Much of our life is mediated. Whether it is a newspaper, a blog, or a novel - each mediate the flow of information in their own way. Each are instrumental to the shape of our thought.
In many ways, we become the media we consume. Therefore, awareness of how media is designed can give us an insight into how we are designed: into the movement of our consciousness.
Embrace the post-Gutenburg age
The previous media age was defined by the Gutenberg press. However, digital media is no longer restricted to the limitations of printing. There is no scarcity.
Design for cognitive surplus
This is about understanding building a strategy for the post-Gutenberg age. Our goal: make good use of our collective cognitive surplus.
Case Study: School of Life
School of Life is a media brand and organisation that sells philosophy. It reflects the world view of a single person: Alain De Botton.
They have a YouTube channel which uses a distinct animation style. The two main trajectories of their content is a) history of philosophy and b) self-help for work, relationships etc. They have a retail footprint, with stores in major cities selling branded books and gifts. And they also offer psychotherapy for individuals; and consultancy for management.
School of Life represents an established institution of liberal humanism. It is not rebellious or alternative: it has no need to.
We can celebrate School of Life for its business acumen, media strategy, and the value it gives individuals that are looking for the School of Life brand of lifestyle philosophy. We can criticise it for being ideologically narrow, not crediting the broader team involved, and operating under an ideological questionable philosophical tradition.
Case Study: NTS
NTS is shaped differently to School of Life. There is no central figure, instead it is a plurality of providers united under the concept of independence. It doesn't give you one persons answer to life's questions - it just keeps you finding great new music related content.
It is, by design, diverse. It is open-minded, experimental, and representative of various underground scenes. It was started with a budget of £5000 and keeps the innovative spirit of Pirate Radio alive. At present, there are 500 resident artists, music producers, DJs and record collectors around the world that make up the regular shows and co-own the company. They are all tagged with a sophisticated system of meta-data, making discovery and serendipity easy.
It it situated geographically, starting life in Hackney, London - a cultural epicentre. Then, rather than creating copies of itself in other cities, it expresses the unique emergent sound and energies of the places it expands into.
NTS shows what happens when you focus on being a cultural platform rather than a philosophical brand.
Case Study: Grime
We can learn from the media strategy of the subculture of grime music.
Due to its marginal status, and stemming from pirate radio stations, the genre was forced to innovate how it used media. For example, the reliance on word of mouth dynamics; guerrilla marketing such as graffiti to advertise; and a general focus on succeeding locally before expanding to other areas.
Grime is both intensely individual (the artist asserts their superiority) and deeply collaborative (the microphone is passed along a crew). Part of the hype that is generated during live performance comes from the playing out of this tension.
Lyrical content is often about specific areas of the city. It is a localised snapshot in time. This technique echoes a writer like Charles Dickens, who would describe specific parts of London in detail and outline types of people that lived there.
Technique: Understanding media involves thinking about both the content (what is communicated) and the form (how it is communicated). The two are linked, and insight comes from articulating how they are linked.
Deep meaningful conversations (DMC's)
A major new type of media is the 'deep meaningful conversation'.
Podcasts are a clear example of this. And we define this type of media against a platform like TED, that provides big ideas in short bitesize chunks. A handful of media savvy academics and public intellectuals are currently capitalising on this demand.
This satisfies a demand for people that want to access progressive thinking, and to share radical ideas, in a period of massive social upheaval. We can think of this as a new form of serious entertainment.
Technique: Consider what conversations you could contribute meaningfully towards. Research the area fully and either produce or curate content accordingly.
Interview questions to think about 'media'
- Do you share memes?
- Which websites and magazines do you read?
- Do you use social media? How do you use it?
- What type of stories do you enjoy the most?
- Who do you follow on social media?
- Do you play computer games?
- Do you use voice (e.g. Siri, Alexa)
- What do you pay for online? For example, subscriptions