Why Media?

I was speaking with an old university friend of mine, and she asked me why I seemed to be so interested in media lately. She noted, accurately, that this subject had never been of interest to me during my time as a student, that I had, in point of fact, steadfastly refused to take any more courses than necessary in areas like media studies, post-colonialism, gender studies, or anything else that was considered current and popular in the literature department at the time. Why, she wanted to know, was I now seemingly so determined to make myself an expert on the subject.

Let me be clear. I am by no means an expert on media, and I have no intention of becoming one, but the question was a good one. I had never really reflected on these changes in my interests, never even fully realized the degree of these changes, until she forced me to think in these directions. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with me, I did not have a satisfying answer for her at the time. My best answers always come to me far after the questions that instigated them have been withdrawn. Upon later reflection, however, I think I now understand both why I have become so much more interested in media issues and why I did not really notice this development in me as it was occurring.

What I realized is that my interest in media is not in media as such but in media as an extension of my interest in the nature of ethics, family, friendship, community, and the home. I have not been dedicating increasing amounts of time to the study of media as an end in itself, but to media as an unavoidable fact of our contemporary culture and, therefore, of that culture’s understanding of the questions that do matter to me in and of themselves. What I have been recognizing unconsciously is that our culture cannot be understood apart from the media that increasingly construct and constitute it, that I cannot understand the nature of family and the home in our culture without understanding the media through which these things are formed. It would be nonsensical to talk about friendship or community in our current culture without reference to the function of social media sites, text messaging, and cell phones. It would be ridiculous to talk about family and the home without reference to television, computers, and game consoles.

It is the effects of these media that interest me, as I use them and as I see others using them, as they develop and as I see us develop to use them. The influence of these media and these technologies, the speed with which they change and with which they change us, constitutes the most significant constitutive factor on our culture of family and home, friendship and community, ethics and theology. We need to understand these things if we are to understand ourselves in the culture they create. This is why I find myself thinking media, more and more.

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