medium without a message…” (8). So why are my fliers so confounding when they are a message-free medium as well? The difference, I think, lies in the fact that no one looks for meaning in light bulbs, yet they do seek it in fliers, billboards, ads, and commercials, because we are accustomed to these media trying to sell us a product or information. It could also be because my fliers appear to have ambiguous messages. The viewer of the flier sees a hidden message, even though they cannot comprehend it. The fact that these fliers induce any sort of behavior, however, demonstrates Mcluhan’s concept of media’s effect on social interactions.
Most importantly, though, this project shows how, when given the chance, we focus on the meaning of a medium, and ignore the medium itself. As Mcluhan says “Indeed it is only too typical that the content of the media blinds us to the character of the medium” (9). If participants used the fliers to take notes, draw an elephant, or make a paper hat, it might have demonstrated their awareness of the media as media (a piece of paper). If someone removed, it not because of its message, but because they believed in wall space, and hall space, free of the visual and social influence of fliers, this might have also indicated awareness of the medium itself. But instead their preoccupation with the assumed message took precedent. They attempted to ascertain meaning, or project meaning, onto these fliers. The fliers stood out from other almost identical forms of media that surrounded them simply because they didn’t have a clear message. People were ultimately blinded by the content of the fliers.
In her novel “Through the Arc of the Rain Forest” Karen Tei Yamashita creatively conveys this type of blindness.
“..every weekend, the crowds that gathered to await the return flight of the pigeon were growing larger and larger. Pretty soon they spread out from the narrow corridors of the tenement and onto the streets, milling with anticipation on the sidewalks and floating back and forth between the bars across the street and on the corner. A slow moving glut of traffic along with a new taxi stand had invaded the narrow street. Vendors had begun to come regularly on the weekends…” (35)
Though describing the fictitious events surrounding the collective obsession with a message-delivering carrier pigeon, it is a clever analysis of the forces surrounding media and its effect on humans and their environment. The media, in the case of Yamashita’s novel, is the pigeon, in my case it was the flier. The pigeon reorganizes the entire structure of the village, as the sidewalks begin to flood with people, and then with people catering to those people, and people catering to the people catering to those people, and so on. Ultimately the surrounding societal landscape is altered by medium of the pigeon. The message that the pigeon carries, however, is comparatively unimportant, usually a random saying penned by the character Batista. The characters in the village are exclusively preoccupied by the inconsequential message, and fail to comprehend the way in which the medium (carrier pigeon) is restructuring their entire social environment.
The medium of fliers alter the social landscape of our school in similar, subtler, ways. Almost all of the numerous campus extracurricular groups engage in regular group fliering campaigns, directing groups of people, and their friends to certain locations (billboards, dining halls, other walls that the school has designated as acceptable for fliering), not to mention people stopping or going out of their way to read a certain flier, or people engaging in conversations, that they would not have otherwise had, based on a flier. Fliers, as a medium, dictate our interactions, regardless of whether the flier happens to be for a rock climbing club, or soliciting participants for a wing eating contest.
It is now clear how the content of the media often trumps the more important implications of the media itself, but how is this related to our environment? In other words, how could filling in meaningless fliers be complacent in environmental degradation? “In terms of the ways in which the machine altered our relations to one another and to ourselves, it mattered not in the least whether it turned out cornflakes or Cadillacs” (8). Mcluhan is simply reiterating the idea of “the media is the message” in terms of factory automation, but what is important is his use of the phrases “our relations to one another” and “to ourselves.” There was a time when bioregionalism, the building of one’s lifestyle and identity around the unique local environment, was the norm, and not the exception. “Our relationship to the natural world takes place in a place and must be grounded in information and experience” says Gary Snyder about bioregionalism (42). People’s “information” and “experience” went hand in hand with the natural world in which they lived. Therefore the “relations to one another” and “to ourselves” that Mcluhan describes, according to Snyder, must also include relationships with the environment. In a bioregional world our relationships to one another are affected and influenced by our place, as Snyder describes, since people are separated and connected by varying terrain, geographical structures and ecological lifestyles (29-31).
But because of our mediated world, not only are our “relationships to one another” affected, but our relationships to our environment are as well. Nature is no longer a “barrier” between humans: humans can live independently of their ecological “place.” Natural environment is becoming increasingly irrelevant as we lose our bioregionality. Modernization and sense of place do not have to be mutually exclusive though, as Snyder describes: “The bioregional movement is not just a rural program: it is as much for the restoration of urban neighborhood life and the greening of the cities” (47). But because of over mediation, we are becoming disembedded from our place. While this mediation produces social anxiety, such as that produced by air travel that Adey describes (200), it also degrades people’s awareness of their environment. Ultimately, it is not so much the action of filling in the fliers, but our collective inability to see the effects of the forces that mediate our lives, that are problematic when it comes to our connection with the environment. If we do not notice the medium itself, how can we hope see its role in separating us from our bioregional “place”?
Perhaps in terms of the fliering project, ignoring the media in favor of the message does not have disastrous results, but it is indicative of a mentality that does. The behavior of those who participated in the project parallels our societal perspective of media: one that is focused the messages of media rather than the media itself. We focus on what trains, boats, and cars bring, instead of the effects of these methods of transportation; what letters say, instead of social implications this kind of communication; what billboards are trying to sell, instead of the effects of advertising. By doing this we ignore the vast societal and ecological impact of these media. The environmental degradation caused by transportation technologies, the displacement caused by over-connectivity, and the unequal influence over our visual environment, are all much more significant than products we receive from China, the contents of an email from a friend, and how many miles per gallon a Toyota might get on the highway.
On a more positive note, I feel as though this project has confounded the traditional formula of media as consumerist and uni-directional activity. In the case of fliers, one usually walks by a flier, consumes the information and moves on. It is a subtle activity that happens so often that we hardly notice it. This project, though, forces us to stop and think about what our relationship to the media. Instead of simply consuming the information on the flier, we create our own meaning, and complicate the relationship between the person on the creative end of the media and the person on the receiving end. It gives us a say in our everyday environment, even the participants in the project might not realize it. Moreover, I hope it will stimulate critical discussion about the media that we consume. If my fliers sparked such curiosity and skepticism, why shouldn’t all fliers? And why not all media? Perhaps this is a bit idealistic, but hopefully, when this article is posted, the physical double-take that I witnessed as people glanced my fliers will turn into a mental double-take towards all forms of media.
I like to think of myself as someone who is keenly aware of her surroundings, but this class has taught me that there is much more to take notice of in our environment. I’ve learned that the term “environment” is not solely specific to nature, but it refers to our personal surroundings including our homes, our work places, and our means of transportation. I wrote the following in one of my Blackboard discussion posts earlier in the semester:
It’s really interesting to me how society is so wrapped up in technology, that we fail to notice our surroundings. After thinking about the films we’ve watched and the articles we’ve read so far, I’ve come to realize that how we view nature has changed rapidly over time. Prior to this class, I used to think that nature was a “destination,” in that you had to go to a specific park like Letchworth or Niagara Falls to truly experience nature. But in reality, we live in nature every day, we’re just so focused on our connectivity through social media/technology to notice the nature that surrounds us. I think that the app Indeterminate Hikes Plus and documentaries like Manufactured Landscapes successfully tie together technology and nature. For example, the documentary demonstrates how photographer Edward Burtynsky finds beauty in his surroundings that have been heavily influenced by technology. This combination of nature and technology shows how technology has influenced our natural surroundings. The phone app forces uses to observe nature through the use of their smart phones, which is an interesting way to try and disconnect technology users from the world of their “networks.” (Evans)
(A Destination Location: Niagara Falls, Fall Break 2012)
I want to highlight my earlier belief that “nature is a destination” like Niagara Falls, because it shows how much my idea of environment has changed. I now understand that “our environment” is everywhere we are and it encompasses our surroundings, including those that are man made; and it is constantly changing. With this essay, I am hoping to demonstrate how media plays a positive role in connected individuals to their environment, keeping in mind that environment means more than “natural” surroundings.
In a media-centered society, it’s a common belief that media has a negative effect on our environment. I want to direct attention to a passage from Marshall McLuhan’s Intro to Understanding Media.
After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western world is imploding. During the mechanical ages we had extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of man–the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media. Whether the extension of consciousness, so long sought by advertisers for specific products, will be a “good thing” is a question that admits of a wide solution. (McLuhan 3-4)
Here, McLuhan explains that through new forms of technology, we are able to “extend our central nervous system…abolishing both space and time,” which is one of McLuhan’s key ideas. We have extended ourselves into technology and have therefore made our worlds smaller. While it seems as though our technological world is ever growing, our existence in the “real” world is diminishing through the abolishment of space and time, which references the fact that individuals are consumed by technology and no longer focus on the little details of daily life. For example, smart phones have become a necessity from telling time to checking scores on ESPN. People pay more attention to their mobile devices than to their surroundings and therefore they lose track of time and move through space without acknowledging or recognizing the beauty that surrounds them. McLuhan then references the “technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society…we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media.” With this statement, McLuhan argues that knowledge can be spread through technology by creating a consciousness within a mediated world. This means that individuals are only truly conscious of the technology they are using.
I agree with McLuhan’s argument that the abolishment of space and time is due to technology, however, I believe that there are positive ways in which we can use media to extend our consciousness into every aspect of our environments. For example, Gary Snyder shows the positives of connecting with nature in his article Practice of the Wild, he argues that nature is a learning experience and it can affect our individuality. On page 41, Snyder explains the impact of simply knowing about a tree, the Douglas Fir.
The presence of this tree [Douglas Fir] signifies a rainfall and a temperature range and will indicate what your agriculture might be, how steep the pitch of your roof, what raincoats you’d need. You don’t have to know such details to get by in the modern cities of Portland or Bellingham. But if you do know what is taught by plants and weather, you are in on the gossip and can truly feel more at home. The sum of a field’s forces becomes what we call very loosely the “spirit of the place.” To know the spirit of a place is to realize that you are a part of a part and that the whole is made of parts, each of which is whole. You start with the part you are whole in. (Snyder 41)
Knowledge about our environment can be a rewarding experience because of lessons learned and the growth of appreciation for our surroundings. With this passage, Snyder emphasizes the importance of getting to know our environment in order to be prepared for life situations such as weather conditions. The most important part of this passage is understanding the “spirit of the place.” I think that this embodies the idea that being in tune with our environment can be a rewarding experience. Reflecting about the spirit in our environment connects us to our surroundings through every one of our senses.
While McLuhan addresses technology as a distraction from space and Snyder discusses the benefits of nature connections, the iPhone/Android app “Indeterminate Hikes + (IH+)” created by Leila Nadir and Cary Peppermint combines these two perspectives to show how we can use media to interact with our environment. I think this app forces users to engage their senses through specific interactions with the environment. Nadir and Peppermint explain in their essay on the app that their goal was to, “experiment to see if mobile media can help us somehow re-experience everyday locales in ‘deep, meaningful, and context-rich ways.'” If users are able to connect with their environment in “meaningful” ways, then the app successfully mediates between user and his/her surroundings. I decided to give the app a try, in order to see if I experienced nature through media in a new way.
Indeterminate Hikes +:
This was the first time I had ever used IH+ and I decided to give it a go on campus. I honestly didn’t think there would be many route options for the app to assign me, but as it turned out, there were plenty. I dragged my friend Mike with me to experience our environment through media and we ended up having so much fun trekking through campus. The app took us on unpaved paths and routes that we wouldn’t have typically walked on to get from point A to point B.
Our original idea was to use IH+ to get from our dorm in Phase to Todd Union on the other side of campus. We input:
500 Joseph C. Wilson Boulevard, Rochester NY
as our end point and used “current location” as our starting point.
Normally, we would have taken Phase Bridge to get to Todd Union but instead…
This part was easy, since we were simply walking down a paved road to get to our first instructive location.
So…we turned our noses up to the sky…
And texted our friend letting her know of our new discovery.
After stopping to smell the wifi, it made me think about how much students at universities depend of easily accessible internet connection. We use wifi every day without actually thinking about it, and we certainly take it for granted. So, for a product that consumes majority of our time when we use the internet for research, homework, social media, etc., it was really interesting to give it a feasible characteristic of smell. We use wifi constantly, but we can’t touch it, see it, hear it, but now we can smell it.
As we continued, our next task quickly appeared on screen:
We stood under the bridge that connects Hillcourt Lot to River Lot waiting to “feel the rumble of combustible engines.”
We then continued on our IH+ path towards Susan B. Anthony.
The app wanted us to cut through Sue B. in a way that wasn’t physically possible without scaling the dorm and climbing over the roof, so we had to venture off path a little bit between Tower Road and Intercampus Drive. On the strip of grass acting as a median between the two roads, we slid through snow and admired the gnarled roots of a tree we would have never noticed before.
Once we made it across the median (which really wasn’t big, it was just really slippery from the snow and the lack of traction of our shoes), we continued up Tower Road towards Sue B. Since we were slightly off the path IH+ had given us, we had decided to cut through Sue B. to get to Spurrier, which led us much closer to the path we were supposed to be on. However, before entering Sue B…
We discovered graffiti art on the abutment of Phase Bridge that looked like two eyes watching everyone on the road. Without the use of the app, I probably would have never seen this form of art on campus.
As we continued on, we stumbled upon a guided tour of campus.
Watching the visitors follow the tour guides made me realize that this was another form of media in action. The tour guides mediate between the visitors and campus in order to show them a new environment.
We then continued on, following the IH+ map. The directions led us directly down the center of the quad between Wilson Commons and the Res Quad. In order to stick as close to the blue line as possible, we ignored the paved paths and walked on the grass. We thought it was funny how the snow marked the outline of the exact path we were looking for.
We then ended up at the end of the Fraternity Quad, directly across from Todd Union. But this wasn’t the end of our hike.
We discovered that the address of Todd Union is really 415 Alumni Road, not 500 Joseph C. Wilson Boulevard. We had assumed Todd was the address of our CPU boxes since it’s home to our campus post office, but this just proves that we can’t rely on every “fact” of information we acquire through media. Since this wasn’t actually our end location, we continued onward.
The next instruction point put us in the middle of the road at the roundabout on Joseph C. Wilson Boulevard. Without this app, I wouldn’t have chosen to stand in the middle of the road, because that’s not what people do. But it was a cool (and a little nerve-racking) to stand in an unexpected location. It made me really think about my environment.
With this instruction we employed yet another sense. We’re used to looking at the moon or the sun, so to actively take a moment to listen, was refreshing. We then encountered some technical difficulties with the app and it wouldn’t let us continue on our original path. However, the experience we had gotten out of the app thus far had been truly rewarding. We tried to create a new path but then almost got hit by a car, so we decided to call it quits. By giving the app a try, I learned that I could use my phone as a way to connect with my environment. I noticed sights, sounds, and smells that I hadn’t taken the time to care about before and I found a new appreciation for places on campus.
IH+ allows users to actively connect with their environment, making them take note of their natural surroundings. But how else can media help us interact with nature?
National Parks Services:
National Parks use Social Media for promotions and to get visitors to actively interact with the park.
Could be similar to the way art galleries use cell phone tours or audio tours
YouTube slogan for NPS: “Experience Your America” (trademarked)
Through podcasts, people can interact with parks through sound and through YouTube, they can interact visually without physically being at the park. NPS’s YouTube slogan makes the parks seem appealing because it connects individuals to the parks on a national scale.
These social media connections are not visible on the homepage, only under the Find Parks page. However, the existence of these social media outlets show that nature is constantly connected to social media.
Specific Park Examples of Using Media to Interact with Nature:
Looking at a specific park: Arches, in Utah, the webpage has a direct link to Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as links to multimedia presentations and a photo gallery. There’s an interactive flower guide, that helps users determine what flowers they saw during their visit to the park. There’s also a guide that tells visitors when it’s the best time to photograph specific landmarks.
In Florida, at the Everglades, it’s possible to take an audio tour as you drive through. This allows visitors to learn about the nature that surrounds them. Even though the audio car tours don’t connect visitors with the environment physically, it teaches them about the environment they are experiencing. Newfound knowledge about the park sparks appreciation for their surroundings. The Everglades page also has a link to YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook.
In Arizona, visitors of the Grand Canyon can enhance their trek through the canyon with a cell phone audio tour. (How is there cell service in the canyon??)
“Please be aware that cell phone coverage at Grand Canyon can be spotty and not all providers offer service in the park.” -NPS Grand Canyon webpage
These audio tours have options so that visitors can pause, rewind, and fast forward in order to take a closer look at what they are learning about. The cell phone tour also has a “comment” option so that visitors can leave comments about a specific place in the park. This is the most interactive use of media because it allows visitors to actively talk and reflect about their experience at the Grand Canyon.
My experience with IH+ and the exploration of NPS’s website, have shown me how we can actively use media technology and social media to interact with and become aware of our environment that’s outside of the digital world. These two examples demonstrate how to build a relationship with nature and how to learn from our natural environments. But what about an environment that isn’t considered “nature?” Let’s take a look at Bill Gates’s smart house to understand how media can better our surroundings.
Gates’s house is an excellent example of how technology can mediate our environment and how technology can make our surroundings more enjoyable. On this virtual photo tour of the Gates House, the descriptions tell us that the house is fully equipped with high tech amenities that make the home a comfortable living environment. For example, the pool has a sound system built in so swimmers can listen to music underwater.
This video tour describes the technological luxuries that equip the Gates’s home.
“New technologies…to make the home more livable.”
This claim about the house shows that the technology installed into the house were intended to positively benefit the family. Inside the house, visitors and family members can wear pins that:
“uniquely identifies you and connects you to the home’s electronic services, which will automatically adapt themselves to you and your tastes. As you move through the home, the pin that you’ve programmed allows you to hear your choice of music on the information appliance nearest you, even as people in different rooms listen to their own favorites. “
But that’s not all the pin can do, it can even control television programs so if you move from room to room, what you’ve been watching will “follow” you. It can even adjust the room temperature so that guests and family members can be as comfortable as possible. The house itself is also equipped with energy saving technology, so that it leaves less of an environmental footprint.
All three of the above examples demonstrate how we can use media to actively interact with our environment in a positive way. IH+ allows us to form a relationship with our surroundings through our phones, which makes the interaction a very personal experience. The use of social media on NPS’s website pages allows visitors of the parks to share their experiences with others, and demonstrates a more general use of media to connect with the environment. Finally, The Gates House shows how we can use technology to mediate individuals to an environment that’s not necessarily nature. The smart house allows visitors to feel comfortable because the house adapts to their needs. This also shows that environment simply means our surroundings and the way we interact with them.
To know the spirit of a place is to realize that you are a part of a part and that the whole is made of parts, each of which is whole.
On Tuesday April 20, 2010, a series of unfortunate events unfolded on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig. An explosion connected to a well resulted in the largest accidental oil spill in history. Three wells began to leak around 1,000 barrels of oil per day, spreading five times faster than expected. The surface oil was either captured or dispersed, and officials conducted controlled burns to remove oil. Once experts realized it would be months before the leaking was stopped, concerns were raised about long-term environmental damage.
About a year after the explosion, BP took extensive measures to right their wrong. They launched a $100 million advertisement campaign in hopes of persuading the world that the Gulf was restored. Coastal states affected include Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi, and they were in need of a business boom. Glistening beaches, flourishing coastal businesses and fisheries, and smiling tourists make the 2010 oil spill seem like a thing of the past. This PR blitz is part of BP’s multibillion dollar response to the oil disaster and an integral part of the company’s ongoing commitment to support economic restoration along the Gulf Coast. The ad boasts 2011 as the best tourism season in years, but this rings hollow to many residents.
The Truth: Fisheries are suffering from declining seafood harvests, restaurants are reporting stable revenues from 2010, and not all beaches are open for swimming, although claimed in the ad. In a report released in January of 2012, NBC News conveyed that “BP is touting evidence that the Gulf’s ecology has not been severely damaged by the spill…” Little did the public know that BP paid Chef Emeril Lagasse to promote Gulf seafood and hired seafood trucks to cater to the thousands of fans flocking to New Orleans for the Superbowl. All in an attempt to highlight apparent improving economic signs.
Filmmaker Bryan Hopkins, with just $250 in cash, set out for Louisiana to document the widespread ecological damage that BP was hiding. His film Dirty Energy attempts to hold politicians and the company responsible for the extensive loss of business, ecology, and happiness. His intentions were to make people across the country see what was really going on in the Gulf, without the misleading help of BP’s ad campaign. What Hopkins saw were “some dead fish and a pool of thick fresh oil.”
“Keep in mind that it had been more than six months since the well had been capped. I was infuriated seeing this since at the time, BP was running national ads declaring the ‘Gulf was open for Business.’”
He brings to light the personal stories of several Louisiana fisherman and the local residents who have been struggling to rebuild their lives after the crises. Hopkins gives an emotional account of the tragic loss of marine life; shrimp, crabs, dolphins, birds, fish, and even sperm whale populations have been found declining. It is people like Hopkins that are conveying the truth to the world. By encouraging locals to speak up about the environmental and economic hardships they are actually still facing from the oil spill, someone watching is bound to stand up to BP.
Head of BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization Mike Utsler says about the new ad campaign: “they really do a wonderful job of capturing the friendly and fun-loving nature of the people and places of the gulf coast.” Who should the public believe? An unknown BP employee, or the hundreds of people still bearing the severe effects from the oil spill.
A.C. Cooper, a Louisiana shrimp fisherman denied any truth in BP’s campaign, even going on to call it “BP propaganda.” A few months after the launch of the campaign, Cooper detailed that fishing spots in some bays were still closed by the state due to oil contamination. His shrimp harvest was dismal that year; all while BP is promoting waters that are teeming with deep sea fish. Dean Blanchard came forward in November 0f 2012 to describe the deformed shrimp he had caught. “The shrimp had black discoloration in their gills, large tumors and deformities such as missing eyes and enlarged heads” he reports in the film Dirty Energy. Additionally, a report by the Huffington Post in February of 2013 interviews several locals who testify conditions on the coast have not changed much. George Barisich, Louisiana fisherman and board member of the GO FISH coalition clarified the direct impact on his businesses to this day. “My oyster production is down 93%… shrimp production is down at least 40% in my area,” he says in an interview with the Huffington Post. Keep in mind that BP is still running ads claiming the Gulf is booming in business…
“Eyeless shrimp and fish with lesions are becoming common, with the BP oil pollution believed to be the likely cause” – FoxNews reports, April 2012
BP’s ad “A Perfect Winter Getaway” boasts extreme similarities with that of SeaWorld’s “Touch the Magic” ad released in 1996. Both very carefully thought out and expensive to produce, they are part of a corporate media trend that helps to “shape how Americans understand nature and the environment,” as stated by Susan G. Davis, author of “Touch the Magic”. BP’s ad campaign is representing the Gulf Coast in an extremely positive and restored light, delivering a richness of illustrations depicting economic and environmental improvement. BP’s ad ‘cordially invites’ tourists to the Gulf to partake in deep sea fishing, sea kayaking, intimate hotel experiences, great music, fresh seafood, and just ‘100% fun.’ Similar to SeaWorld’s intentions, BP is trying to compact as many experiences as possible into one advertisement, as if trying to simulate a vacation to the Gulf as a Caribbean getaway. Alternating between shots of humans and scenes of coastal landscapes, the sun is always shining and it’s all smiles for this winter getaway.
Davis implies from the SeaWorld’s video advertisement that “Sea World’s and Anheuser-Busch’s important publicity materials appeal strongly to the environmental interests of the American public, carefully positioning the corporation as at once a good environmental citizen…” This more than accurately describes BP; our country would like to see that the Gulf Coast states have been fully restored since the oil spill, and with the help of pristine visuals, it seems to capture the public’s attention. This ad conveys intense emotions indicated by references of happy feelings and visual allusions of a perfect and peaceful environment. Family, friends, and loved ones appear throughout the one-minute clip of the Gulf States, captivating viewers from the first scene of a beach sunrise.
Seems a bit too magical right? Six months before the launch of this ad campaign, wildlife was suffering immensely. Birds, sea turtles, marshlands, beaches, and more were coated in oil. It is not possible that all marine and coastal animals could be restored to healthy conditions, yet BP pins the coast as a “bird-watchers paradise” and encourages deep-sea fishing.
This map contains data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and documents the location injured or dead birds were picked up, and the total number found dead six months after the spill.
BP’s use of media is a great example of how the role of mass-media shapes the public perceptions of ecological issues. Many may come to believe in the booming economy of the Gulf Coast, yet the people who actually live and work (or at least used to) on the coast are suffering not only from ecological damage but economic as well. BP has supposedly set aside millions of dollars in compensation for the residents, but with this ad campaign residents are outraged. The company is seemingly trying to disassociate themselves from the spill, and by pushing these good vibrations they are trying to sway the public to forget about it.
Reactions to this ad spanned from completely mockery to sheer disgust. A look at several media images and videos will portray the true feelings of the Gulf Coast residents and their attempt to humiliate BP.
Food- it’s something we think about multiple times every single day. These thoughts are usually along the lines of, “Subway or McDonalds?” or “Italian or Chinese?” Rarely are questions like “Where did this food come from?” and “How was it produced?” asked. It’s not that Americans don’t care about where their food comes from, though. There is another reason why these questions are seldom raised. Food companies have gone to great lengths to use media in order to convince the public of the quality of their food and its production. We get our information about food from the industry itself, a reality that has led us to today, with an uninformed, unhealthy public.
While the issue of food companies misleading consumers is important no matter the context, what is particularly significant is the way the media, particularly digital media, aids this process of misinformation. This blog intends to explore several examples of this process, mainly in the interest of providing a better understanding of how media is used to exploit the public.
One popular form of media that is used by companies to portray their products in a positive way is through the use of the internet and websites.
(click photo for full size image)
While many details of fast food meat production are unknown, a majority of the population is aware that McDonald’s is not the healthiest choice. This doesn’t stop the chain from using buzzwords to try and change that perception. Right now the Chicken McNugget page from McDonald’s website uses the term “USDA-Inspected White Meat” to describe their chicken. Sounds just like what you can buy at the local supermarket. There are a few differences, though. First, along with white meat chicken, there is an extensive list of other ingredients, many unrecognizable. For example, “sodium phosphates” and “autolyzed yeast extract.” It’s no surprise then that McDonald’s emphasizes their “white meat chicken” as a way to divert the public’s attention from these other ingredients. In fact, while the above description of the Nuggets is prominently placed, in order to see the entire list of ingredients you must have a keen eye, as they can be found only after a few extra clicks of the “nutrition” and “ingredients” tabs, which are not displayed prominently.
These efforts by McDonald’s to portray their food in a positive light have been quite successful.
User @Trillian_01 defends the McNuggets after @dudeman718’s posting of the following picture, which went viral last year.
The image is of the mechanically seperated chicken, which is tissue from the carcasses of the bird that is removed from the bone by using a special processing machine. This chicken product is believed to be part of what makes up the Chicken McNugget, though there is not enough concrete evidence to say for sure whether this is the case. Regardless, @Trillian_01’s tweet indicates her perception, one shared by many, that the use of white meat chicken means that McNuggets do not contain “crap” like the picture above. This exchange on twitter is a perfect example of the success food companies are having by using types of media like websites to positively portray their products.
Another way that food companies are using media to present their products in a positive way is by the use of FAQs, which are found on websites, Facebook pages, and often in restaurants themselves. While one would like to believe these are questions that are most frequently asked about a company, by looking at the McDonald’s website, this does not seem to be the case. While the site features an impressively high number of FAQs, every single one is worded in specific ways. For example:
This answer satisfies the curiosity of most Americans, giving them the supposed insight into McDonald’s food production they want. In reality, though, McDonald’s carefully words the response to in order to give the public only some of the facts regarding their chicken feeds. Notice the phrasing, “a diet that includes…” From this, we know McDonald’s chickens are fed “natural” corn and soybeans. Sounds reasonable, right? The answer fails to mention that these grains are almost certainly genetically engineered (GE). Almost all the soy and corn in our country is, and while they’re not require to say for certain (another issue entirely), it can be safely assumed that McDonald’s is feeding their chickens genetically modified grains. It’s also worth noting that this GE feed has never been tested long term to ensure its safety. There’s also more to the chicken feed than these GE crops, however. They’re also fed a steady diet of antibiotics, because they are packed in so tightly on farms and disease is likely to spread. This practice leads to a number of concerns, such as the creation of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, also known as “superbugs.” These strains don’t just affect chicken, though. Humans can also be affected. These realities all have potentially major impacts on human health, and it makes one wonder whether Americans would continue to make the food choices they do if companies like McDonald’s provided this information to its customers.
Another example of McDonald’s using FAQs to help themselves and not the consumer is the constant use of terms like “zero grams of trans fat.”
It is no coincidence that McDonald’s uses the words “0 grams trans fat” and never “no trans fat” or “trans fat free.” The reason for this is that the artery clogging, cholesterol raising fat is allowed to be present in foods with “0 trans fat” as long as there is .49 grams or less per serving. Regardless, being able to create a public perception that distances McDonald’s from trans fat is an opportunity the company never passes up, as seen in the following tweet.
The ambiguous nature of this claim means that it is still very possible to end up eating trans fats with McDonald’s french fries or other fried foods, especially when considering the fact that figuring out what constitutes a serving at McDonald’s takes more effort than most would be willing to make.
Overall, it is questions like these that make it clear that FAQs are a major part of the problem involving food information. Instead of providing answers to questions that would help Americans make informed decisions about what food to eat, food companies take advantage of the forum and use it as a means to advertise the positive aspects of their food that they choose to share, omitting any information that does not present their food in the best possible manner.
Another fast food restaurant well known for marketing its food in a certain way, particularly through the media, is Subway. The brand presents itself as a healthy alternative to burger chains such as McDonald’s, offering a menu of “fresh fit” sandwiches. Recently, Subway posted the following on their Facebook page:
(click for full size image)
Breakfast under 200 calories? As expected, the post was met with a lot of positive response. In addition to the 17,000+ likes, comments like these were posted:
This positivity from Facebook users is a result of Subway flaunting the aspects of its food that appear the most desirable. The use of large, colorful images of sandwiches, as well as the exciting “Under 200 Calories*” headline allows this use of media to be so successful in portraying Subway in a positive light. In addition to what the post includes, however, what is omitted (or de-emphasized) is equally significant. First, the asterisk after “breakfast under 200 calories*” leads to tiny print in the corner of the page. The print is so small that even after clicking on the image to make it full size, I still had to zoom in on my computer to read it. What the print states is that “calories refer to regular 3-inch breakfast subs.” So Subway is advertising itself as a healthy breakfast option based on their tiny 3-inch sandwiches, which are likely not all that most customers are ordering.
Another way this use of social media inaccurately portrays Subway as a healthy option is, like the McDonald’s example above, the lack of information about ingredients. By searching Subway’s website I found that their flatbreads and English muffins both contain ingredients like the preservative calcium propionate. Even more dubious are the egg whites, which one would think would be just that, egg whites. That is not the case, however, as the food product contains things like artificial butter oil and dicalcium phosphate. This Facebook post proves to be a great strategy for Subway, as it uses social media to present their food positively on an entirely different website than their own, making it that much more difficult for consumers to find the ingredient lists that are buried deep within subway.com.
The above examples from McDonald’s and Subway show how fast food companies use the internet, particularly social media, to positively portray their products. There also exist a number of different ways the media is used to by food companies, such as through TV commercials:
This commercial was made by the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB), which is comprised of dairy farmers throughout California. The CMAB is closely tied with the California Food and Drug Administration. What is important in the above commercial is not the content of the ad, which, although creative and amusing, is beside the point. It is more crucial to take note of the surroundings the cows are in. The beautiful blue skies, rolling hills, and seemingly endless space for the cows to roam gives viewers a sense these cows live a comfortable life, and that they really are, as the commercial states, “happy cows.” However, as expected, the reality is far from what the commercial depicts.
The photo above was taken at Clauss Dairy, a farm in California that is a part of the CMAB. Additional photos can be found here. Clearly, the scenes from the commercial are nothing like the reality for these supposedly “happy cows.”
To better understand the use of television advertising and its ability to shape public perception and sentiments, let us consider Susan G. Davis’s article “Touch the Magic,” which discusses a commercial for SeaWorld theme park. The commercial below, while not the exact ad Davis is discussing, is extremely similar.
In describing what makes the commercial so successful, Davis says on page 210 “Visuals…underscore the ads verbal references to happy feelings.” This statement holds true for the “happy cow” ad as well, with the laughing cows and beautiful setting evoking positive feelings for viewers. Additionally, on page 208, Davis states “‘Touch the Magic’ presents a more condensed, perfect world. The advertisement does a good job of delivering SeaWorld’s visual richness.” Although the author is referring to a theme park and not anything directly related to the food industry, many of the aspects of the commercial that are successful translate to the CMAB ad. The idea of a condensed, perfect world is exactly what is depicted in the “happy cow” commercial, with blue skies and rolling hills appearing to be all the cows know. This landscape can certainly be described as being visually rich, furthering the similarities between it and “Touch the Magic.” Overall, the CMAB commercial is yet another example that shows how the food industry uses media to portray its products to the public in a positive light, providing consumers with misleading information about their food.
Without the careful, thought-out use of various types of media, food companies such as the one’s discussed above would almost certainly struggle to enjoy the success they currently do. By taking advantage of social media and TV, as well as by exploiting internet resources such as FAQs, fast food restaurants, dairy farmers, and various other food producers have successfully created an image of quality that has convinced Americans of the supposed high standards of these companies. Hopefully the analysis above has shown how and why the use of media has proven to be so important for these companies. In addition, this blog should be of use in helping to see why so much of what food companies present to consumers through media is misleading information, and that what is truly important to them is sales and profits, not food quality, animal welfare, or any sort of general transparency to the public.
There is nothing better than the feeling of swiping my finger across the unlock button on my precious iPhone. One swipe and I’m transported to another reality…another world of mobile technology and everything that comes with it. I’m instantly connected to a network of infinite, often useless information: A world of texting, email, snapchat, and too many interactive games to be named. Do I really have anything that needs to be checked on my phone? Probably not, but I check my phone about 354 times a day anyways. It’s an impulse, a way to “waste time” or avoid talking to people as I walk by them. We live in a society that enables us to be dependent on our mobile phones. We get stuck in the habit of constantly using our phones that it’s become hard to be without them.
We’ve begun using phones in ways that surpass their function. We might think we are only using them to call/text people or check our emails, but we’ve actually begun using them as devices to speed up time. Phones have become mini computers that are just the right size to whip out anywhere and everywhere, especially when we want to waste time. Rather than being bored, or simply with ourselves, noticing our surroundings, we choose to escape into media. We use mobile phones to keep our minds oblivious to the long Starbucks line we are in, or on our walks throughout campus. Mobile phones are used as a means to distract us from our surroundings. We do this both consciously and unconsciously. Sometimes I find myself on my phone, looking at nothing in particular, and it takes me a few moments to even think of why I checked it, if for any reason at all. Other times I’ll be walking through campus and to avoid making eye contact with someone, or having an awkward encounter, I’ll whip out my trusty iPhone and find a way to occupy my mind there. Also, there have been countless times I’ve been walking downstairs on my phone and have to literally slow down, so as to accommodate myself while engaged in my media, despite the fact that it would be SO much easier to simply put my phone away and walk like normal.
This class has caused me to consider many aspects of my life and my environment in ways that I never had before. With the knowledge and discussions we’ve had in class, I’ve become so much more aware of what kind of media is in my life, and how it is affecting my perception of my self and my surroundings. I was interested in seeing whether or not other college students were aware of the effect of media in their lives, and get a sense of what people consider positive and negative media influences. I wanted to relate this specifically to mobile phone usage, as I feel my generation’s dependence on mobile phone technology is rapidly increasing. I was curious to see whether or not people felt anxious without their phones, what ideas came to their minds while they were not “connected”, and their general opinions on media in their lives.
As an experiment, I sat down with a group of my friends and took away their phones. I gave them a piece of paper and pen and told them to write whatever came to their minds for 20 minutes. Afterwards, I asked them a few questions about how they felt while doing this exercise. It was interesting to see what they wrote and how they reacted to not having a phone for a while, despite it being a very short while. I also made sure to be using my phone while they were writing, to see if it made them also want to be on their phones.What I found to be most interesting about the exercise was their response to not being able to tell time. Everyone depends on his or her phone as a time telling device these days. Not having that is what made them the most anxious, according to the discussion we had afterwards.
They felt as if time was going by incredibly slowly. The fact that we are in constant possession of media in the form of our mobile devices therefore means that we are constantly able to pass time more quickly by escaping into different networks available on our phones.Many people now rely on this device to keep track of time, to schedule their day, and to remind them of when to do something. Mobile phones have become an extension of who we are, and as a result we have become dependent on the functions provided. When discussing the experiment afterwards with the participants, most of them said they would not know what to do with themselves if they did not have a mobile phone to communicate and use as a tool of distraction. In “The Medium is the Message”, Marshall McLuhan states that, ” Subliminal and docile acceptance of media impact has made them prisons without walls for their human users” (p. 20). We simply accept media, neglecting the consequences of having something so alternative to human nature. As a result we become dependent on these extensions of human capability and are prisoners to the technology we think we can’t live without.
Time is being compressed when we are on our phones, for the distraction it causes inhibits us from noticing the time, or the people around us. When I took my friend’s phones away, they became more aware of what was happening around them, as made evident by their free writes. I did this experiment twice, with two groups of 4-5 friends. In the first group, two of them quoted the same song that they heard playing on someone else’s device that was sitting in the section of chairs next to us. All of them wrote about the conversation they couldn’t help but overhear, probably because they weren’t being distracted by their mobile devices. Two of the girls even wrote about how they were communicating with each other, without speaking. One girl wrote “Hi Janine!” and Janine consequently wrote that Sarah was giving her weird looks. Without a phone to communicate, they communicated through the medium of their paper and pen, for “it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” (McLuhan, 9). We find other ways to communicate if our desired medium or technology is not available. Yet the thought of not having such advanced mediums such as mobile phones is scary to most people in my generation.
In the discussions after my experiment, almost everyone spoke about how they use their mobile devices to avoid talking to people, especially while walking through campus. Having a device to “escape” into so as to avoid making eye contact, or having a conversation with fellow passersby is resulting in a change in how humans communicate with each other. Mobile phones, which are technological mediums for communication are becoming justifications for not actually communicating in person with people we pass when walking around campus. As Solnit says, “People [are] being drawn out of their small familiar worlds into one more free, less personal, in which the associations that once attached to each person, place, and object [become] undone” (p. 11). Our associations with other humans around us has completely transformed. Our perceptions of what it means to communicate have changed, and our comfortability in speaking face to face has been altered due to the presence of mobile devices. In the interview clips, you’ll hear a discussion about how one of the participants misses speaking on the phone with friends, because everyone just texts for the most part. What’s interesting is the fact that there is even now such a distinction between speaking on the phone and texting. Forget face to face. We don’t even like to speak on the phones now! Why call someone if you can have your message relayed as texts through the networks of mobile devices. This exemplifies McLuhan’s ideas on how we are either unaware of these changes, or complacent with them. He says, “The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions and concepts, but alter sense ration or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance” (p. 18). Most of us are generally accepting of new technologies, yet we don’t like to consider how these changes are affecting our natural human forms of communication.
During the discussions I had with participants of my experiment, some girls began talking about how they appreciate nature, and their environment on a day-to-day basis. They feel as if they know this campus by heart, and that there is nothing novel about it anymore, giving them reason to rush through with their faces buried in their mobile devices. Yet when there is a snowy day on campus, everyone starts taking pictures and posting them to Instagram and Facebook, showing the world and the rest of campus, just how beautiful the white fluffy snow is. Did they ever consider just admiring the snow? Or rolling around in it, making snow angels and snowmen? What causes people to stop and take pictures so they can publish it to a form of social media, before enjoying the beautiful environment by simply being there? There is some inherent need among my generation in particular, to publish their lives to social media. Mobile phones allow for this to happen instantly, where ever we are. It’s rewiring how we perceive our environment. Our first thought isn’t to stop and appreciate, but to snap a picture, publish it, and prove that we saw it. I realize this is a generalization, but the amount of people in my generation who have this mind set has got to be an overwhelming majority. As McLuhan says, “In the electric age, when our central nervous system is technologically extended to involve us in the whole of mankind and to incorporate the whole of mankind into us, we necessarily participate, in depth, in the consequences of our every action” (p. 4). This quote hits this phenomenon right on the spot. Mediums, like mobile devices, are extending our central nervous system through their technology and as a result we begin to feel compelled to keep the rest of mankind informed on exactly what we are doing. Simply because we have the technology, it becomes easier for us to accept the fact that we are all much more interconnected than we were in the past, when the local community was all that we knew.
Mobile phones create an interesting paradox regarding communication. While they are in their most basic sense, a medium with which people can communicate, they are also extremely distracting to the user’s understanding and recognition of their most immediate surroundings. People’s sense of the local and the present can be completely annihilated. We are able to “…almost stop living where [we are] and start living in other places or other times” (Solnit, 4). Solnit discussed this annihilation in terms of photography and the displacement of seeing images that happened in other times and places, yet I feel it is still applicable to newer forms of technology like mobile phones. With the use of mobile phones, we are able to displace our minds into networks of thousands of applications and programs. In doing so, we leave the present moment and mentally go to some ambiguous place of coded information. “Those carried along on technology’s currents were less connected to local places, to the earth itself, to the limitations of the body and biology, to the malleability of memory and imagination” (Solnit, 22). We are losing all of these things: our connection to the local, our appreciation of the earth, and our own human limitations. With technology, we think we are invincible…There’s always an app for that, right? We are sacrificing the present, the here and now, in order to gain some aspect of progression and advancement, whatever that may be.
Below is the video of interview clips from the discussions I had with participants after my experiments. [I was not intending to use these videos originally, so I apologize in advance for the poor quality/ for my lack of knowing how to work editing programs!]
Bioregionalism: it’s all about local knowledge and knowing a sense of place. In fact, our identity is made up of the social and ecological, both of which rely on each other. How does the ecological affect our identities? The local. If you are in touch with your local place, it will eventually affect you. It is argued that the media has become detrimental to our connection with the local. I disagree – through the exploration of my personal local experiences, I have found quite the opposite;media has, if anything, brought me closer to the local.
Life is full of transitions of which our understanding of the local has to re-acclimate itself. In my own life, I have had one home base my entire life: Scarsdale, New York 10583. However, my local environments within Scarsdale have changed through my own transitions and the transitions that time cause. When I was young, my local was home and preschool. I never questioned whether or not my grape juice came from a local distributer or if a previous owner planted the Japanese Maple tree in my front yard. I never questioned these things because I was never taught to question them.
So where and when do we learn to question where our juice comes from or if the trees in our yard grow there naturally? Media is blamed for delocalizing us – of promoting cultural globalization and, as a result, losing our sense of bioregionalism (our sense of place, of the local). However, as new media tools arise and make it incredibly easier to share information, perhaps media isn’t so delocalizing. Perhaps media can be used for both “good” and “evil” in the sense of the local. Maybe media is evil when it distracts us from the local, but a miracle when we are desperate to connect to our local. What does it mean to be from a certain place? Well, I utilized media to explore the general consensus of what being from Scarsdale, New York, 10583 represents and came across two very similar real estate videos, depicting the village of Scarsdale as lush and a great place to raise a family. Naturally, this is a use of media to commoditize the local however it also gives me a feeling of nostalgia and an urge to reconnect with my local through other, less comoditizing and more social, media;
From 1998-2004 my local was Edgewood Elementary School. The media was TV. In my younger years, television taught me problem solving (Blue’s Clues), sharing (Little Bear), and never to turn the lights off (Are You Afraid of the Dark?). The brilliant creators of shows like Alex Mac, Clarissa Explains it All, and Keenan & Kel didn’t exactly go out of their way to write about Scarsdale’s water supply or Edgewood’s playground construction. When I wasn’t at school, I was at home playing with friends or my sister. We would play outside sometimes, but I was a Barbie gal – I could spend hours in my basement playing with Barbies. Is the media to blame for this? Were TV commercials and Toys “R” Us mail catalogues showing the latest and greatest corporate, commercialized, indoor-toy the reason I didn’t ask my parents where Barbie lived and where she shopped to get locally grown produce? I had lived the same place my entire life, known the same people, and shopped at the same fruit stands. I understood that we could not get ripe peaches and watermelons in the winter at our local fruit stand, but also recognized the pre-packaged watermelon at the grocery store that was so expensive my mom never bought it. Was this an act on my mother’s part to avoid my own delocalization? Or perhaps there are times when the price of globalization and deterritorialization is too high?
Fifth grade was the time I got my first computer – my uncle’s company was getting rid of old Compaq desktops. These were the kind of desktop computers that had screens that would take over your entire desk but I didn’t care! I had my OWN computer in my OWN room! It was like every gift-receiving holiday came on a random Tuesday because an advertising agency upgraded and my uncle grabbed the rejects from the trash pile. This was around the same time that my cell phone was an emergency LG 3100 that lived in my parents’ dresser drawer until my friends and I worked up the courage to play hide and seek on the playground without parental supervision.Yes, fifth grade was the year I became privately acquainted to the media that I am now in a long-term relationship in (well, long term until the next, best thing comes along. iPhone18 anyone?).
My Middle School Local
Ah, the local of middle school – those three years when girls are too tall, boys have squeaky voices, and anyone who was anyone owned a Razr or LG Chocolate cell phone. This was also around the same time where the middle school generation started flirting with the idea of Facebook. For those of us who went out of their way to make a profile and post pictures (which, years later, make you want to crawl into a hole), the world became instantly smaller. With Facebook, there was no information that you couldn’t get –even during this era of inexperienced users and an interface one would consider primitive compared to Facebook’s current interface – which was used for both good and evil when it came to catty middle school girls. Looking back, the pictures posted on Facebook – at select times – encouraged a communal appreciation of the local. Whether it was an image of pre-pubescent boys violently throwing snowballs at each other or brace-faced tweeny boppers at the pool in the summer, having the media as an outlet to share experiences encouraged more people to go experience the local.
My High School Local
If your high school was anything like my high school, there were blackberrys and iPhones at every turn – everyone was connected and EVERYONE was online. The most drastic, horrific punishment was never being grounded, but having your phone or computer taken away. It wasn’t until around junior year that I got reconnected with the world when my history professor *forced* us to read the newspaper everyday. The world got smaller, and I realized that life existed outside of Scarsdale, NY. Knowing this, however, did not give me any less appreciation for me local. In fact, it made me prouder of my town when we were cited or mentioned in an article. I used media to figure out what to wear in the morning (weather.com, Al Roker on The Today Show, the newspaper). Even with transportation media, I gained a deeper understanding of my environment. I drove places I would never have bothered walking, I noticed where some trees grew and others did not, I recognized which areas had been developed and which hadn’t.
College – My Present Local
Cue college, where the term “culture shock” is underrated. We live in a bubble and, although this bubble is built in an environment, it creates its own sterile environment that seems completely manufactured. I don’t believe that I have the authority to speak on my college local, because I don’t really believe it exists. The way we live, the way the grounds are kept, the millions of employees working to keep the school pristine – it isn’t natural, it is as much a local as the manufactured set of The Truman Show is a local. I don’t know anything about the local of Rochester, but I don’t blame this on the media. If anything, media helps spread the word about the local. From what the weather will be like to which dining halls get their food locally, all of this is discovered through the media. I conducted an experiment where I did not use my phone to check the weather before leaving my dorm building but I found that it did not matter. All I had to do was look out the window, see it was grey, and grab my winter jacket. Regardless, the school employs a disconnection to the local with the tunnel system. I barely have to walk outside during the day. In fact, the majority of my time is spent inside. We are not disconnected from the local because of the media, we are disconnected because of the way we choose to use the media in our own personal environments. Why are we so quick to blame media and not ourselves? It’s the same question over and over again: do guns kill people or do people kill people? Does media disconnect people from the local, or do people disconnect people from the local? A quote that has brought me solace on this topic is from McLuhan’s Medium is the Message;
“In accepting an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame a few years ago, General David Sarnoff made this statement: “We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value.”” (McLuhan, Medium is the Message, p.11)
I am in a new place and desperate to connect to my roots in Scarsdale. Here’s the catch – my father got a job in Chicago so the people who would help me connect back with my roots (my parents) are stationed elsewhere and I am left to fend for my own. This is where media brings me back to the local. Through Twitter, Facebook, online newspapers, Instagram, Tumblr, etc., I can learn about what is going on in my hometown – the local I feel is ingrained within me. There is a twitter handle called @ScarsdaleProblems, where everyone who tweets about Scarsdale is re-tweeted for the world to see.
While some people may tweet insignificant events like a test or an athletic game, there are a few gems that I feel reconnect me to my local, despite their 140-character limit.
“For most Americans, to reflect on “home place” would be an unfamiliar exercise. Few today can announce themselves assomeone from somewhere. Almost nobody spends a lifetime in the same valley, working alongside the people they knew as children…Still – and this is very important to remember – beinginhibitory, being place-based, hasnever meant one didn’t travel from time to time, going on trading ventures or taking livestock to summer grazing. ” (Snyder, Practice of the Wild, p. 27)
I have grown, I have traveled, I have discovered new locals and yet I will always return to Scarsdale because it is where I grew up and first learned about life, nature, and the universe. While I may not be able to prove my hometown roots with an extensive knowledge of the mating patterns of the local birds, does that mean I am out of touch? Perhaps, just perhaps, knowledge of the local can have multiple meanings – one of which, is being aware of what is happening BOTH ecologically and socially. To do this in our modern society of constant connection, we need simply need media – or at least, I do.