People, place and media

People and places dominate my childhood memories. When I think of growing up in regional Australia, the locations of my childhood are vivid in my mind: there’s the backyard of a friend’s house; the small park with a peppercorn tree and a slide; the telephone booth that was visible out my front window; and the primary school where I spent seven years. Occupying these locations are my family, my friends and others who comprised our community (individuals I observed from afar, as a child is wont to do).

It is not only people and places that are present in my childhood memories. Also there in my recollections, though subtle, are media. These dynamic instruments delivered messages to me, through me and around me, sharpening my emotions and shaping my experiences. I use the term “media” in the broadest sense, as a plural of “medium”, to capture the numerous ways in which a message is communicated. “Media” goes beyond the traditional understandings of “the media” as newspapers, the radio and TV. Viewed as a collection of items that collectively facilitate an infinite number of expressions and communications, media is omnipresent, alive and, significantly, part of us — like the people we interact with and the places we live.

Music is the most obvious trigger for long-lost memories, a vehicle with which to venture back in time. Indeed, I consider numerous songs to be the soundtrack to my childhood, from the rock music that my parents played, to television themes on shows I never really watched. Also helping to curate various memories of childhood are TV shows (the ones I did watch), computer game consoles now considered archaic, sports collector cards, comics and books. And it goes further: toys I played with, signs advertising local businesses or products, even food packaging, all facilitated interactions with a broader society.

Technology creates media. Both technology and media help mediate our experiences of everyday life. As we seek to connect with people and place in a smartphones and social media age, we create our own digital ecosystems. We are producers and consumers of media. Just like people and places, of course, not all media is good for us. That much is obvious. What is of critical importance now is not whether to engage with media — that ship has sailed. Instead, it is how to engage with media in healthy ways, just as we seek to find the right kind of people to care for (and to care for us) and to find peaceful places to be. It has never been more important to critically engage with the question of what kind of media to engage with.

I’m fascinated with our relationships with media. It consumes me — almost as much as media consumes us. This post represents the beginning of a new aggregation of my thoughts about media. Since transitioning from journalism to academia a few years ago, I have been seeking to find the best “medium” to express my ideas (outside of academic publications). Although media is constantly changing, I have settled for this space, which allows longer form discussion than microblogging.

Speaking of which, I recently stripped back my Twitter profile, removing all Tweets, likes and replies. I see Twitter’s potential as a public square of ideas, a place for healthy debate, a forum for meeting like-minded people and a useful tool to promote your work. But it obviously has a dark side, the outcomes of which range from narcissism and bullying to fake news and incitement. I have rarely tweeted in the 11 or so years since joining and never really felt comfortable on the platform. It was something of a relief to break free, even if it was a largely inconsequential act.

In the 1980s and 1990s world in which I evolved from He-Man fan to alternative rock obsessive (long before I was a media academic), the media landscape was bare, at least relative to the internet-focused world of 2021. It might have even been possible to adequately capture the media landscape of the late 20th century and explain what it was. The sheer complexity of the contemporary media landscape renders that task altogether impossible. A better idea is to examine not what a media landscape is in its entirety but how an individual engages with media, what media they choose and what kind of personal media landscape that creates for them. I intend to do that.

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