Media Theories and Absurd Realities

Media forms part of people’s daily life. What people value, their norms and actions are negotiated through the media.

The definition of the media is broad, and has changed throughout history. McLuhan’s ‘Understanding Media,’ applies various aspects of society to define the media. For instance he refers to  machines, technology, and the printing press. In his earlier works, The Gutenberg Galaxy he refers to the ancient world, the middle ages and the age of mass media to draw out the impact of the media in society. According to a chapter in the 2003 book, ‘Culture and Technology’ (Murphie & Potts) McLuhan falls under cultural theory as he intertwines media into culture. This paradigm differs to technological determinism and cultural materialism but I think relates closer to structuralism.

Thereby it can be stated that, each theorist falls into one or two categories, Raymond Williams, falls under cultural materialism,  and Friedrich Kittler is identified as a post-structuralist. In the contemporary society, it is hard to side with one of these theorists. I find that each theorist has formed their own philosophy of the world according to their individual experiences. For instance, Raymond William’s background differs to McLuhan’s world although both theorists developed from around the same time.

In the contemporary society, I think it’s much easier to explore, relate to, and understand the study of media through media archeology, rather than attempting to relate my media experiences with one of the above. Media Archeology is defined well by Jussi, Parrika (2012) in a chapter in the book ‘Intro: Cartographies of the Old and New.’ This quote taken from the chapter, “excavating the past in order to understand the present and future” is generally what media archeology is all about.

So everything has it’s foundations. In Apple technology this progress is evident. The various innovative changes of the Ipod classic, Nano, and ITouch are obvious examples. However, there is one aspect of this historical progress that I find a little perplexing. The question that tends to drive me crazy is whether technological progress is formed as humans evolve or whether progress happens through the capitalist economy, as the driving force of innovation and competition.

The question of human evolution derives from an article that is called, “Insects in the Age of technology.” The article draws on the idea that social scientific research in entomology (the study of insects) has enabled ethnology (the study of human cultures). An example that was used in the article is that of the discovery and exploration of a spider’s quick movement on their webs to influence “motion engineering.” Morally, I would like to think that human nature and scientific nature has influenced the technological progress, but what I see instead is that progress is developed through institutions where competition is the driving force to enhanced mechanical and robotic advances, that tends to happen behind closed doors.

The latter aspect of my question, is probably influenced by my interest in comic books and pop culture. In popular culture, this question seems to be at the forefront of story-telling. The big bad scientist who wants to rule the world and get rich vs the assistant with high morals and love of humanity. Then there is more complex motifs, where the scientific research has led to moral degradation. Think of, Doctor Manhattan in Alan Moore’s Watchmen. His powers were accidental though he helped the US in their struggle in the Vietnam War but in the midst of all this he struggled with his own sense of self, dealing with his longing for nostalgia. He was the only superhero in Watchmen to have powers but with them he was constantly battling with human feelings of love and relationships. Spiderman, is another example where he gained his powers as a direct accident. The Terminator,  is another example where science has facilitated the imminent destruction of the world and so the fight for survival begins. This may all seem too frivolous, but watch out as yet I have not even began to dig deep into conspiracy theory. So if the study of media is related to one’s world as I think it is, what would happen if Marshall McLuhan came back to life in the future where technology has threatened human kind, or Foucault emerged in a world where technology did not have any play in society? I wonder sometimes, whether theorists would have the same opinions if placed in a different world at a different time.


Murphie, Andrew & Potts, John (2003) ‘Theoretical Frameworks’ in Culture and Technology London: Palgrave Macmillan: 11-38

Parikka, Jussi (2012) ‘Introduction: Cartographies of the Old and New” in What is Media Archaeology? Cambridge: Polity: 1-16

Parikka, Jussi (2010) ‘Introduction: Insects in the Age of Technology’ in Insect Media: an archaeology of animals and technology Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: ix-xxxv


Blog at

Up ↑