Antonio Lopez’s new book, The Media Ecosystem (Evolver Editions), is a handbook for understanding the central importance and power of media, networks, and communications in an age of ever-intensifying connectivity, growing civil unrest, and environmental crisis.
Why did you write The Media Ecosystem? What does the title mean? What is the relationship between media and ecology?
Coming from a background in bioregional activism, environmentalism and having spent many years doing grassroots media work in Native American communities, I see the need to connect media with the ecological crisis. I want people to understand how media are part of the problem, but also are part of the solution.
My aim with the book is to reclaim the term “ecology” as a reminder that media ecosystems aren’t immaterial, but are actually embedded in living systems. If people can make this connection on a deeper level, it will help us reimagine a more plausible and sustainable world. To this end, I hope that people will behave less like consumers and more like active citizens engaging their inherent ecological intelligence.
How can we reconceive and reinvent media to create a healthy relationship btw humanity and the earth?
We need to develop a truly holistic perspective in which media are seen as deeply connected to living systems. It turns out that media are largely responsible for how we define nature (and hence justify exploitation and the ideology of unlimited growth), and our gadgets and communications systems are highly destructive to ecological systems. Data clouds are actually quite toxic and are increasingly a major aspect of climate change.
The business model of the major communications cartels—from corporate media like Fox News, Disney, NBC Universal, to telecommunications giants like ATT and Comcast, to gadget makers like Apple—is to perpetuate a model of economic growth and technological progress that is ecologically unsustainable. I believe grassroots media models the cultural changes necessary for the broader society. Media should be like farmer’s markets, not box stores. The former lend themselves to organic cultural practices, the latter tend to be more synthetic. Community-based media is accountable to its public. Corporate media are accountable to advertisers and the financial system. This leads to different ethical frameworks and orientations.
What role does the hipster, punk, and street artist play in today’s media ecosystem?
As an old school punk (I was involved with the punk scene in LA during the early ‘80s) I experienced the amazing power of a community of practitioners evolving media and culture organically. Such practices were inherently about autonomy from corporations and about being the change we wanted to see in the world. These spaces of experimentation are really important for transformation.
Ultimately it’s the job of artists and marginalized cultural creatives to be the reality check against insane social structures. And since our current battle is against monoculture and the commercialization of the cultural commons, keeping the media ecosystem diverse means pushing against the possibilities of our communications tools. This is why the organic media practices that have emerged from movements within the Arab Spring or among student activists all over the world are extremely significant for furthering the democratization of our communication systems.
In the book you discuss how Occupy created its own alternative media, but the momentum of this movement got stalled. What are the lessons from Occupy for future movements?
Although the police in Manhattan and other cities smashed gear and laptops, the techniques, methods, theories and approaches developed through Occupy have spread throughout the net. People are drawing lessons from physical occupations in city centers and are translating them to occupations of media space. For example, a big struggle right now is to keep the Internet open and to block repressive anti-piracy measures used to stifle dissent. People from Occupy and other movements are working diligently to create workarounds and alternative network structures that can bypass the media cartels and governments. Network technology and software development are necessitated by state repression, so you see new innovations in cryptography and efforts to create liberated media spaces that can’t be shut down by governments or corporations.