Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Summer Reading for Roy Part 2

So, to follow up on my previous post, Summer Reading for Roy Part 1, I am now prepared to share with you this year's summer reading list, which was included in Roy Christopher's blog post of June 20th, Summer Reading List, 2017, where it appeared along with selections from other academics and intellectuals, including my Fordham University colleague Paul Levinson, and former colleague Alice Marwick.

If you read this post right after the last one, you'll notice certain resonances or connections, even more so than among the previous years. In any event, here it is:
Summer Reading List 2017

I don’t mean to brag, but I was very fortunate to be able to see the musical Hamilton on Broadway this spring, and that has wet my appetite for the biography that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (New York: Penguin, 2004). And from a different era of American history, I plan on reading American Gothic: The Story of America’s Legendary Theatrical Family—Junius, Edwin, and John Wilkes Booth by Gene Smith (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992). In case you’re wondering why, Edwin Booth, who was the most famous stage actor of the 19th century, was the founder of the Players Club in Manhattan (Mark Twain was a co-founder), and over the past year I’ve been organizing events for the New York Society for General Semantics at the club, a historic building that once serve as Edwin Booth’s home (and still preserves the room that he lived, and died in).


Reading biographical and historical accounts is one method of time travel, and I also intend to read up on the subject more generally by diving into James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History (New York: Pantheon, 2016). Time being a topic of great interest to me, another book on my summer stack is Now: The Physics of Time by Richard A. Muller (New York: W.W. Norton).


Two books on language also have caught my eye and are on my pile, The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2016), and Words on the Move by John McWhorter (New York: Henry Holt, 2016).


Some years ago, I read the first few books in the A Series of Unfortunate Events collection (New York: HarperCollins) by Lemony Snicket, and was unable to continue for reasons that had nothing to do with the books. I was very impressed with the originality and inventiveness of what I had read, especially the self-conscious, often self-reflexive play with language and literary conventions, really quite brilliant all in all. And with the recent adaption of the books as a Netflix series, I intend to go back to the beginning and read the entire set of 13 volumes: The Bad Beginning (1999), The Reptile Room (1999), The Wide Window (2000), The Miserable Mill (2000), The Austere Academy (2000), The Ersatz Elevator (2001), The Vile Village (2001), The Hostile Hospital (2001), The Carnivorous Carnival (2002), The Slippery Slope (2003), The Grim Grotto (2004), The Penultimate Peril (2005), and The End (2006).





Lastly, I look forward to savoring the recently published collections from two of my favorite poets, Mata Hari’s Lost Words by John Oughton (Seattle: Neopoiesis, 2017), and Ego to Earthschool by Stephen Roxborough (Seattle: Neopoiesis, 2017).


And that is that, at least until next year...

Monday, August 14, 2017

Summer Reading for Roy Part 1

So, for several years now, Roy Christopher has asked me to contribute to the Summer Reading List post on his blog, as one of a number of scholars and intellectuals who provide a list of books that we intend to read over the summer. And in the past I've reposted that list here on Blog Time Passing because, well, why not? Here now is a list of my previous entries:

And now, if you're chronologically minded, you may notice that there's no entry for 2016 on the above list. And the reason for that is not that I didn't do one, and if you don't believe me, you can check out Roy's post from last year, Summer Reading List, 2016. It's just that last summer I was hard at work finishing up my new book (see my previous post: Media Ecology: Some Details Regarding My New Book) and just didn't have time to do much blogging, and by the time I got back into the swing of things, summer was long over, and I just plain forgot about the summer reading list.

So, fortunately there's no statute of limitations on this sort of thing, so before sharing this year's list with you, let me fill you in on last year's summer reading list because, after all, the books are still worth listing, and reading.

Summer Reading List 2016

Here in New York, the Broadway musical Hamilton has been all the rage for the past year, so I have decided to start my summer reading off with The Federalist Papers, authored by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (New York: Signet Classics, 2003, originally published 1787-1788 under the pseudonym of Publius). While we're on the subject of authors with the initials A.H., my list also includes Ends and Means: An Inquiry Into the Nature of Ideals by Aldous Huxley (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2012, originally published 1937).


I recently received a copy of The Book of Radical General Semantics by Gad Horowitz with Colin Campbell (New Delhi: Pencraft International, 2016), and I would want to read it under any circumstance, but all the more so because I recently became president of the New York Society for General Semantics. I also plan on rereading Lewis Mumford's The Condition of Man (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1944). And I have heard great things about the recent book by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence (New York: Schocken Books, 2015), so that's on my list as well. 


For scholars in the field of communication and media studies, Arthur Asa Berger is a familiar name, having authored many books on media and popular culture, and I look forward to reading his newest, Writing Myself into Existence (Seattle: NeoPoiesis Pres, 2016). Regarding communication, I also have on my list Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (New York: Penguin, 2015) by Sherry Turkle, a scholar often included in media ecology circles. And on the related topic of the study of time, I am also including Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015). 


Poetry books play a prominent and pleasant role regarding summertime reading (and the rest of the year as well), and this year my stack includes a collection by David Ossman of Firesign Theatre, Marshmallows and Despair, (Seattle: NeoPoiesis Pres, 2015), and Rupi Kaur's Milk and Honey (Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2015). 


My son has recommended the work of playwright Jenny Schwartz, so I'm also including two of her plays, God's Ear (New York: Samuel French, 2009), and Somewhere Fun (London: Oberon, 2013). Finally, there's a mystery novel I just have to read, Death by Triangulation by John Oughton (Seattle: NeoPoiesis Pres, 2015). 


So, in case you were wondering, The Federalist Papers, Ends and Means, The Condition of Man, and Reclaiming Conversation, all played a role in the writing of my new book. And Stone was the subject of a book review I wrote for KronoScope, the official journal of the International Society for the Study of Time. 

And, now that I've taken care of last year's list, I'll get to this year's selections in my next post.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Media Ecology: Some Details Regarding My New Book

So, if you know me personally, or connect to me via Twitter, Facebook, or the Media Ecology Association's discussion list, this may not be news to you, but it's time to make the announcement here on Blog Time Passing, my official blog of record. And even if you have already got the message, I'll add some extra details that may make it worthwhile sticking around.

So here goes, drum roll and trumpets please: My new book, Media Ecology: An Approach to Understanding the Human Condition (New York: Peter Lang, 2017) is now in print and available for sale through Amazon and many other fine booksellers. Hurray!!!


And here's the publisher's write-up of the book, a bit of promotional hyperbole there, but still it will give you an idea of what it's about, in case that's not entirely clear:

Media Ecology: An Approach to Understanding the Human Condition provides a long-awaited and much anticipated introduction to media ecology, a field of inquiry defined as the study of media as environments. Lance Strate presents a clear and concise explanation of an intellectual tradition concerned with much more than understanding media, but rather with understanding the conditions that shape us as human beings, drive human history, and determine the prospects for our survival as a species.

Much more than a summary, this book represents a new synthesis that moves the field forward in a manner that is both unique and unprecedented, and simultaneously grounded in an unparalleled grasp of media ecology's intellectual foundations and its relation to other disciplines. Taking as its subject matter "life, the universe, and everything," Strate describes the field as interdisciplinary and communication-centered, provides a detailed explication of McLuhan's famous aphorism, "the medium is the message," and explains that the human condition can only be understood in the context of our biophysical, technological, and symbolic environments.

Strate provides an in-depth examination of media ecology's four key terms: medium, which is defined in much broader terms than in other fields; bias, which refers to tendencies inherent in materials and methods; effects, which are best understood via the Aristotelian notion of formal causality and contemporary systems theory; and environment, which includes the distinctions between the oral, chirographic, typographic, and electronic media environments. A chapter on tools serves as a guide to further media ecological research and scholarship. This book is well suited for graduate and undergraduate courses on communication theory and philosophy.

And you gotta have blurbs, so here are mine (and I really do appreciate them, thank you Julie, Paul, and Josh!):

With characteristic passion and soulfulness, Lance Strate embarks on a metatask: to synthesize thinking about ‘life, the universe and everything’ through the lens of media ecology. In the process, he locates media ecology as the dynamic shift between figure and ground and as the basis for ‘understanding the human condition.’ Writing with an almost disarming ease that belies the complexity of the ideas he communicates, Strate brilliantly and reflexively mediates media ecology itself, bringing clarity to the KekulΓ©-like conundrums of an immense and increasingly relevant field. Anyone who thoughtfully enters and engages the environment of Strate’s book will be rewarded with moments of profound clarity, connecting ideas typically viewed as disparate or oppositional into patterns of deep understanding about media ecology―and about the process of living.―Julianne H. Newton, Professor of Visual Communication, University of Oregon 

Lance Strate’s synthetic thinking in Media Ecology: An Approach to Understanding the Human Condition opens up media ecology, allowing the reader to see how, as a field of inquiry, it applies to everything from language, media, and philosophy to our very understanding of what it means to be human living in a dynamic environment. Along the way Strate shows how media ecology connects with all the major approaches to communication study.―Paul Soukup, Professor and Chair, Department of Communication, Santa Clara University

Lance Strate asks big questions―and provides a myriad of perceptive answers. This book is at once playful, poetic, and precise. The clear writing about complex ideas is a pleasure to read and offers many gifts of understanding.―Joshua Meyrowitz, University of New Hampshire

And let me tell you about the cover. The publisher asked if I had  any instructions for the graphics designer, and I did have some ideas. One was the color, violet, like the color of the cover of Hannah Arendt's most influential philosophical work, The Human Condition:


While the color isn't exactly the same, it does evoke Arendt's work, and her understanding of the human condition serves as a foundation for my own media ecological discussion of the conditions of human life, which is another way of saying the environments that shape and are shaped by our species. 

As an added bonus, violet also has a connection to New York University, home of the original, late lamented Media Ecology Program founded by Neil Postman and Terry Moran, who were soon joined by Christine Nystrom. While NYU's colors are purple and white, their athletic teams are called the Violets, and according to the Wikipedia entry on the NYU Violets

For more than a century, NYU athletes have worn violet and white colors in competition, which is the root of the nickname Violets. In the 1980s, after briefly using a student dressed as a violet for a mascot, the school instead adopted the bobcat as its mascot, from the abbreviation then being used by NYU's Bobst Library computerized catalog.

Additionally, for a period of time, I would join Postman, Nystrom, and others for lunch or a snack at an NYU eatery called The Violet. But I should also note that the way the colors turned out in different shades, the cover also offers a hint of Fordham University's school colors, maroon and white. Again, however, my main goal was to pay homage to Hannah Arendt.

In addition to the color scheme, the use of the three internally tangential circles follows one of the main diagrams included in the book, one depicting the three basic human conditions or media environments (the biophysical as the outer ring, the technological inside of it, and the symbolic as the inner ring; I used internally tangential circles rather than concentric circles because I wanted a point of intersection between the three, rather than having the symbolic fully cut off and separated from the biophysical by being surrounded by the technological, because there is direct interaction between the biophysical and the symbolic).

The way the three circles are arranged is also meant to evoke another book cover, one of the many editions of Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, the most commonly cited work in the field of media ecology, and in many ways the work most central to it. The edition in question was one of the old pocketbook-sized paperback editions, with an image of a light bulb done up in Christmas-like colors:

I should note at this juncture that the original title I had in mind for this book was Understanding Media Ecology, and that goes back some two decades. But when I agreed to launch a new media ecology book series with the publisher Peter Lang,  they wanted a name for the series that would distinguish it from the Media Ecology series I had with Hampton Press, and I tossed out a few possibilities including Understanding Media Ecology, and that was the one they wanted to go with. So this book is, in fact, Volume 1 of Peter Lang's Understanding Media Ecology book series (this despite the fact that several books were published in the series prior to mine, a decision I had nothing to do with I hasten to add).

So I gave up my direct allusion to McLuhan's main work, and decided to go with a simpler and more direct title, Media Ecology. As for the subtitle, I use approach because it avoids the visual metaphor of perspective or even theory, as McLuhan and other media ecologists have been critical of the visualism of western culture, favoring acoustic metaphors instead; I also used this term because I wanted to place a certain degree of emphasis on media ecology as a method or way of understanding, a path, or tao if you like, and not just a field or intellectual tradition or set of theories. 

I did retrieve understanding in the subtitle to retain a connection to Understanding Media. And I had it read, An Approach to Understanding the Human Condition, to indicate the connection to Arendt, but also and perhaps more importantly to emphasize the fact that media ecology is about much more than media as the term is commonly understood. Indeed, media ecology is very much about the human condition, about the conditions that we exist within, that influence us, and are in turn influenced by us. Or to invoke Douglas Adams, as I do in the book, it's about life, the universe, and everything.

But back to what I was saying about the graphic design: I also suggested having the circles take up all or most of the front cover, and given their relative lengths, having my name in the innermost and smallest circle, having the book title in the middle circle, and having the rather longish subtitle in the outermost and largest circle. So, that was my input, and I am very, very pleased with the way it turned out. It's rather striking, don't you think?

Now, maybe you'd like to know a little more about the book before going ahead and buying it? To which, I respond, what's the matter, don't you trust me? But sure, I understand, so let's start with the book's own listings:

Does that help a bit? Maybe a little, but I bet a more detailed listing of the contents would be even better. I actually wanted to include a Table of Contents that included the breakdown by sections within each chapter, which I decided to number, following the example of Lewis Mumford in many of his books, but the publisher just went with the one I showed you above. (I have also incorporated the List of Illustrations here, which does appear in the book, and which are numbered according to their requirements, based on chapter number and order within the chapter.) What follows does not include the page numbers, since it was produced with the manuscript, before it went into page layout, but I think it will help provide more of a sense of what's in the book:


Figure 4.1 The Three Human Conditions/Media Environments
Figure 7.1 A Model of Communication Based on Formal Cause
Figure 8.1 The Ziggurat Model of the Oral Media Environment
Figure 8.2 The Ziggurat Model of the Chirographic Media Environment
Figure 8.3 The Ziggurat Model of the Typographic Media Environment
Figure 8.4 The Ziggurat Model of the Electronic Media Environment
Figure 8.5 The Alternate Ziggurat Model of the Electronic Media Environment
Figure 9.1 Pathways for Media Ecology Scholarship

 1: A First Word

Chapter 1   An Introduction
 1: Life, the Universe, and Everything
 2: Defining Media Ecology
 3: The Study and the Object of Study
 4: Field of Inquiry, Field of Study

Chapter 2   Intersections
 1: The Field of Communication
 2: Grammar, Linguistics, Semiotics, Aesthetics, Etc.
 3: General Semantics
 4: Information, Cybernetics, and Systems
 5: Media and Society
 6: Medium Theory
 7: Media Studies and Cultural Studies
 8: Human Ecology
 9: Psychology and Biology
10: Science and Technology Studies
11: History and Historiography
12: Futurology
13: Media Education and Media Literacy
14: Philosophy and Theology
15: Formalism and Materialities
16: Humanism
17: Technological Determinism
18: Praxis and Activism

Chapter 3   Understanding Media Ecology
 1: What Is Media Ecology?
 2: The Medium is the Message

Chapter 4   The Human Condition
 1: The Human Medium
 2: Nature and Culture
 3: The Technological Condition
 4: The Symbolic World

Chapter 5   Medium
 1: Understanding Media
 2: Media and Medium (A Note on Usage)
 3: From Printing to Mass Communication
 4: Transportation and Transmission
 5: Mediated Communication, New Media, Social Media
 6: Substance and Sensation
 7: Words
 8. Form
 9: Human Bodies as Media
10: Relationship
11: Technology and Technique
12: Environment and Process
13: Summation

Chapter 6   Bias
 1: The Bias of Communication
 2: The Nature of Bias
 3: The Myth of Neutrality
 4: Design and Function
 5: The Bias of the Medium

Chapter 7    Effects
 1: An Effects Tradition
 2: Impact and Ecology
 3: Some Basics Regarding Science and the Limits of Knowledge
 4: Causality
 5: Formal Cause
 6: Systems and Emergence

Chapter 8   Environment
 1: Me and Not-Me
 2: Ecosystems and Networks
 3: Towards a Media Eco-Logic
 4: Media Environments

Chapter 9   Tools
 1: Context Analysis
 2: Studying Media as Media
 3: Studying the Biases of a Medium
 4: Studying Effects
 5: Studying Environments

Chapter 10   Conclusion
 1: A Last Word


And while I didn't get my author's copies of the book until later, according to Amazon, the book was officially published on the Fourth of July. So I guess you could say it represents an Independence Day of sorts, maybe in some ways for media ecology, certainly for me. What I mean is that, over the years, I have encounter many misunderstandings about media ecology, as well as a number of objections to various aspects of our field, and the book incorporates my responses to those misunderstandings and objections, and hopefully answers them in a way that might put them to rest (probably not, given that it's hard to change people's minds, even in the face of rational argument and evidence, but hope springs eternal). So, along with being a summary and new synthesis intended to move the field forward, it should also serve as a defense against the dark arts that have been aligned against media ecology over the years.

I do feel a certain sense of obligation to my mentors, Neil Postman and Christine Nystrom, and especially to Chris who tried her best to present media ecology as a coherent and organized field, rather than simply a series of probes and percepts. And in that sense, this was a book that I needed to write. I kinda had the feeling that if I died before this book was completed, my shade would not be able to rest easy. Which is also why the book is by no means all that it could be, because I had to limit what I would cover and the amount of time I would put into it, or the book would never have been finished (not to mention that I had word count limits imposed by the publisher, which I significantly exceeded). But with this book, I do believe I have fulfilled the obligation that I felt to Chris and Neil (an obligation that they never placed on me I hasten to add), as well as to my colleagues, students, friend, and fellow travelers, to media ecologists present and future. Whew!