Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Jun 2020

The Interdependency of (Social) Media

If it is not clear already, our relationship with media (broadcast, social, and otherwise) is quite complicated. Often, this relationship bears it say in regulations, filters, disadvantages, conversations, memes, and more. And yet, if one isn’t careful, you will find more dependency on media for “living” than assumed. It’s not a simple thing to untangle either. Attempts to simplify our relationship with social media often find one in a knot of circumstances. It’s probably closer to an inter-dependent relationship then a dependent one, but it’s hard to see were each of those boundaries lie.

If you look at it from the perspective of regulations, The need to regulate media comes from a sense of control. Either control of the message, or control of who is able to receive the message. Regulations also come in to play where a medium, or the channel that carries that medium, cannot be easily filtered on an individual level. And so regulations are crafted so those who might be within consuming range of that media, have some semblance of control in its reception.

This inter-dependency also reveals itself on a more simple level when we talk about filters. Some will do all sorts of things to ensure only the preferred elements come through the media they are invested in. From changing channels, to registering for specific services, to using an unsubscription button; there are several methods that we use in order to filter the various ways that elements are pushed through the various mediums in our lives. Done successfully, a person is both encouraged and informed; and also protected/blocked from other streams which might be threatening. Privilege is a term given weight in this context. Some have the privilege to live within filters, others must navigate around those filters in order to live.

Memes are yet another space in which we see the interconnected nature of media. Memes are a product of social memory. A clip or context is shared amongst a small group; then granted a more definitive property by a larger group; then shared as fast as its definition can be communicated. A meme relies on the receiving and forwarding of this shared definition… and often, also as shared experience. Without a prior relationship to either the sender or the meme’s context, there’s no value to the item. The media is “cancelled.”

These and other examples are several reasons why it is very difficult for many to separate themselves from various communication channels. From conversations about “what are you binge watching these days,“ to conversations about sharing or not sharing traumatic experiences seen in-person or heard by chance, it seems separating oneself from media is almost impossible. However, being exposed to streams of media means there is some control, some agency, which can be exercised. It might be as powerful as labeling a tweet as threatening content. It might be as blunt as shutting off internet services within a geographical area. It might also be the parent to disconnects the router, sending their children to crafts and offline activities in which there’s no logical (to them) connection to the media they’d been so focused towards.

Media as an interdependent relationship? Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with such an arrangement. The complexity of this moment means not only that we must understand it; but also make worthwhile decisions about what our perspectives will be towards this media, and how much of it we internalize in order to create, reshape, or destroy the culture in which we live.