Why We Aren't Leaving Social Networks Anytime Soon, and "Zombies" is a Cop Out

"Media are to us as water is to fish. This does not mean life is determined by media -- it just suggests that whether we like it or not, every aspect of our lives takes place in media." - Deuze


Based on an assigned reading from my “Future of Media” graduate course at LSU, below are some of my takeaways from Mark Deuze’s “Media Life” book:

We aren’t leaving social networks anytime soon.

“The global uptake of online social networks is part of a larger trend in the dance between media and everyday life towards a predominance of always-on, interconnected artifacts and activities that become the foundation for the arrangement of human sociality.” - Deuze

This doesn’t mean we won’t leave Facebook in the meantime, but that in general, I don’t see us returning to broadcast media platforms as a way of life anytime in the near future. The social is here, and here to stay, although it is likely to grow and transform from what we knew it to be yesterday, and what we know it to be today. From the invention of the phone, to text messaging, to the Internet, we’ve always eventually co-opted technology into serving our basic desire to connect with one another. This is why I think the dystopic vision of a “media for one” and individual isolation in our entertainment media environments – our zombification as Deuze and others put it – is unwarranted. I think it is less our uptake of particular media, a more the worldviews that we bring to media, that determine how we use media to see, understand and interact with the world. In other words, calling ourselves "media zombies" is a cop out to understanding how we are mutually responsible for the effects media has on us, by our own values and desires.

It is for this reason that I think Deuze’s media life perspective should pay more attention to differences in cultural worldviews and values, and differences in individual fundamental value orientations, when looking at how media influence our interaction with the world. Who is to say it isn’t our evolving values, whether focused in the egoistic, altruistic or biospheric realms, that contribute to changes in how we use media, and the types and functions of social media we prefer? Like Cliff Watson points out in a recent Medium piece “Teens aren’t abandoning ‘social.’ They’re just using the word correctly,” changes in the social media outlet preferences of young people today seem to be less a function of technological changes in media and the rise of new outlets, than the changing social pressures and emotional needs of young people today.

Media doesn’t change consciousness as much as we fear (or hope).

In my opinion, Deuze combines in his book two perspectives that are oddly at odds with one another. From one viewpoint, media and technology are a means whereby “we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned” (McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964). In this perspective, our media are tools that become extensions of ourselves, and expand our individual consciousness into a collective consciousness.

In another perspective, media create walls between us, creating a society that is “together alone,” people in silos that watch their own images as reflected in media. Sometimes the mediated experience is even described as making “zombies” of us - Deuze writes of one concept in which “when we live in media, one way or another, we become less aware of our surroundings, less tuned in to our senses, and thus, more like lifeless automatons.”

I object to both of these perspectives, proposing that instead, media reflects and augments the philosophies and worldviews we bring to media in the first place. In my opinion, media is neither necessarily making us zombies nor necessarily fostering global awareness. Instead, we must be conscious of the biases and values we bring to our media relationships, and the technological solutions we propose, in order to obtain the global awareness and collective intelligence many innovators seek.

Media don’t die – they evolve.

I agree with Roger Fidler’s idea that “media do not arise spontaneously and independently – they emerge gradually from the metamorphosis of old media… when newer forms of media communication emerge, the older forms usually do not die – they continue to evolve and adapt” (Fidler, The mediamorphic role of language, 1997). I think this is an important aspect to keep in mind as we lament the “death of print” and the death of traditional media. The broadcast role and traditional forms of media are instead evolving into the forms of media we require as the issues we face are increasingly global and individuals are increasingly sensing their own empowerment to be heard. The “broadcast” role of media in the future may be played by aggregators that collect individual voices into a coherent whole – which means that traditional media isn’t dying, but perhaps the closed process, the gatekeepers and the “empowered few” traditionally behind these establishments are.

Fidler, R. (1997). The mediamorphic role of language. In Journalism and Communication for a New Century: The Pine Forge Press Series: Mediamorphosis: Understanding new media. (pp. 53-81). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781452233413.n3