evolving ecological media culture(s)

Week 4 – Mental & cultural environmentalism


With this week’s readings we move to another meaning of “media ecology” — something that Adbusters magazine calls the “mental environment” and that law professor James Boyle calls the “information environment,” the “informational commons,” the “commons of facts and ideas,” and the “intangible commons of the mind.”

A “commons,” as many of you know, is something that belongs to all, something that is freely available and neither controlled by nor the property of any one individual or group.

Garrett Hardin’s famous 1968 essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” argued that treating natural resources as a commons leads inevitably to their depletion. After decades of debate and scrutiny of Hardin’s thesis — including extensive work by 2009 Nobel Laureate political economist Elinor Ostrom — it’s fair to say that commonly held resources (“commons”) have often been managed, and sometimes quite successfully, through complex social arrangements, and that privatization or state ownership/management — the two solutions Hardin had proposed — not only aren’t always better, but sometimes are manifestly worse than the collective management of public goods. It all depends on… well, numerous factors.

In retrospect, what Hardin described wasn’t at all a tragedy of the commons; it was a tragedy of unregulated, open access. The commons, as they evolved over time, was a commons regulated by mutual understandings, checks and balances, and rules that people followed because they were responsible to others who also followed them.

Treating media and “mind” as commons is not a new idea. Radio waves are typically considered public commons, though they are generally distributed (in this country) to those with money and resources to broadcast over them. Should the internet be treated as a commons? How should access to it be distributed?

And what about ideas, creations, products of the imagination? Should they all be treated as “intellectual property” or should some or all of them be publicly accessible to everyone? How long should copyright be extended over intellectual property? What if words were designated the property of their inventors (i.e. their first users and coiners): imagine creating a system whereby anyone who spoke anything would have to pay fees to everyone who thought up every word that person used, or at least to the copyright-holding descendants of those who “invented” those words?

What’s the proper balance between open, public access to ideas, words, and cultural creations, and proprietary ownership of mental and creative objects?

This week’s readings and themes take us in two primary directions. The first of these — “cultural environmentalism” — has arisen with the growth of digital media. It includes the open-source movement (which promotes free public access to the source codes and designs of software and other products), the open-access movement (which advocates for the free availability of scholarly information), and the “free culture” movement, which builds on and extends the previous two.

James Boyle and Lawrence Lessig will be our two main guides to this terrain. Their arguments tend toward the view that intellectual property laws are biased in favor of those with political-economic power in our society, and that those laws stifle creativity and democracy.

The second direction in our readings — “mental environmentalism” — emerges out of a tradition of critical thinking about the mass media associated with left-wing traditions of social critique, including the Frankfurt School of critical social theory (of which Jurgen Habermas was a leading representative) and the French “Situationists,” who influenced the revolutionary events in France in 1968. (We’ll read more about them in a few weeks.) The primary thrust of these movements was the notion that mass media in our society promote passivity in its consumers, a passivity in the face of a “society of the spectacle,” and that this serves the needs of consumer capitalism very well. (In the terms used by Lawrence Lessig, outlined in the video below, mass media have promoted a “read-only” culture, as opposed to the “read-write” culture of earlier eras.)

The idea of “mental environmentalism” begins from a recognition that the public spaces in which thinking and imagination occur  — spaces that have become highly technologically mediated in our society — have become dominated by commercial entities (mainly, corporations) and saturated by their messages: by brands, logos, and marketing strategies. Critics of the commercialization and branding of the mental environment — such as Naomi Klein, Kalle Lasn, and Adbusters magazine — advocate resistance by various means leading to the reclaiming of public space.

We will focus on some of these means of resistance when we get to the topics of “tactical media” and “culture jamming.” This week we will only consider the implications of thinking of the mental and cultural environment as a commons — versus thinking of it as a market for buying and selling, owning and consuming.

What’s at stake in this difference? In particular, what’s at stake for those who would like to develop and share ideas that would change our relationship to the natural environments around us?


Assigned readings

1. James Boyle, Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (Longon: Yale University Press, 2008).

Read the Preface, chapter 3 (“The Second Enclosure Movement“), and chapter 10 (“An Environmentalism for Information“). Click on the links to read the book or individual chapters. If you like it, feel free to buy it.

2. Micah White, “What is Mental Environmentalism,” 9 Dec 2010, Adbusters.org.

3. Bill McKibben, “The Mental Environment,” 1 June 2010, Adbusters.org (originally published in Adbusters issue 38, 2001).

Assigned viewing

1. Lawrence Lessig, “Laws that Choke Creativity” (TED Talk):


Please let us all know if you are interested in writing the lead post for next week’s topic (“Mental and cultural environmentalism”), or if you would like to do a short background post on any of the following:
(a) James Boyle and the Center for the Study of the Public Domain
(b) Lawrence Lessig and Creative Commons
(c) the Frankfurt School of critical social theory
(d) the French Situationist International (especially Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneighem)
(e) Kalle Lasn and the Adbusters Media Foundation.
These should include a carefully chosen link or two to other useful and relevant web sites.

Also: don’t forget that your media analysis proposals will be due next week. Further instructions will be provided.


  1. Hi Adrian, I’ll do a background post on Adbusters for this week.

  2. Actually, I’ll go ahead and do the overall kickoff post this week, unless anyone objects to that. I’ll try and have it up by Thursday.

  3. This week’s readings dealt with the limits of intellectual property, copyright law, and the concept of mental environments and possible pollutants in that environment. Boyle points to the far-reaching nature of intellectual property law in society today, and asks the important question in a largely market-based society, how should we value what is not property, what can be called the commons or the public domain? He argues that we have a systematic tendency to undervalue it, and we underestimate its viability, productive power, and importance in our networked information age. Most of the goods associated with the world wide web and the “commons of the mind” are non-rival and non-excludable, meaning one person’s use does not degrade them.

    Lessig and Boyle seem to agree that a balance needs to be struck between open and closed, owned and free, between totally ignoring or abolishing copyright law and automatically taking down any copyrighted content, without any judgment of fair use. Lessig points out that we cannot try and suppress the instincts that new technologies create, at least not without alienating and criminilazing today’s youth who have grown up with these technologies. Not only do artists need to embrace the idea that their work be made available more freely for non-commercial use, but businesses need to expressly embrace the opportunities presented by the “read-write” culture that may be making a resurgence with the proliferation of the internet.

    Micah White and Bill McKibben’s articles on Adbusters.org define the “mental environment”, the space which advertisements and information proliferate and, if left unchecked, pollute. McKibben argues that advertisements promote a self-obsessed hyper-individualism which we must break out of. White, going off the ideas of Adbusters founders Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz, also points to a possible liberation, which Lasn found in part during his experiences meditating with Japanese Zen monks. Lasn said, “Maybe only when you are shoved into a new pattern of behavior like that, it is possible to catch a glimpse of the way life could be. [Culture jamming is] a way of stopping the flow of the consumer spectacle long enough to adjust your set.”

    Questions you may or may not want to consider:

    Do you believe we’re going back to a “read-write”, participatory culture that celebrates amateur culture, and is this always a good thing?

    If market faith is rooted in a correspondingly deep pessimism about the possibility of managing resources that are neither commonly owned nor owned by no one, can we have a functioning market economy while still encouraging open access, free use, and user generated content?

    Is becoming “meme-warriors” and culture jamming with counter-advertising the most effective way to stop consumer culture, to liberate our minds from the mental pollution of advertising? Is our mind really like a bubbling brook or Muir-time-period Yosemite Valley until advertising comes in to pollute it, or is our mindspace already so influenced by the culture and society we’ve grown up in that this metaphor doesn’t fit?

    Are there other ways, through media or otherwise, that you can stop “the flow of the consumer spectacle long enough to adjust your set”?

  4. I think that, while intriguing, the idea of the “culture jamming” is a product of the processes which it seeks to destroy. It seems to me that counter advertisements, the efforts of meme-warriors, and in general “culture jamming” only add to the mess that they are trying to eradicate. It’s like two different pharmacists offering you two different pills: one says his is least harmful, and the other says his is most beneficial. What’s the difference? If you’re trying to get off medicine, neither does you good as you are taking more medicine.

    Furthermore, this argument rests on the assumption that we always pay attention to advertising schemes and sitcoms, that this is how we define ourselves. And what’s wrong with individualism? Somehow this is synonymous with capitalism? Because I don’t have a tribe I turn to consuming? How does that follow? Aren’t there greater ills to our mental environments that just advertisements? What would Freud say?

    I say “Let him see how has eyes, and let him hear who has ears.” I get what Bill and Micah are saying and where they’re coming from. But that’s what it will take, people seeing how they are being affected for themselves, and not being told how they are being affected (isn’t that what advertising does?) Micah White’s article mentions Buddhism. A prominent feature of Buddhism is emptying the mind, doing away with the unnecessary, physically and mentally. In the Tao Te Ching Lao Tzu writes: “It is always through not meddling that the empire is won. Should you meddle, then you are not equal to the task of winning the empire.” Culture jamming seems to be the epitome of meddling. I don’t think this is a fire we should fight with fire, but I’m not sure how to go about it, either.

    • Conor, I agree with you that individual culture jammers may not be aiding their professed cause by participating in these activities. Too many efforts are half-assed, particularly the creation of memes that try to elucidate problems like GMOs, corporate personhood, and income inequality only serve to dull the impact of otherwise well-crafted activities that hacktivists engage in (the takedown of MIT’s website in honor of Aaron Swartz is a great example: it is drastic, thought-provoking, and clearly righteous to a broad set of audiences).

      I also want to share an insight I had while contemplating this issue of the mental environment as described by McKibben and White in Adbusters. As an environmental student at a notoriously forward-thinking university in a sustainability-friendly city, I oftenfind it difficult to tackle questions that deal with the individual will to acknowledge and combat societal ills. Through such diverse vectors as textbooks, storefronts, farmer’s markets, CSAs, campus demonstrations and posters, assignments, and professorial tutelage, my colleagues and I (and I include this whole class) are being systematically and selectively exposed to perspectives and frameworks that belong to a specific paradigm. It is fairly easy for us, then, to read these Adbusters articles and immediately find some sort of resonance with them, or at the very least a sense of comprehension. We can side with the authors to the minimal extent that we respect their critical thinking skills and recognize our own skills in this field. In other words, our mental environment is always going to shaped by our context; McKibben’s use of the pollution analogy is his way of placing normative value on some environments over others, but he would’ve been wise to note that no person, save perhaps the ascetic or the bodhisattva, is truly free of some form of pollution.

      Also, I want to note that for those that the articles are attempting to convert, those most drained by mental inundations of advertising and predatory, psychologically informed marketing tactics, are the least equipped with these critical thinking skills. To them, Habermas, McKibben, and White may be as threatening to their sense of reality as advertising is to us. Channeling Donella Meadows, I am reminded that the only leverage point more effective than shifting paradigms in making systems changes is gaining the ability to transcend those paradigms; as long as we keep telling ourselves that everyone is as willing and capable of making these changes as we may be, we will be stuck in that second-best leveraging position.

  5. Going off of what Conor was saying, would not a better method of countering consumerism culture and advertising be simply not partaking in what they are trying to sell? The whole idea behind these advertisements are to inform potential customers and entice them into buying some kind of product. Rather than fighting back these forces I feel it would be more effective to do exactly what they do not want: nothing. Do not buy they’re product if you feel so appalled by their overbearing advertisements. Culture jamming, while I feel it is a noble idea and is great for gathering people’s attention who may not normally realize or think about certain implications of the media, it does not seem to me like its going to change much. I see media as a force that acts to get a rise or a response out of it’s viewers and customers. I believe a more effective way of battling this would be simply abstaining from it. Maybe this is not something everyone could do or wants to do but for me personally I feel separating yourself from it would be best.

    –Are there other ways, through media or otherwise, that you can stop “the flow of the consumer spectacle long enough to adjust your set”?

    In my opinion, there is no way to fully stop the flow of the consumer spectacle in today’s society while still utilizing some sort of media. If you are still viewing media then you are still receiving a flow of information from some sort of perspective. Even if you are viewing an independent media or some alternative form of news/ads that opposes the mainstream media you are still getting one view that insists you to receive the information in some way. To truly stop the flow of the consumer spectacle I feel one would require absolutely no media and probably very minimal technology for some amount of time. One would need to see things first hand to maintain any form of true purity. I could imagine extensive hikes and camping for long periods of time in some place of separated nature without the outside human influence could produce this ceasing of consumer spectacle flow. I feel no television, computers, newspapers or anything just people in nature has great potential to produce deep spiritual/religious realizations and I feel an altered view and reception of media would fit right along with that. You could essentially separate your mind from the “mental environment” that has been discussed in the readings without concern for outside influence. Similar to what Larry Lessig and Boyle spoke and wrote of, separating yourself from this “read-only” top down consumer culture would allow one to fully be immersed in their own creativity and thoughts without concern for the social constructs or broadcasts of the “public” opinion. Even if such a vacation from this culture be brief, I feel the enlightenment gained from the absence would stay with an individual.

    On a related note, I came across this article and felt it was appropriate to share. http://www.minds.com/blog/view/38616/eu-court-declares-copyright-convictions-violate-human-rights

    • As Bill Mckibben says in The Mental Environment, “we are the first few generations to receive most of our sense of the world mediated rather than direct, to have it arrive through one screen or another instead of through contact with other human beings or with nature.” This is both a blessing and a curse; we can shape ourselves into being people more aware of what is happening with the planet as a whole, but we also can forget what is going on right here where we are in the real present world. People generally tell less stories to each other now, have forgotten what kind of wildlife is local to their living area, don’t know what to do with their free time but watch t.v., movies, or browse the web. It is more uncommon now to know about your direct surroundings than it is to know about what is going on the other side of the planet. (Or at least know about some version of what we are told is going on.) Not many of us are lucky enough to become educated and supported into our own ability to decipher what is truth and what is spin or how to find our way through the maze of media information we live among today so that we can use it to actually heighten our understanding instead of pollute it more. But those of us that are, I think can try to come up with ways to clean our media and mental environments that don’t include adbusting and adding to the already clogged up accumulation of distracting and manipulating advertisements.

    • I find the idea of removing one’s self from technology in general as a way to combat advertising fascinating. I have had experience backpacking and camping for extended periods and found an incredible dichotomy between the world of technology and the world outside of it, but an increasing overlap between the two.

      Last spring, I lived in Chilean Patagonia, conducting field research. I lived and worked in the field for 3 months with a group of students, sleeping in a tent or under the stars, hiking every day to our field sites, waking with the sun and bathing in rivers. During this time, most technology became foreign to me. Everything from using computers to even having paved roads faded away and I adopted a new mindset. Not being constantly connected truly felt like a cleanse of the mind. I was more carefree, and was forced to live in the moment and simply enjoy where I was and what was happening that very minute.

      Yet although, I was in one of the most remote parts of the world, I could not escape technology all together. Our research included detailed data entry using laptops (which we had to power through swapping out truck batteries and charging one with the engine), as well as detailed digital photography. Further, every 3 or 4 weeks when we had to resupply, I found myself in an internet cafe at the end of the world, checking my email and going on Facebook to tell friends and family I was still alive. After these sessions, I felt mentally and emotionally drained, a side effect of re-immersing myself into the world of technology.

      In Patagonia, I was an 8 hour drive on washboard, dirt roads to the nearest hospital and closer to Antarctica than to the capital of Chile, there was still internet and thus still ads and a consumer attitude. In this day and age, It seems almost impossible to go completely off the grid. Every single product you use, and every aspect of our modern lives is affected by advertisements. From the time we are born our “mental environment” is clearly influenced by technology and the like and the idea that some types of information can be “pollution” does seem feasible.

      However, after removing myself from technology at different points, Micah White’s idea “To escape the mental chains, and finally pull off the glorious emancipatory revolution the left has so long hoped for, we must become meme warriors who, through the use of culture jamming, spark a wave of epiphanies that shatter the consumerist worldview”, seems counter productive in a way to the overall message of culture jamming and fighting “toxic-information”. Using memes and other culture jamming techniques seem to me to just be adding more clutter to an already over saturated pool of useless information. I think if one is to turn to this method, it will not lead to an enlightenment of the mind, only an incredible cynicism and skepticism for every and all information source one comes across, and that just seems exhausting. At this point, I wouldn’t mind going back to the days when you could just watch Walter Cronkite and the news was the news. (Commence ignorance is bliss argument!)

  6. The Frankfurt School (of critical social theory) is a German institution founded in the early nineteen twenties (or late teens) by a Carl Grunberg. Starting off as a neo-Marxist school of interdisciplinary social theory the school and students learned from works of varied thinkers such as Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud, Weber, and Lukas. Today these are still some of the most famous and influential sociological thinkers to live. Since roughly the nineteen sixties the school has begun to focus more on the works of Jürgen Habermas (who we read about last week). Looking back it is difficult to distinguish which theorists truly worked with the Frankfurt School, and will vary greatly from account to account. It is most accepted that Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Lowenthal and Pollock were the first “theorists” of the school and were the most influential in its ways. Habermas was the first to break away from traditional programs – giving rise to critical theorists. Early intellectual influences that guided the Frankfurt School include Weberian theory, Freudian theory, Critique of positivism, Aesthetic modernism, Marxist theory, and cultural theory. The school has been largely criticized in more recent years for early ideological theories and ideas, but overall has tremendously influenced fields such as sociology, theology, economics, and media.

  7. First, I would like to respond to Diego’s question about the “read-write” participatory culture that we are moving back into. My first, pretty unanswerable, question would be what the difference is between the case Boyle mentions in chapter 3 about Mr. Moore’s kidney and the new remixing phenomenon that Lessig spoke about. If the court ruled that Mr. Moore had no right to the raw material that he provided for the doctors to create a new product then how is there still such a large issue with individuals creating new products from raw material available on the Internet? That seems like a flawed progression in my opinion.

    Second, more directly related to the original question, I believe that this “read-write” culture is a beneficial thing. I’m not saying that it is a good thing 100% of the time, but I think that overall it could really benefit average individuals and creators who are putting their products out on to the Internet. As college students we have probably all participated in group revisions and coffee house style reviews of each other’s work and I think that the Internet and this “read-write” process offers an incredible opportunity to not only gain improvements on original work but also allow it to branch off into new directions that the original producer didn’t even think of. The Internet provides access to hundreds of thousands of incredibly different minds all over the world and I think that being able to gain input from even a small fraction of those minds (as long as its in a constructive, forward thinking way) is invaluable. I would have to agree with Polanyi when he says that enclosure is “a revolution of the rich against the poor” and to be quite honest it will probably be to their own demise.

    I am also in search of a short video that I watched in a psychology class last semester that speaks to how easily “mental pollution” can seep into our minds, and I think it will be helpful when thinking about the ease at which we can “adjust our set”. I will post it when I find the link. I think that Andrew is right in saying that short from hauling out into the woods we are pretty much stuck in the middle of it all.

  8. This idea of a mental environment is very interesting to me. I haven’t really thought about how our minds are being pounded with information for consumption that we really have no choice in seeing or not. As McKibben and White say in their articles, we really have no choice in viewing these advertisements of a consumer society. We are born into a world that makes us want to be the center in order for the giant industries to make money off of our consumption and in order for that to happen, we must think ourselves the center of the universe, not a supreme being or idea as it has been for most of human history. This can be directly related to Lessig’s TedTalk and how people are finally starting to break this mold. In the video there is a part where he compares the older generation to today’s newer generation. He shows how they just sit there and take in everything that is shown to them and they accept it for the most part. In today’s generation, we are taking past ideas and creating new ones off of that our putting our own personal spin on them with the new technology available to us. This can give us hope that the “commons” are no longer being controlled by just those with power, but amateurs who can make their own creations. Hopefully, we are moving away our natural environments being polluted by all the ads shown to us daily, and people will be able to use this new technology to really make something new. The new media that is coming about with the new technology, and the increased access people have to it, can return the commons to just that, common for all. With the internet and devices like it, people will be able to view other people’s ideas and make their own. Hopefully the balance can be found in regulation so that people will not abuse it, even though this is a new environment where the resource cannot really run out because it is in cyberspace. It just needs to not be over regulated.

  9. I focused on Diego’s question about market faith in excludability. “If market faith is rooted in a correspondingly deep pessimism about the possibility of managing resources that are neither commonly owned nor owned by no one, can we have a functioning market economy while still encouraging open access, free use, and user generated content?”
    Focusing more in on the chapters in the Public Domain, I wish the author drew in more on the historical differences between common ownership and non-ownership. This question reminded me of a case study done in the Philippines which involved the privatization of a previously commonly “owned” mangrove ecosystem. The idea of the article was a village located on the coast of a mangrove ecosystem commonly owned and sustainably used the intact mangrove ecosystem for ecosystem goods in the food of harvestable materials and food items. The mangroves also served as a nursery for the aquatic life in the area, including shrimp, and serve as environmental protection for the inland regions. The community on the coast of the Tagabinet mangroves depended on these goods and services. After hundreds of years of its sustainable use, the Philippine Dept. of Ag leased the area to a private company who cleared around 14 ha of the mangroves to construct shrimp aquaculture. Essentially, privatizing the mangrove ecosystem. In the end of the study, it was found that the privatization actually yielded less shrimp than when it was commonly maintained by the village, however since all of the shrimp was going towards one new beneficiary- the private benefits were greater than the previous common benefits. I am a firm believer that open access, non-ownership regime can be dangerous but in some cases common ownership may be better than privatization in achieving the greatest good for the greatest number. When no one owns a good or service I think it is definitely abused in many cases due to human nature and desire to “keep up with the Joneses” so to say. In the case of intellectual property rights, it reminded me of a quote from Isaac Newtown “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” The distinction between intellectual property rights and physical property rights are made in chapter 3 and based upon the traits of market-based goods. Excludability is a good or service that excludable ownership by a person or community must be possible of. “Excludability is virtually synonymous with property rights.” (Daly & Farley, 2011.) By creating artificial ownership of objects such as intellectual property, we eliminating one of the innate differences between intellectual and physical property. One huge distinction between the two is the difference between a rival and non-rival good. For market allocation, it usually requires that the marginal cost to society of producing an additional unit of the good or service be equal to the marginal benefit, (Daly & Farley, 2011.) however with a non-rival good-there is no marginal cost to society as one persons use does not effect the quality of another persons use. This is the case for intellectual property where as for many physical market properties this may not be, i.e. the common grazing land. I think that with the case of intellectual property there needs to be some line of standards for creating excludability within ones work-however I believe that by creating physical materials justifying ones work would allow for more efficient allocation. Books for example-are intellectual property that is created into physical goods. With a certain number of books available on the market you can create rival-ness within that certain book. Obviously you could share a single book and your use would not effect someone else’s, but if you wanted you own book than you would be taking one more book out of availability for someone else. Until something becomes a physically owned intellectual property I believe it should be commonly traded and built upon to better society as a whole.
    Case study link below

  10. Going off what others have said about the “mental environment:” while it’s true that these colonizing processes can be somewhat averted through education, they’re almost entirely unavoidable. Unlike the majority of the consuming populace, I, like many others I’m sure, approach advertisements and mainstream culture in general from a place of extreme cynicism-but that doesn’t mean I’m don’t still get stuck on the same jingles I heard on repeat throughout my childhood. Regarding Bill McKibben’s notion that our lack of a “tribe” has us turn to consumer society to feel a sense of belonging-I don’t entirely agree with it, but this is definitely an aspect exploited by advertisers. It might not been exactly what he was getting at, but while hyper individualism is pushed, it is done so in the context of the Nation. People want to feel like they’re an individual, but also a part of The Greatest Country On Earth (which, it can be argued, only fuels the hyperindividualist narcissism). In one of my classes last year, we watched a car commercial that was just 2 minutes of some “epic” music and Clint Eastwood talking about how America always prevails, then at the end there were some car logos. The “I” is pushed, but so is the collective “we.” It’s an interesting dynamic. An advertisement like this doesn’t tempt me in any way, but an ad an extremely comfortable mattress has be fooled instantly. Even if we actively dismiss consumer culture, some of it will get through, I guess is what I’m saying.

    Bill McKibben also briefly talks about the increasing reliance on prescription drugs-new anxiety disorders, increasing depression rates-which I’d like to raise a question about. Is this due to the growing commercial marketing of antidepressants and other drugs, or are people just more and more bummed as a result of our consumer/smartphone/internet lifestyle (a similar question could be raised at the growing number of ADD and ADHD diagnoses)? I’m curious if it’s just the pharmaceuticals pushing the drugs more for more profit, or if they’re just benefitting from the “collective bummer tent.”

    Regarding culture jamming, I’m in agreement with what Conor said earlier. Culture jamming is cool as a concept and can be funny, but I’m also incredulous of it when a Banksy piece gets sold for thousands to a celebrity. I don’t think it’s effective enough on a small-scale for anything other than cynical amusement, but I’m interested in it on a larger scale.

  11. In Bill McKibben’s “The Mental Environment,” I found a quote that really resonated with how I perceive my own generation, and the ones that follow “We are the first few generations to receive most of our sense of the world mediated rather than direct, to have it arrive through one screen instead of contact with other human beings than nature.”
    In a previous course I have taken at UVM, the idea of “worldly knowledge” as it relates to child development came up and seeks to prove that through worldly experiences, such as going to the zoo, playing outdoors, etc., a child can better understand concepts around them. The example that I remember relates to a young child learning to read. Children were given the word hippopotamus, a pretty intimidating word for anyone just beginning to read and write. Along with the word, hippopotamus, the child was also given a picture of a hippo. Children who had seen a hippo at a zoo would instantly recognize the animal and therefore guess that the horrifyingly long word in front of them must be hippo or hippopotamus. A child who never had the opportunity, however, would not recognize the hippo and therefore be puzzled as to both image and word placed in front of them.
    This notion made me think about the children who have never seen a hippo in “real life” and instead saw the animal in a cartoon on television, a character in a computer game, or as an image online. How has their experience changed by only knowing that this majestic animal through second hand experiences? Even if a child recognized the picture of a hippo from a tv show, they’re still missing out on knowing or seeing this creature in physical form.
    A hippo is just one animal that many people around the world will never have the chance to see in physical form, but if every animal becomes known to the average human through photos on the internet, will we therefore be less inclined to help protect or advocate for them? Not only does this apply to animals, but the rest of the natural world, as well.


    • When reading Norah’s post the first thing I thought of was a quote from a previous Media Environments class I have taken. The quote is: Information is alienated experience. This really opened my eyes to see how the excess of information can really truly reshape, or rather take away, from all life has to offer. This abundance of information is indeed very strong and powerful and many times beneficial, but we must always be conscious of the toll it takes on our life experiences.

      I think this ties to Diego’s question asking if we can ever truly step outside the constant exposure to modern media enough to realize it’s effects. I think that ad busters approach, advertising information rather than products for consumption, is a strong attempt to reshape the way that the media works but may not be enough. We may change the material that we are viewing, but we are still just viewing. We must remember that accessing the information that is available is important, but so is utilizing the world around us.

      Finally I want to touch on our return to a read-write culture. I do, without a doubt, think we are moving towards a more participatory culture in which amateurs have a more equal playing field when compared to those we have titled experts or professionals. As discussed before, anyone can publish anything but just clicking the “publish” button. It is no longer necessary to meet with publishers and sign a contract. Whether or not this is for the “better” I do not know. With amateurs, individuals who do something for the love of it, I think the media being produced us much more pure. It has a unique truth to it without a paycheck pushing it into existence. At the same time, I do believe there is a place where “experts”
      are indeed necessary and should definitely continue to exist. But then I wonder, is it only as long as copyrights exist that experts ay exist? Are the only ranked higher in a field because of the more access they have to information? With the internet providing all it does, amateurs are moving more so into the realm of publishing their work, but if copyrights ceased to exist… would everyone have the tools available to become an “expert”?

  12. “Our mental environment is not the Yosemite of John Muir or Ansel Adams. It has always been more like Central Park, a landscaped reflection of human notions. Every generation, every community, has had a mental environment. The culture. The zeitgeist. It is that almost invisible fog of assumptions in which we live our lives, the set of images and ideas we barely notice because they are so common as to be both banal and overwhelming.”

    This quote from the Bill McKibben article really stuck out to me. We are born into a preconceived world where technologies are already invented and introduced to us as a norm from the minute we leave the womb. Even nature or “the wild” is a just mere reflection of human notions. It seems extremely difficult to “clean” our mental environment of all of these infotoxins. I agree with my peers past posts about boycotting media altogether as a way to relieve ourselves of the toxins, and not give into consumer culture. But at the same time, it’s almost as if we would have had to be born into another place and culture completely to be cured of infotoxins. It is imbedded into our current society, and as much as we boycott it, the bad information and mental pollution will still be there.

    I think a different approach to media would be more productive. We need more information advertisements, maybe they don’t have a purpose, an end result to buy anything. There should be a modern spin on the infomercial. Why can’t advertisements start to tell us what is actually healthy for our bodies? Tell us to take a break and consume less. I agree with Adbusters and “the realization that citizens do not have the same access to the information flows as corporations.” Can you imagine an anti-consumerism advertisement on television? I’d find it to be quite refreshing. We can all kid ourselves that boycotting will push us away from media altogether, but it is simply beyond our control. The minute you step onto the street there are billboards and ads, an electronic device feeds out advertisements, radio, television, smart phones, social media. I am not proposing advertising in the same way that media is portrayed now, but with alternative messages, I’m proposing a different force of media, so long we can fight to have the same access of information flow as corporations. Privatization of this only encourages the words of George W. Bush after 9/11—that the way to nationalism and rebuilding our economy is to buy more. Although like John mentioned before me, there is a fine line between over regulated media, and abusing cyberspace/non-regulated media. This is a line that I really hope we can balance on some day soon.

  13. Katie- I experienced many of the same thoughts while reading chapter 3 and pondering the various differences between the physical and the intellectual. I found that by creating something physical, say a book or something, there is a capital investment and inherently a financial risk. Though the book is filled with intellectual content, there is now some degree of excludability associated with the product and this is how sites like Amazon, publication companies and even the UVM bookstore make their (massive) profits. Excluding fiction, I believe that the book’s primary purpose is not to solely provide you with information, as I could attain the same information in an instant about molecular biology on the internet, but rather serves as a user-friendly organization tool which is easy to learn from. The same principle applies to the music industry. It was the invention of the record, not the composition , which created a market for a physical, and excludable good. People shared song and dance through demonstration free of cost for decades until somebody stuck a capitalist knife in it.

    The truth is, if there were no records or physical music “things,” then yeah many of us wouldn’t know songs like Stairway to Heaven or Smells like Teen Spirit. This doesn’t apply anymore though, as the age of digital archiving is upon us. Sharing an MP3 is JUST like sharing a blues song in 1921. The only reason anybody is making a fit about this is because of the history of buying music. You can probably see any piece of artwork on google for free, save it on your desktop, and print it out for your vacant dorm walls. The only difference I see is that one associates hearing, and one visual.

    Back to the article, and somewhere between question 1 and 2 (having to do with free access coinciding with capitalism). First of all this may be one of the best things that ever happened to capitalism as far as I am concerned. Capitalism, and consumers, thrive off of competition and innovation. This new internet era of free music and media discussion has hurt music industries, paper industries, and so many others. Well, I guess it’s time to innovate. I don’t know much about Mark Zuckerberg, but I’m pretty sure 7 years ago he didn’t have too much going for him. The physical and virtual world have been seperated on the grounds as what Boyle pointed out as Commons of the Mind and Earthy Commons. 60 years ago he points out that violating intellectual property rights was extremely difficult and as he breaks down how one would do so it feels comical. Now we view it as the opposite, and difficult to not encroach on ones mental property.

    Is citing a source not enough credit to the author? Is having Metallica’s vibrant album cover on your Ipod screen not acknowledging their creation enough? Does MONEY really have to be given to them to feel successful? I think we are crossing into the greed zone when making countless profits on the non-rival non-excludable goods of today.

  14. The fierce debate over the legality of user generated content in relation to copyright protection brings me back to the rap mixtape scene of mid to late 2000’s. Just a decade before in the mid 90’s the rap music industry had reached a pinnacle in its commercialization. Labels simply owned their artists down to the lifestyles that would eventually get them killed. The breaking point came with the deaths of Tupac and Notorious BIG, famed superstars who represented the this moment in rap music to the greatest number of listeners. Moving forward to the mid 2000’s we saw the emergence of the mixtape, new kind of user generated promotion within the industry, one that disregarded the old paradigm of strict legal bind between label and artist, but controversially dissolved the idea of copyrighted content. The mixtape its self is a promotional album made up from series of instrumentals made by prominent mixtape producers. These albums varied widely featuring artists ranging from the unknown local MC, those up and coming, to well established artists like Lil’ Wayne. The artists usually never meet or were even made aware they were to be featured on the same track, and financial compensation was typically not given to the featured artists unless they sold their own copied mixtapes. These mixtapes were sometimes distributed free online or could be bought in a store as a burned copy for between $1-10. Soon the mixtape became the king of the street, reaching markets where the content of the music was relevant and engaging, while at the same time missing the financial mark of the big record labels. The featured artists had mixed feelings about this and soon the rap community began to reach the ambiguous line our culture draws on copyright infringement. On one side of that hazy line you have the underground/local MC trying to make a name for himself, get heard and maybe play a few shows, this kind of user of the medium is looking for the promotional benefit of the medium and the target market it appeals to. On the other side of the line you have someone like Lil’ Wayne, someone who has used the medium of the mixtape to break into stardom but now sees it as a threat to his ability to attain maximum profit. You begin to see that the ambiguous line between what divides the polarizing views of copyright stems from the relationship one has between time and money and not amateur and professional. The example of the underground/local MC is of someone believes that if they put in the time and gain no profit the publicity gained will eventually pay out in recognition. While a person like Lil’ Wayne believes he has already crossed that threshold from strictly promotion driven effort to a developed recognition through an established fanbase. Therefore since a person such as Lil’ Wayne he has a what the unknown MC is looking for, that being his established fanbase or “market share”, then Lil’ Wayne will view his time on a track from a monetary perspective requiring the lesser known artist to pay a royalty that is far greater he/she can afford. This rant helps focus just a little bit that ambiguous line we know as copyright and the mixtape sat on the line until 2007 when Lil’ Wayne a performer who rode his mixtape influence to stardom toppled this underground promotional industry. This example only scratches the the surface and fails to point out how distribution and the middle man plays a crucial part in the equation.

  15. A lot of people have spoken about how the best way to combat the media saturation and media culture is to remove oneself from that environment. I would like to point out that in many ways this is an incredibly privileged world view that neglects the fact that many people can not escape hyper-saturated cities and streets. We are incredibly lucky in Vermont because we do not have advertising in our state. Not all people can just move to Vermont and go hiking for a week to get an individual break. Many people have work and kids that require a lack of mobility. Bill McKibben and Adbusters are at least on the right track acknowledging the mental environment is a systemic issue and needs to be fought against in a structural way, instead of solely individual approaches. Trying to deal with the media’s influence in an individual way is like trying to recycle to prevent environmental catastrophe, sure it’s helpful but in no way is it enough. We need to combat systemic issues with real change, not just change that makes the individual feel better. I agree that hacking is significantly more effective than culture jamming, because it shuts down the entire structure of the media, but going into the woods is not an option for most people.

  16. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iIkOi3srLo

    this advertisement I think every will find interesting, because it takes up Adbusters ideas of feeding better information through media, however, the end result is still consuming. Does this really help?

  17. I find the idea of anonymity extremely interesting because of its power for either good or evil. To be anonymous can give those that did not previously have a voice, say who have disabilities, or are shy, the ability to speak their mind. However, it also gives those who would not normally say crude or harsh words of hatred a voice and method in which to convey their, at times, poorly formulated argument in a very public forum. On the positive side, anonymity on the internet can also provide a loop-hole from prejudice. I took an English class on Race and Crime, and there are subconcious acts of prejudice that occur in even the most politically correct. The subtle tightening onto a purse when passing an African American male, the notion that if a vehicle is from New Jersey, they must be a terrible driver. When accessing the internet, these prejudices are no more – they only information gathered is that which the user allows to be shown. There are no assumptions on sight, but assumptions on words. Is this an effective way to judge a person? Is it enough information to gather a whole personality? Furthermore, does our increasing reliance on technology and forums (our “read-write” culture) weed out those who are not able to read, or to write?
    I think that Lessig also provides an excellent point regarding how we create our laws with “common sense”. Granted, Lessig is defining his own verison of “common sense”, but the notion that our children (or us, for that matter) will not respect a legislative system that does not keep up with the needs, or “common sense”, of its people is ultimately rejected. Thereby we are left with extremists on each end: an unwavering law system, and a rebellious young generation. It is time that we update our laws to the technologies they are enacting – let us not be the trespassers any longer!

  18. “Self-absorption is the toxic outcome of our eras unique pollution.”
    In Bill McKibben’s article “The Mental Environment,” he describes the importance of realizing the root of all of our misery. McKibben says that actions such as recycling and protesting the XL Pipeline are all things of merit, but separating oneself from consumerism is the most important problem of our time; “It’s the fundamental social struggle of our era” (White). I agree with the majority of the posts above that boycotting media altogether is the ideal manner in which to experience this “epiphany” and break out of the consumer mind-scape but unfortunately, it is not realistic. We live in a culture that has been socially constructed by media, by actions, beliefs, morals, values that have been mimicked from cultures before us. McKibben mentions that “we’ve never owned our minds entirely.” This is most definitely true because none of our thoughts and actions are unique but rather are what Rene Girard calls mimetic desire in which we desire what other people say we do.
    Self-absorption or “Hyperindividualism” is the outcome of the 3,000 plus advertisements we see day to day. I want to connect this to Boyle’s example of comparing the equal possession of common land vs. the privatization of that land. Contrary to Garret Hardin’s belief, history has shown that when land and resources are dispersed and shared equally, it has been proven to branch out into more conservation and preservation efforts rather than the privatization of resources which ultimately leads to hegemony of the “lords and ladies stealing from the commoner.” I don’t necessarily believe that individualism is a negative thing but I do agree that focus on community results in a collective consciousness for the betterment of mankind and our Earth.
    As Emile Durkheim says, if we go back to the most simple, noncomplex, primitive society’s we can see a collective consciousness that has been ultimately lost as society moves towards a more individualistic lifestyle. Primitive tribes such as the aboriginals of Australia used the totem as their religious practice. The totem, being an animal or plant specific to a tribe, not only was worshipped by the tribe itself but was symbolic of the entire tribe; this brought about a collective unity and consciousness which led to the overall security and benefit of civilization. An individual doesn’t have to have a tribe or totem in order to veer away from “hyper-individualism” but I think putting an emphasis on community will ultimately make civilization better, spreading more awareness of caring, love, interactions between physical entities instead of mediated through a screen, sharing, etc.
    Is there a way to use culture-jamming to spark a “wave of epiphanies that shatter the consumerist worldview?” This I do not know, but I think instead of focusing on changing the media, we need to make sure that we educate ourselves on the dangers of consumerism and recognize the effects advertisements have on our interactions with the world. Individual action is the most powerful in pushing for change. If we focus on training ourselves, either through meditation like Micah White or recognition of consumerist charged actions then we can start to try and separate ourselves from the consumerist mind-scape.

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