Michael Wesch on…

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I keep going back to Michael Wesch when I want to understand media, and have posted his work of 2009/10 here before. Here the first part of a very short talk from the same period is very engaging (especially min. 3:45-7:15).

He summarizes here how in the pre-media (no-books) Papua New Guinea culture he had been studying, when disputes needed resolution, “the relationship was put on trial”. This changed when individuals became literate, and state laws were instituted, and suddenly in disputes the individuals themselves were being held to the letter of the law. Wesch relates how unhappy the members of the culture were with these changes, how they were struggling with what they had become.

Wesch generalizes this experience of (new) media clash, saying:

  • Even when we try to use media, the media actually uses us.
  • These changes affect everybody. There’s no opting out.
  • Media are not just tools, not just means of communication, they mediate relationships.

He foresees battles about privacy, security, who will and won’t have a voice, and what we will and won’t know, but doesn’t leave it at that. In a leap of faith, he energizes himself and his students to engage with the mediated world and make it their own.

I’m just thinking through, going back to his Papua New Guinea culture, how aspects of the cultures we have lost can be brought back in a new way. Recognizing that relationships going on trial was a fundamental principle in their old culture suggests to me that they will need to integrate that knowledge into the books in some way.

Likewise, reflecting on my disenchantment with Facebook, and having deleted my account though I’m fully aware that this has made me become disconnected to some extent from the mainstream of my professional connections, I’m pondering: In our new media age, we need to find new ways to protect our right to privacy, which to me is – still! –  as much an element of our right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as connectivity is.

I’d like to try to find ways to – once again – engage with mass new media, but on my own terms.


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