Media in Transcontextual Tangles: why it matters

Media systems are not an area of study only, but the very air we breathe. They are diverse, active materialities of global ecologies. Even the term media is itself properly one of tangled referents and agencies. So nowadays I find myself entangled in systems of media as ecologies of complexity. During the last four decades, the time period of my own intense interests, participations, and research into and with media, even designations for just what media attentions encompass continually transform, overlap, merge. Media as some general designation keeps shifting scale and reshaping, while new media in action is always reorganizing actors and objects. All this erupts in new words, new things, reimaginations of worldly action. My work now is to nurture attention to just how it is that humans, systems, things adapt together, in and as something we might well want to call media. My arguments are drawn from my on-going research in media cultural histories, media infrastructures of embodied learning, and media entanglements as ecological processes.

To illustrate how transdisciplinary attention to media systems and ecologies, both extensive and intensive, works, consider together three deeply but not obviously interlocking media systems, only one of which at first blush seems to be a natural member of the category "media": climate change, dopamine signaling in neural circuits, and social media learning. The forms urgencies take in media journalisms concerning climate change are critically enmeshed with our ability to gather resources for scientific investigation and necessary policy change. Dopamine signaling, perhaps counter-intuitively, plays a pivotal communication role here, as hormonal and neurological circuits within human bodies extend action beyond them along horizons of danger or pleasure, and even shape cognition. Behavioral analytics take account of anxiety and reward systems activated by dopamine, predicting and altering the economics of entertainment and research, playing roles in what we can understand now as distributed being. Even what we might call social media learning takes place across whole technological infrastructures not just in human heads. Working out and among these and additional complex systems engages with what is charged about something we might need now to call media. Media entangled experiences help us think with as well as about complex systems, including climate change: biological, social, informational. Such a synthesis, we might call it a “making with,” a sympoiesis, matters today for learning how to work among entangled systems, media systems, simultaneously altered by and adapting with humans, at scales from planetary change and its politics, to gut microbiome communications, to quantum memory.