• Real-World Geography: Dr. Michael Wesch
    Michael Wesch is a cultural anthropologist.

    Photograph by Erinn Barcomb-Peterson

    Media Ecology
    Dr. Michael Wesch is part of the Digital Ethnography group at Kansas State University.

    Watch videos on Dr. Wesch's YouTube channel.

    Follow Dr. Wesch on Twitter.

    By Mary Schons

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    EARLY WORK

    Michael started his career in Papua New Guinea, studying the effects of new media in that area. In that case, the new media was written language.

    “A new medium can influence the culture in ways we can’t foresee. In Papua New Guinea, it influenced census-taking and map-making.

    “The area we were mapping is very rural. For one thing, there was no written language and no proper names.” Michael said people would use relationship names—“Mom,” “Cousin,” and so on. “The census required people come up with fixed names,” said Michael.

    Michael said mapping parts of Papua New Guinea was difficult because people were constantly moving: “You needed to get over 200 people in a village to get on the map. People were very interested in getting on the map, but [residents] couldn’t recruit too many outsiders or build a very big village because then there was the problem of distrust and accusations of witchcraft.”

    In Papua New Guinea, Michael started asking the question, “What are the hidden effects of media?” That question led to his YouTube video, “Web 2.0: The Machine is Us/ing Us,” which quickly became an internet sensation. Watch the video here.

    MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

    “I love whenever I can get into the field.”

    Michael has spent a total of two years in Papua New Guinea. He also loves being in the classroom.

    MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

    Michael says that many of the most exciting things about his job are also the most demanding. “I teach huge classes, as many as 400 [students] in one class. You can make the case that the more students you have, the better.”

    HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

    “Geography is the study of the impact of the world on humans, and humans on the world.”

    GEO-CONNECTION

    Media ecology is the study of media and the social, cultural, and physical environment.

    “The basic idea [is] to get outside the idea that media is a tool. It's actually media mediating relationships.” Michael points out that there are “restrictions and biases with all modes of communication, different contextual cues” and “telephone communication,” for example, “is different from face-to-face communication.”

    SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . MEDIA ECOLOGIST

    Definitely start learning languages. Learning a language opens up the world.”

    GET INVOLVED

    “Open up to people different from you, know them, like them. Keep on practicing your ability to like people different from you.”

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    accusation Noun

    charge of wrongdoing.

    bias Noun

    prejudice.

    census Noun

    program of a nation, state, or other region that counts the population and usually gives its characteristics, such as age and gender.

    Encyclopedic Entry: census
    communication Noun

    sharing of information and ideas.

    contextual Adjective

    having to do with the conditions, facts, or details surrounding a situation or event.

    cue Noun

    hint or marker.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    definitely Adverb

    without a doubt.

    digital ethnography Noun

    the study of cultures and distinct groups that are formed and exist electronically.

    distrust Noun

    suspicion or lack of trust.

    effect Noun

    result or impact produced by an action.

    environment Noun

    conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

    field Noun

    area of study.

    foresee Verb

    to predict.

    impact Noun

    meaning or effect.

    influence Verb

    to encourage or persuade a person or organization to act a certain way.

    language Noun

    set of sounds, gestures, or symbols that allows people to communicate.

    media Noun

    means of mass communication, such as television or the Internet. Singular: medium.

    media ecology Noun

    the study of media environments.

    mediate Verb

    to intervene or bring about change between different people, ideas, or methods of doing something.

    medium Noun

    (plural: media) tool or instrument of communication.

    mode Noun

    method or way of doing something.

    proper name Noun

    name that identifies an individual person, place, thing, or idea.

    recruit Verb

    to work to supply a group with new members.

    restriction Noun

    barrier or prohibition.

    rural Adjective

    having to do with country life, or areas with few residents.

    smoke signal Noun

    visual system of communication using controlled smoke from a burning fire.

    telephone Noun

    electronic tool and system for communication by sound or speech.

    village Noun

    small human settlement usually found in a rural setting.

    Encyclopedic Entry: village
    witchcraft Noun

    changing of everyday events using supernatural or magical powers.

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