As I was preparing this address, it occurred to me that it would lend itself quite nicely to a call-and-response format. But I was torn over whether I should attempt it. I had never done anything like that before, after all. And what if no one responded? Academic audiences have a tendency to be reserved and reticent, and this could come across as hokey, to say the least. What if I were to (forgive me for saying) blow it? Or come across as a blowhard?
But then again, this was Mexico, where the oral tradition had not been as completely repressed as it has been in the United States. And this was the MEA, and media ecologists are not your typical academics. So, I heeded the call (it really did call to me, and I just gave in to it), and people responded. Of course, there's no way to capture that in the written text.
So, for what it's worth, here's the blow:
The title of my address, "Oh, What a Blow That Phantom Gave MEA!" is an allusion to one of the classic works in the media ecology intellectual tradition, Edmund Carpenter's 1972 book, Oh, What a Blow That Phantom Gave Me! Carpenter's title was itself an allusion to that singular literary achievement produced by Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote. This means that the title of my talk is an allusion to an allusion. Literary theorists would refer to this sort of thing as intertextuality. Semiologists would speak of it as an example of the seemingly endless chain of signifiers. Analytic philosophers would note that an allusion is a different logical type from an allusion to an allusion, which would be a member of a higher order. Practitioners of general semantics would see this as a form of self-reflexiveness. New media scholars such as Jay David Bolter would call it remediation. And as for the Freudians, they just might psychoanalyze it as the future of an allusion.
Of course, you don't have to be a Freudian to interpret our dream, now almost nine years old, of forming an association that would be international in its scope, and dedicated to the study, research, criticism, and application of media ecology in every conceivable context. There were times in the past when it seemed like an impossible dream, and I know some of you are groaning at my allusion to the song from the Broadway show, Man of La Mancha. Some of you may even be expecting me to start singing at this point, but fortunately for you I don't do show tunes. Instead, I simply wish to note that since the founding of the Media Ecology Association in 1998, our field of inquiry has undergone a dramatic rise in recognition and respect. And while our quest is far from over, from the looks of things it certainly seems like the Media Ecology Association is here to stay.
And we are here to make the world a better place. But before we make the world a better place, we need to understand the world, we need to understand our environment. And to understand our environment, we need to understand media, to understand technology and technique, to understand symbols and symbol systems, to understand codes and modes of communication, to understand the means, the methods, and the materials, the form and the substance that make up our world.
This is no easy task. As the late Paul Watzlawick explained, there are two levels of communication. There is the content level, where we send and receive information about the world. And there is the relationship level, where we communicate about our communication, about how we will interact with each other, about what our roles and identities are in relation to each other, and about how to interpret the messages that we send and receive on the content level. The relationship level is the level that guides, regulates, and controls the content level, the level where the computer is programmed, the rules of the game are written, the language is invented and modified, and the social reality is constructed. But even though the relationshp level is where the power resides, we tend to ignore it and only pay attention to the content level. This is another was of saying, in the words of Marshall McLuhan, that the medium is the message.
When we first fall in love, we can see nothing else but the relationship, we idealize the relationship, we also worry about the relationship, but we rarely think objectively and critically about the relationship. After the relationship is established, we become used to the relationship, it becomes part of everyday life, and we begin to take it for granted and stop thinking about it at all. The relationship becomes a phantom, and it is not until something goes wrong with the relationship, until one or both parties fall out of love that we cry, "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
It is the same with communication. At first, we are enamored of our new media, fascinated by their every nuance. But it doesn't take long before they become part of our routine, fade into the background, and become second nature to us. Our attention shifts to the content that we send and receive, and we only become aware again of our means of communication when they break down, or when they break us down. In other words, it is the bias of all media to become environmental, and therefore, to become invisible. As Ted Carpenter put it:
"New media allow us to escape from old environments, but soon imprison us in new environments, namely themselves. For one brief moment we have a clear image of ourselves and our environment, both hitherto invisible because they were too close. They became visible by becoming obsolete."
"The appearance of the telegraph and onset of the electronic age allowed Marx to see the structure of the past economic system and Freud to see the nature of literate individualism. Both viewed man and society as separable, in opposition. These were backward glances, the views of men dissatisfied with what they saw in the past, but with no awareness that new environments soon would surround them."
As McLuhan would put it, they marched backward into the future, looking into the rearview mirror. And when you are only looking at where you've been, and not at where you are going, sooner of later you will have cause to say, "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!" As media ecologists, our job is to understand the past without confusing it with the present, to uncover patterns of change, and use them to understand the future. We study history so that we do not have to repeat it, and with apologies to George Santayana, because those who do not remember the past are condemned to cry out, "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
McLuhan said that, "nothing is inevitable provided we are prepared to pay attention," and media ecology is a way to prepare people to pay attention. As media ecologists, we prepare ourselves to understand the present by studying the past and the future. We are historians and we are futurists, because we understand that the two are inseparable. As Jose Ortega y Gasset wrote in his famous treatise, The Revolt of the Masses, "It is false to say that history cannot be foretold. Numberless times this has been done. If the future offered no opening to prophecy, it could not be understood when fulfilled in the present and on the point of falling back into the past. The idea that the historian is on the reverse side a prophet, sums up the whole philosophy of history."
In an early survey of our field, William Kuhns referred to media ecologists as post-industrial prophets. He paid special attention to Lewis Mumford, Sigfried Giedion, Jacques Ellul, Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, Norbert Wiener, and Buckminster Fuller. Peter Drucker was another prominent media ecologist and futurist, and he was the first to characterize the postindustrial environment as a knowledge society. Moreover, when Neil Postman formally introduced the term "media ecology" in 1968, he emphasized the fact that media ecologists ask questions about the future. And he went on to say that, "their questions also have to do with our chances of survival, and how to prepare ourselves intellectually and emotionally for media environments most of us do not quite believe in, and which we may not be able to control."
McLuhan was fond of the Ezra Pound quote that, "the artist is the antenna of the race." Likewise, the late Kurt Vonnegut characterized writers and artists as our culture's equivalent of "the canary in a coal mine." He explained that at one time canaries were taken down into the mines because if toxic fumes were present, the canaries would collapse long before human beings were affected, and thereby provide ample warning for the miners. And along the same lines, as media ecologists, it is our job to function as a distant early warning system, to use another of McLuhan's pet phrases. And to do this, we have to have the courage of Don Quixote, to open ourselves up and absorb the phantom's blow. And we also need the common sense of Sancho Panza to recognize the blow for what it really is, to use that blow to understand the phantom itself, and to communicate our findings with clarity. And as Postman put it, clarity is courage.
It certainly seems that Cervantes anticipated the power of typography as an agent of change. According to Elizabeth Eisenstein, the diffusion of the printing press was slower on the Iberian peninsula than in Germany and Italy, but took off during the late 15th century. Cervantes himself was born at the end of the incunabula, the first hundred years of the Gutenberg galaxy. He was born into an environment transformed by the sudden diffusion of a multitude of mass produced books, a society that seemed to be saying, in regard to the printed word, "oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
As you know, Don Quixote's problems began when he started to read too many books. He neglected his business affairs, spent all of his money on books, and devoted all of his time to reading them. Here we have an early parable about media addiction. And Don Quixote went mad from reading too many books. This also has a contemporary parallel in our concerns about the effects that electronic media such as television, videogames, and the internet are having on people's intelligence, their connection to reality, and their behavior, especially in regard to violence. And it has an ancient parallel in the Bible, for example in the 115th Psalm of David, where we can find the following warning about idols: "They that make them shall be like unto them." The title of another of Carpenter's books, They Became What They Beheld, is an allusion to this psalm. And what the psalmist says, in effect, is that anyone who worships graven images will wind up saying, "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!
And Plato in the Phaedrus warns that the technology of writing will weaken the mind by undermining memory, and result in a decline of civility by instituting a form of discourse that is impersonal and unresponsive. And yet, at the same time he was a victim of literacy, which facilitates abstract thinking. Plato constructed a reality as fanciful as that of Don Quixote, the reality where ideal forms, abstract ideas, are more real than concrete material substance. Had he realized what was happening to him, Plato might well have cried out, "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
Cervantes was an innovator, the inventor of the modern novel, and media ecologists understand that there is common ground between the invention of gadgets and machines on the one hand, and linguistic invention, rhetorical invention, and artistic invention on the other. He invented Don Quixote, a character held captive by the invisible bonds of the written word, and if only the Knight of the Sorrowful Face had been aware of his predicament, he might have said, "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
Cervantes also invented Don Quixote's companion, Sancho Panza, an illiterate steeped in the oral tradition. As a member of an oral culture, Sancho has a proverb for every occasion. And as Walter Ong explains, communication in an oral culture relies on formulas and clichés, and sayings and aphorisms. These are the basic media of oral culture. Rooted in his orality, Sancho Panza remains close to the human lifeworld, as Ong puts it, and his mindset is situational and concrete, rather than abstract and decontextualized. This is the source of his common sense. It is for this reason that Jacques Ellul argued that literacy is a prerequisite for propaganda, and propaganda, we might say, is the deliberate creation of Don Quixotes. And McLuhan in turn emphasized the point that you cannot propagandize members of an oral culture, you cannot sell them on abstract ideas or ideals, and make them lose touch with concrete reality.
With the coming of the book, as Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin describe it, and in the age of mechanical reproduction, to use Walter Benjamin's famous phrase, it becomes a handicap to be illiterate, and it is not surprising that Sancho Panza's social and economic status is quite low. Sancho may be a squire to Don Quixote's knight, but as far as Cervantes is concerned, he is no squire, he is only a page . . . in a book. Even though Sancho does not use the technology of typography himself, he is still affected by it, just as we are subjected to the effects of airplanes whether we ride on them or not, and to the effects of television and computers, whether we use them or not. And so, while Sancho Panza does not suffer the madness brought on by reading, and he is not directly changed by print media in the manner of Don Quixote, he still has cause to cry out, "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
The way that Don Quixote saw his world was colored by the books he read, and more generally by the book as a medium. And while his view of the world was extreme to the point of insanity, we might take note of what Carpenter wrote in his famous essay from the fifties, entitled "The New Languages." He began by stating, "English is a mass medium. All languages are mass media. The new mass media—film, radio, TV—are new languages, their grammars as yet unknown. Each codifies reality differently; each conceals a unique metaphysics." He later went on to argue, "Each medium, if its bias is properly exploited, reveals and communicates a unique aspect of reality, of truth. Each offers a different perspective, a way of seeing an otherwise hidden dimension of reality. It's not a question of one reality being true, the others distortions. One allows us to see from here, another from there, a third from still another perspective; taken together they give us a more complete whole, a greater truth." And so, Don Quixote's losing battle against a windmill might be taken as a sign of madness in the seventeenth century, but in the nineteenth century he would have been recognized as a Luddite fighting against industrialization. And in the twenty-first century, some might take him for a media ecologist crying out, "Oh what a blow that phantom gave me!"
Don Quixote was driven mad by books that depicted the earlier age of feudalism, a system that no longer existed in early modern Europe, and could not exist in the media environment of that time. He imagined himself in a wonderland, but the looking glass that he stepped through was a rearview mirror. What Don Quixote saw in the rearview mirror was more than mere nostalgia for times gone by, it was a romantic image of a past that never existed, an idealized form of the past. He was misled by a simulation, to use the term made famous by the late Jean Baudrillard, by a hyperreality, specifically by what was then the new literary form that we call fiction. And in response to that literary simulation that had undermined his sense of reality, Don Quixote would have had every right to complain, "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
Speaking of the future of a delusion, Christopher Columbus was not all that different from Don Quixote, in that he sailed west not to find the future, which is what the New World represented, but to find the past, in the form of the Indies, the continent of Asia. He was so fixated on looking into the rearview mirror that he went to his grave believing that he had discovered a new route to the Orient. Columbus set sail during the incunabula, and because his story and his mistaken claims were disseminated far and wide by way of the printing press, it was many years before the mistake was corrected and he was acknowledged as the true discoverer of the Western Hemisphere. In the meantime, another explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, took his eyes off of the rearview mirror, realized that he had arrived at a brand new continent, and published an account of his discovery. And exactly five hundred years ago, a French cartographer drew up the first map in which the new land mass was named after Vespucci. And the map was disseminated far and wide by printers, who identified the New World by this new name, America. As Daniel Boorstin relates, by the late 1530s, that name had been so well publicized, so broadly accepted, and so effectively preserved by the print media that it was impossible to change. Yes, once Columbus's error was discovered, there were concerted efforts to rename the western hemisphere Columbia, but it was just too late. Had Columbus been alive to witness this sequence of events, he no doubt would have said in regard to the printing press, "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
Don Quixote looked into the rearview mirror and saw the Age of Chivalry, but he did not understand what he was seeing. If only he had available to him one of the great books in the media ecology intellectual tradition, written by the medieval historian Lynn White, Jr., and entitled Medieval Technology and Social Change. As Professor White explains it, it was the introduction of a new technology that resulted in both chivalry and feudalism. In the 8th century, the Islamic Empire had conquered almost all of the Iberian peninsula and was on the verge of invading the vastly outnumbered Franks to the north. The leader of the Franks, Charles Martel, somehow saw the potential in an innovation that had recently made its way west from Asia where it had originated. The invention that he adopted was nothing more than the humble stirrup, a device that enabled a rider on horseback to keep from falling even while off balance. Martel was the first to see in this technology the potential for a new form of warfare, mounted shock combat, the type of battle depicted in the medieval joust. In other words, Martel reinvented the stirrup and introduced a new technique for fighting. And so, he outfitted his men to fight on horseback, and together they turned back the Islamic invasion. Mounted shock combat against foot soldiers was the medieval equivalent of a tank facing off against infantrymen, and the innovation came as a terrible shock to the invaders. And as they beat a hasty retreat, no doubt many of them were heard to say, "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
Martel, realized the importance of this new military technology, but he also recognized the expense of outfitting one knight on horseback. So, he seized lands from the Church and gave them to his vassals in return for their oaths of allegiance and service. And, the first legends about knights in shining armor clustered around the grandson of Charles Martel, the Emperor Charlemagne. Extending the work of his grandfather, Charlemagne ordered the freemen who could not afford to maintain themselves in horse and armor to work together to outfit one of their number as a knight. In this, we can see the beginnings of the concept of chivalry, whose root meaning is horsemanship, and the beginnings of the feudal system, in which the knight earns his position by defending his people and his king. It was a social contract based on public responsibility, and the knight who could not fulfill his responsibility would forfeit his position. To sum it all up, in the words of Lynn White, Jr.:
"Few inventions have been so simple as the stirrup, but few have had so catalytic an influence on history. The requirements of the new mode of warfare which it made possible found expression in a new form of western European society dominated by an aristocracy of warriors endowed with land so that they might fight in a new and highly specialized way. Inevitably this nobility developed cultural forms and patterns of thought and emotion in harmony with its style of mounted shock combat and its social posture . . . 'it is impossible to be chivalrous without a horse.' The Man on Horseback, as we have known him during the past millennium, was made possible by the stirrup, which joined man and steed into a fighting organism. Antiquity imagined the Centaur; the early Middle Ages made him the master of Europe."
If not for the stirrup, all of Europe would have fallen under Moslem rule, and Portugal and Spain would have remained firmly a part of the Islamic Empire. Without the stirrup, the Normans would have failed in their invasion of England, and Great Britain would never have existed. Under Moslem rule, there would have been no Italian Renaissance, and therefore the Germans would not have had sufficient motivation to develop the printing press with moveable type. Without typography, Don Quixote would have retained his sanity, but he would have lived in a Spain where there was no Ferdinand and Isabella, and therefore no Columbus, and no Vespucci, whose voyages were sponsored by the Spanish crown. And therefore, there would be no America, no United States, no Canada, no Mexico. And most distressing of all, there would have been no Media Ecology Association. And that would leave us all standing around this place, looking at each other, wondering what in God's name we are doing here, and of course saying to one another, "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
The story of the stirrup brings to mind an old English nursery rhyme, a part of oral tradition that was first written down in the 14th century. Benjamin Franklin, who gave us the age of electricity, was fond of this rhyme and printed a version of it in Poor Richard's Almanack, but the version I will read is the older one:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
And we can add to this poem that, after he lost his kingdom, the king thought about that one little nail, and he cried out to the heavens, "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
This nursery rhyme expresses the idea that our environment is a complex system composed of parts that are interdependent and interrelated in dynamic interaction, generating the phenomenon that Buckminster Fuller called synergy. Under such conditions, it is possible for a small change to have catastrophic results, just as a tiny pebble dropped into still water creates ripples much larger than its own circumference. We also commonly speak of events snowballing out of control, and then there is the well known idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in China, creating an atmospheric disturbance that turns into a feedback loop and becomes self-perpetuating and subject to growth, results in a hurricane in the Caribbean. And in regard to that Chinese butterfly half a world away, our friends on the Caribbean islands would surely be saying, "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
As media ecologists, we understand that our invisible environment includes those modest technologies that we constantly overlook and take for granted, the media that hold things together, such as nails and stirrups, those inventions that make up what Sigfried Giedion called "anonymous history." They include, as Lewis Mumford reminds us, the containers we use for storage, not to mention our dwellings and our settlements. They include, as Harold Innis reminds us, the staples on which our economies and systems of communication are based, such as papyrus, parchment, paper, and the electromagnetic spectrum. And they include, as Marshall McLuhan stressed, our media of communication and perception, from speech and hearing, to reading and writing, to the television and the computer.
As Neil Postman explained in Technopoly, "Technological change is neither additive nor subtractive. It is ecological." And he went on to conclude, "A new technology does not add or subtract something. It changes everything." And that includes ourselves. As Katherine Hayles explains, with the introduction of the technologies of information and cybernetics, with the medium of the computer which functions as a writing machine, we became posthuman. Whether this is a change for the better or for the worse is open to debate. Walter Ong argued that "human consciousness evolves," and had faith that electronic communications and digital media would ultimately bring us to a higher plane. Jacques Ellul argued that technology dominates us so completely that the only value that remains in effect in our culture is efficiency, and human freedom is forsaken and forgotten. But whether the change is viewed optimistically or pessimistically, what Postman, Hayles, Ong, and Ellul all are saying is, "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
So as we look ahead to an uncertain future, it seems clear that the Media Ecology Association is needed, to take that blow, and find that phantom, to teach people how to shift their focus away from the rearview mirror, and to look ahead and get a sense of where we are going. The MEA is needed, and I am happy to say that the MEA is here. Our association continues to grow and develop, and there is no better indicator of our continued vitality than the quality and scope of this convention, our first outside of the United States. This is an important moment in our history, a turning point for the MEA, and for the field of media ecology. And I want to take this opportunity to thank our host, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Estado de México, for their wonderful hospitality—we are in your debt. And I especially want to thank our Convention Co-Coordinator, Fernando Gutiérrez for all of his hard work and dedication to the Media Ecology Association. Thank you Fernando, and thank you to everyone from Monterry Tech, to Octavio Islas, Arturo Caro, Veronica Rueda, Amaia Arribas, everyone else, there are so many of you here who helped to make this event possible, and more than that have made it successful beyond our most impossible dreams.
And having thanked Fernando, let me also express our gratitude to his Convention Co-Coordinator, Thom Gencarelli. Thom is one of the founding members of the Media Ecology Association, and has served as our organization's Treasurer up until this year, when he has taken over as Vice-President. Over the years, and in a multitude of different ways, Thom has been a tireless worker on behalf of our association, so let me say again, thank you Thom. I would also like to recognize the vast and unquantifiable contributions of our Executive Secretary, Janet Sternberg, both to the organization of this event, and to the maintenance of our organization on a day to day basis--thank you Janet.
Next year our convention will be held in California, hosted by Santa Clara University, and Paul Soukup will be one of the Convention Co-Coordinators. Father Soukup is a member of our Board of Directors, has served as the Editor of our newsletter in the past, and is now the Treasurer of the MEA. Prior commitments have prevented him from joining us this year, but I do want to thank him for his service past, present, and future. We are fortunate to have with us his Convention Co-Coordinator for 2008, Anne Pym. Thank you Anne. And this is the perfect time for me to reiterate the fact that the Media Ecology Association remains open to proposals for the hosting of our annual conventions, and if you have the support and resources, please let me or any other board member know, and we would be glad to discuss it further.
We are also open to collaboration and sponsorship on other events, and we maintain relationships both formal and informal with many other organizations, including the International Communication Association, the National Communication Association, the Eastern Communication Association, the Institute of General Semantics, and the Jacques Ellul Society, which is represented at this year's convention by the distinguished Clifford Christians. Casey Man Kong Lum, one of the MEA's founders, and a member of our Board, served as Vice-President for many years, coordinating our affiliate relations, and I want to say thank you Casey for your many contributions to the MEA, and for the many yet to come.
Last September we cosponsored The World in Quandaries: Coping with Controversial Communication in the Global Village, a symposium that celebrated the 60th anniversary of the publication of People in Quandaries by Wendell Johnson. This same event celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of the New York Society for General Semantics, and the 8th anniversary of the founding of the Media Ecology Association. We also were one of the institutional supporters of the 3rd Online Congress of the Observatory for Cybersociety held last November and December. And just a few days ago, we were cosponsors of the fourth annual Overseas Conversations Series: An International Conference on Media Literacy, Media Ecology, Media Studies, and Media Education. Again, if you are interested in our collaboration or co-sponsorship, just get in touch with me or any of our officers or board members.
Next year, 2008, will be our tenth anniversary year, and we plan to put on a number of events to celebrate. Stay tuned and we will let you know all about them as soon as possible.
The journal of the Media Ecology Association, Explorations in Media Ecology, has in its short history published numerous articles of great significance, and will continue to do so in the years to come. While we have fallen behind in our publishing schedule, members will be sent the issues that they are entitled to just as soon as they are published. Board member Corey Anton has been appointed editor-elect for the years 2008 to 2010, and he is already hard at work with multiple calls for papers issued, and a ton of enthusiasm. I think we can expect great things under Corey's editorship, I have great confidence in his ability to take the journal to new heights of quality and insight, and I hope you will submit your best work to him. Thank you Corey, for taking on this important task.
I also want to express our gratitude to another board member, James Morrison, who has coordinated our online efforts as web editor and continues to serve as MEA Historian—thank you Jim. Roxanne O'Connell has taken over as MEA Web Officer, and we look forward to a bigger and better website coming our way in the near future, and with the help of Jim, Casey, and Paul Kelly, among others. We are working to enhance our online presence, and to that end we now have an MEA page on MySpace, and with the help of the MEA's longtime photographer, Robert Francos, we are making pictures from our past conventions and events accessible. We have also established an MEA presence on YouTube, and uploaded the short documentary made for our fifth anniversary celebration.
Our newest member of the board, Stephanie Bennett, has already served for several years as the MEA's Director of Communications, and has taken over as editor of our newsletter, In Medias Res. Thank you, Stephanie. I also want to thank Robert Albrecht for taking on the job of editing the English language Proceedings of this convention—thanks Bob. For the first time, we will also be publishing Spanish language papers in our Proceedings, and Fernando Gutiérrez will be editing that portion of the volume, which you will be able to find online at the MEA website in the not too distant future. Thank you again, Fernando. And thanks go out as well to board member Ellen Rose, who has taken charge of the MEA's Nominations and Elections process, and being Canadian knows nothing from hanging chads. There are so many of you who have saved the MEA kingdom by being the nail that saved the horse, the rider, and the battle, and I want you all to know that your efforts are appreciated.
This year's convention represents a giant leap for the Media Ecology Association, and I want to stress to you how very pleased we are to be here, and how very proud we are to be associated with Monterrey Tech. We truly are an association whose aspirations extend to all of spaceship earth, even though our reach may exceed our grasp. We want to work on an international scale, but we need your help, your presence and participation, to make it happen. The MEA is an open system, so please join us, and let us work together.
We gather here for these few days as media ecologists, and we speak many different languages, English and Spanish of course, and also Portuguese, French, and Italian, German, Dutch, and Danish, Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian, Mandarin and Cantonese, Korean and Japanese, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and the list goes on. We're not exactly the United Nations, but we get around. And as media ecologists, we also speak many other kinds of languages, the languages of the alphabet, the syllabary, and of logographic writing, the language of pictures, paintings, and photographs, the languages of music, radio, recordings, and the telephone, the languages of dance, drama, and cinema, the languages of books, newspapers, magazines, and comics, the languages of mechanization, industrialization, and electrification, the languages of television, the internet, and the web, the language of dots and dashes that we call Morse code, and the language of zeroes and ones known as computer code. As Eric McLuhan puts it, today we are speaking an electric language, a language that James Joyce used in Finnegans Wake, which is why he spoke in the language of lightning, and thunder.
Each and every one of our languages, spoken, mediated, and technologized, provides us with a piece of the puzzle, a unique view of the world that helps us to understand a greater truth. And as Octavio Paz put it, "Every view of the world that becomes extinct, every culture that disappears, diminishes a possibility of life." This is something that we, as media ecologists, understand all too well, and as media ecologists our mission is preservation and conservation.
At the same time, we come together as media ecologists so that we all can speak the same language, the language of media ecology. For some of us, this language is our native tongue, and the Media Ecology Association is a place, perhaps the only place, where we can speak it freely. The MEA is our native land, our country and our community. Of course, for others here today, the language of media ecology is a second language, and I want you to know that you are welcome here. We are a multilingual society, after all, and I think you will find that our language is easier to learn than some of the others used by the Freudians, Marxians, semioticians, and poststructuralists.
The language of media ecology is a language that we continue to reinvent to meet the demands of a changing media environment. The language of media ecology is a language of a higher order, it is a language about other languages. It is a language that is especially intertextual and self-reflexive. It is a language of remediation, which seems only right because media ecology education is remedial education in the best sense of the word. It is a remedy, not a miracle cure or a magic pill, but a breath of fresh air and a healing environment, for madness and malady alike. As media ecologists, we are here to heal the world, a concept called tikkun olam in the tradition of Judaism. And healing begins with diagnosis, which means knowledge, understanding, and observation.
To quote from Octavio Paz once again, "wisdom lies neither in fixity nor in change, but in the dialectic between the two." As media ecologists we understand that a dialectic is a language, and a dialogue, and a dynamic interaction—it is an ecology. And wisdom can be found in the balance between fixity and change, between the past and the future. As media ecologists, we seek healing through balance, and harmony.
And as media ecologists, we understand that sometimes you can only gain wisdom by listening to the fool, following the fool, and even playing the fool. And so, we find ourselves embarked upon a quest. It is a quest not in the sense of making conquests, but in the sense of asking questions. Questions are our most powerful medium, and media ecologists wield some of the most powerful questions ever posed. The quest of the Media Ecology Association is only beginning, but by joining together we can wield our questions as if we ourselves were the phantoms, striking a blow that serves as a wake up call and gets people to pay attention, that brings the invisible environment sharply into focus, and that makes the whole world say, "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
Let's say it louder this time: "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
Let's say it one more time, even louder, so loud that they can hear us back in New York, and in Toronto, in Paris, and Rome, in Athens and Jerusalem, and as far away as Tokyo and Beijing, and around the world to Santa Clara so they can hear us coming next year: "Oh, what a blow that phantom gave me!"
Muchas gracias y buenas noches.