Fish and Media.

I’d like to start this off with a joke I heard told by David Foster Wallace. 

One morning, two young fish are swimming out to a reef. On their way, they pass an older fish who calls out to them, ‘Good morning boys! Lovely day out today, the water is nice and warm!’.

The two younger younger fish smile politely at the older fish as they pass by. Eventually, one of the younger fish turns to the other and asks, ‘What the hell is water?’.

As brilliant as I think David Foster Wallace was, I interpret this joke slightly differently than he did. I tend to naturally interpret this joke through the lens of media consumption. As someone who has always consumed an awful lot of media, whether it be my grandmother teaching me to read using newspaper headlines as a child or my teen years spent obsessing over cinema and music, I have always felt completely surrounded by media. And I must admit, there have been times where I felt like I was drowning in media. However, most of the time I was more comparable to a fish in water. There was rarely a moment that passed when I was teenager when I didn’t have at least one earphone in, listening to music or watching some random YouTube video or another. And this trait has, somewhat unfortunately, followed me into my twenties. 

Nowadays, I tend to think more critically of my massive media consumption. I try to be aware of my own online echo chambers, keep an eye on my screen time on my phone and engage the media I do choose to consume in a more critical way. I can feel the push and pull of algorithms like currents in the water drawing me towards a narrower view of the world through videos that the site knows I will most likely agree with, top picks for you or bland agreeable content. The older I get, the more I seem to be aware of the negative aspects of media and the ways in which I engage with it. Having said that, I can’t help but be pulled back to the moments in my life in which media changed me forever. I remember how entranced I was the first time I saw Apocalypse Now, getting my first understanding of true heartbreak listening to Love Will Tear Us Apart for the first time, or the sheer joy I felt watching the news with my gay loved ones on the day my country legalised same sex marriage and seeing through media their delight in finally being recognised as equals. Media has played huge roles in some of the happiest memories I have, yet medias all-encompassing and vast nature can’t help but make me very wary, like the dread some feel in the open ocean.

Ultimately I know that like the old fish, I need to accept that even though I’m completely surrounded by something, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be pleasant and that I can’t love it. But I can’t shake the questions, can you truly love something that you can’t escape from? What if it isn’t the ocean, but a tank? With the advent of social media, does that make everyday events, stories and emotions pieces of media? I don’t think I’ll ever have concrete answers for any of these questions. 

So I turn to you and ask, what the hell is media?


Published by Life in Media

Website dedicated to the Media Life/Life in Media project of Mark Deuze, Professor of Media Studies, University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands).

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