The ecological approach to humans’ adaptation to the digital environment is rooted in the ideas of traditional ecology, yet it turns these ideas upside down.
The main idea of a traditional environmental movement is to protect the environment from human influence. The goal of media ecology can be interpreted as the exact opposite: to protect humans from the digital environment.
Traditional ecology is based on the assumption that humans are sufficiently strong technologically, but inadequately developed spiritually, and so their influence on the world should be restricted. But humans have not always been capable of influencing nature on such a large scale. In the first millennia of their existence, humans were extremely vulnerable to the elements. Today they inhabit the Net, a new world that is full of unexpected dangers and opportunities. Like primordial humans in the physical world, so modern humans are inexperienced and defenceless in the digital world.
This is the digital Stone Age; we are only just now learning to interact with the digital environment. The settlement of the digital world is proceeding through approximately the same evolutionary stages as those that primordial humans passed through in their time. Starting with “hunting and gathering” information, humans then entered the stage of “cattle breeding and plant growing,” that is, the cultivation of information. They have now created new tools that are also extensions of their “bodies” in the digital environment. Such buttons as “like” or “repost” are the digital stone axes and hoes that are improving the capability of the humans’ “digital hand” to cultivate information.
We now have digital dwellings, which originated as home pages and have progressed to profiles in social media. Social media themselves are like the first political systems of ancient people: the city-states of Ancient Greece with their direct democracy. The social life of many people has almost entirely moved to the Net, where everything is happening much faster than in the real world.
Excerpted from: Andrey Miroshnichenko. “Media Ecology as Ecology Contrariwise: Protecting Humans from the Digital Environment”. Systema: connecting matter, life, culture and technology. Vol 3, No 1 (2015): Special Issue: Media Ecology. Guest Editor Robert Logan