We can all see that society has changed greatly in the last 20-30 years. Leaps and bounds have been made in the areas of technology, science, medicine, etc. These things are evident. But what is the effect of these changes? The study of media ecology is one of great interest to me because it examines how we change ourselves when new technology is implemented in our daily lives. Like Shirky says in Here Comes Everbody—“revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technology, it happens when society adopts new behaviors.” This is media ecology in action, people changing themselves in order to adapt to the new technologies that now surround them.
Let’s take a step back though so as to not get ahead of myself. Ecology is the study of environments. It is defined as, “the branch of biology dealing with the relations and interactions between organisms and their environment, including other organisms.” Ecology, also called human ecology, in most cases examines how humans interact with their environments and what effect they have. How do we affect the oceans, forests, jungles? Is our affect positive or negative? These things can change from environment to environment, but there is always the element of change. Adaptation. “Society adopts new behaviors” depending on where they are located in the world. Someone who is accustomed to living in the dessert would have to change their living habits in order to survive in the arctic. This seems obvious, but the parallels to this example are not always so cut and dry; therefore it is important to remember the key differences in an example with much harsher differences. In summation, this idea of ecology and studying how humans interact with their biological surroundings can easily be applied to technological environments with the rise of social media.
There are many types of environments that exist within social media though, and they can all have their own distinct ecology. Twitter and Facebook and Myspace are all prime examples of social media today. These are probably the most well known and most used examples, and they have many similarities. They allow interaction with other people, messages, status’s, information being sent and received. Although employing different methods they all strive to accomplish the same goal—to connect one person with many others. Here comes that key example to remember though. They all seem similar and all fall under the same broad title of social media, but they each have their own ecology. To further illustrate this point I present a simple task. Three examples of purposes for social media will be presented, and I want you to tell me which one you would place with any of the three social media sites in this example (Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace).
1. struggling musician is looking for a way to use social media to create hype for his band.
2. middle aged person is looking for a way to get in contact with a long lost high school friend.
3. business is looking for an edgy new way to use social media to keep customers informed about their great deals.
Ok so now tell me which scenario you would place with which social media site? (Spoilerz: If you said 1=Myspace, 2=Facebook, and 3=Twitter—then you are right!) Why is this though? From an outside perspective they are all social media sites. They all intend to connect one individual with many others. They all provide a stream of information. They all have followers, connections, and friends. They all use the color blue in their color scheme (blue is a cool calming color which invites you in and makes you feel welcome). And on and on and on and so forth. With so many similarities how can they be so different? The ecology of each social site is completely different. Although they use many of the same methods, they intent with which people use them is completely different and the way that they disseminate information varies greatly. What was it that Shirky said?, “revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technology, it happens when society adopts new behaviors.” Each site comes with a different set of behaviors and etiquette than the other.
These types of things may not always be apparent or obvious at all, especially to someone who is unfamiliar with all social media in general. Knowing the difference and being able to understand how and why things differ is powerful information, and can be the difference between finding your audience and completely missing them.
Know your media’s ecology. Get results.