Volume 20, 2019
Yoni Van Den Eede
The Mold Is the Message
Media Literacy vs. Media Health
Expecting that media and/or digital technologies “do” things (Verbeek), we are called upon to take a stance on them, theoretically as well as practically. Media literacy represents one such stance—we are prodded to be literate about media—but there are others. To this extent media literacy is a lens through which we look at issues and that shapes what we see. This becomes particularly clear when we consider another lens, namely, that of media health. While media literacy suggests a rather pragmatic way of doing, making do with what is on offer, the image of media health dramatically alters the starting point: media are seen here as affecting us, even to the extent that we become sick and need to be cured. This image or model of media as somehow related to disease and health is developed in varying degrees of explicitness in the work of Bernard Stiegler and Marshall McLuhan among others. In this paper, we investigate the differences between the media literacy and media health models from a meta vantage point and ask how the lens determines how we view and understand certain problems in relation to media/technologies. We do this by deploying a metaphor ourselves, namely that of mold. Our models are molds. They are understood as a “frame or model around or on which something is formed or shaped,” but the connotations of fungal growth helping organic decay and of soil and earth are also at stake. Depending on which meaning we prefer, it might turn out that we do not need to choose between our molds/models: they are interconnected, like mold. On a more theoretical level, we link up the media literacy and media health approaches to two major strands in philosophy of technology, namely to the pragmatist/postphenomenological and transcendentalist/critical streams respectively.