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PSY 355 Psychology & Media in the Digital Age

This page was last modified on February 14, 2014

The Development of Media from a Media Ecology Perspective III

The Advent of the Techno-Digital Age & "Secondary Orality"

The Techno-Digital Age
The "Techno-Digital Age" refers to the period beginning in roughly the first half of the 19th century in Europe and North America (US) and continuing through the present time with these characteristics:
  • Inventions (particularly new means of communication) are generally tied to the use of electricity as a source of power
  • Encoding information, data, or messages (music, text, images, etc.) shifts from analog to digital formats.
  • The ability to reach larger and larger audiences ("publishing") grows significantly and, with the rise of digital media in the late 20th century, shifts from fewer large corporate organizations to include many smaller publishing entities spread over wider and wider geographical areas ("desk-top" publishing, blogs, websites, e-zines, podcasts, etc.)  
  • The human sensory-perceptual and motor-expressive systems tapped by media in the techno-digital age expands from privately examining/reading mostly static visual material [text, diagrams, and printed images] to include
    • (1) hearing sound and voice once again [telephone, phonographs, records...],
    • (2) experiencing dynamic visual movement [movies, TV, video-gaming...], and
    • (3) using touch and personal bodily movements [employing a computer mouse or touch pad, video-gaming, on-screen responding such as 'texting,' etc.]
    • (4) sensory-perceptual information beyond the realm of the human senses of hearing and seeing to include the entire electromagnetic spectrum.
[The Electromagnetic Spectrum]
  • Size and distances open to human experience grow exponentially larger and smaller.
    • Via media such as the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, we can get access to information at distances exponentially smaller than the width of a proton.
    • Via media such as the Hubble Space Telescope, we can get access to information at distances of at least 13.2 billion light years.
  • Speed of communication is not only faster but the issue of distance becomes relatively trivial (at the magnitude of the Earth and its surface). The lag-time between sending and responding to information becomes shorter and shorter.
  • The amount of information that can be stored and retrieved grows exponentially while the cost of data storage becomes exponentially cheaper. Thus storage capacity for human knowledge is virtually unlimited although retrieval capacity lags behind.
"Secondary Orality" (Ong, 1982)
  • Walter Ong argues that new forms of "orality" have returned to large numbers of cultures because of the rise of voice- and sound-based media like television, movies, recordings, and telephones. He calls this the period of "Secondary Orality."
  • What is now different is that oral communication is intermixed with and depends upon individual literacy and textual-written-printed media. Thus, we do not use oral-based media in the same way as individuals previously living in the world of "primary orality." The pressure to speak repetitively, to maintain cultural conservatism, and to value the role of spoken argumentation is far less today than it was a millennium earlier.
  • The sacredness of or predominant role of the printed word tends to be undermined by attention to non-written forms of media. Often, libraries are not seen as grand repositories of knowledge that need to be explored. And, individuals in secondary oral cultures may be unfamiliar with (or even hostile toward) older printed records as sources of knowledge.
  • There tends to be a movement back toward groups membership and group experiences in secondary oral cultures (e.g., entertainment audiences, fan clubs, etc.);  but these groups tend to be larger than found in primary oral cultures.
The Development of Media as a World-Wide Ecological System
In the contemporary world, media more and more forms what can be described as a world-wide ecological system. What does this mean?

Ecology in the Natural World. Scolari (2012) describes what we mean by a natural ecology as a biological system (or network) of interdependent organisms belonging to multiple species which are arranged in nested hierarchical fashion & functioning within environments of both biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components. All natural ecologies are ultimately concerned with the exchange of energy within the system.

Ecology in the Media World. Building on Scolari's (2012) ideas, what might we mean by a media ecology? Let me suggest that such a notion involves a technological (information & communication) system (or network) of interdependent tools and methodologies (a) exhibiting a multiplicity of forms, (b) arranged in nested hierarchical fashion, (c) functioning with environments of both human and non-living physical components and (d) directed toward achieving or advancing human goals broadly conceived, e.g., communication, information acquisition & analysis, entertainment & recreation, etc.

(Digital) media ecologies (systems or networks) would involve at least
  • particular habitats, i.e., the human life world including social life spaces, cultural worlds, and the physical environment
    • teenagers, college students, families, businesses, lonely singles, scientists, hobbyists, creative artists, refugees & immigrants, etc.
  • specific niches, i.e., a medium's job, what it accomplishes, its role in the habitat
    • social exchange, short message communication, music sharing, dating, scholarly communication, artistic production like graphic design or photography, etc.  
  • interfaces between the technological forms & their human users as well as between the different technological forms themselves
    • Screens, microphones, earjacks, speakers, keyboards, track pads, styli (styluses), etc.
    • Wifi & broadband, the Internet & its protocols, routers, ethernet outlets, etc.   
  • a diversity of technological forms (hardware & software)
    • laptop computers, desktop computers, tablet computers, smart phones, etc.
    • Gaming stations, digital cameras, inkjet printers, Bluetooth speakers, etc.
    • Photoshop, Twitter, Facebook, Garage Band, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, etc. 
Some of the questions we can ask ourselves about digital media ecologies include
  • What are the most important particular habitats that I live within at the present time?
  • What niches do I seek out within the media ecologies available to me? What are the most important roles that media play within my life?
  • Do I prefer some types of interfaces over others in the ways I live within my media ecology?
  • What are the most important specific technological forms that I enjoy within my media ecology?


Ong, Walter J. (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the world. New York, NY: Methuen.

Scolari, Carlos A. (2012). Media ecology: Exploring the metaphor to expand the theory. Communication Theory, 22, 204-225.

This page was first posted on 2/11/14