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Technology, Media Literacy, and the Human Subject

Richard S. Lewis

Part II. Developing a posthuman approach: a framework and instrument

7. Conclusion

Texte intégral

1 The primary aim of this study was to create a way to situate and contextualize media literacy in order to better understand how we are affected by the ubiquitous media technologies that comprise our daily existence. This study first investigated the current state of media literacy and then took an interdisciplinary approach in order to leverage useful concepts from the fields of postphenomenology, media ecology, and philosophical posthumanism. The intent was to create a posthuman approach consisting of a framework and instrument that could be used by media literacy to facilitate our understanding of how the human subject is influenced by media technologies, thereby increasing our agency and helping us decide which media technologies we want in our lives.

2This results in a facilitating cartography for both students and researchers to retain a broad perspective while investigating the unique relations that contribute to a subject’s continual constitution as they move through their life. In this conclusion, I summarize my findings concerning how to expand media literacy. I then reflect on strengths and weaknesses of the study. I conclude with further recommendations for how the posthuman approach could be used outside of media literacy.

Summary of Main Findings

3My main findings involve understanding how media literacy should be expanded to include a focus on the medium, as well as on the broader context within which media relations are situated. I found that it was first necessary to clarify a contemporary understanding of what a human subject is and how it is continually being constituted through its relations. Following this, I developed the concept of an intrasubjective mediating framework and instrument that can then help us explore our use of specific media through identifying the interrelated constituting relations that are concurrently involved.

Expanding Media Literacy

4The first main finding reveals that while media literacy is helpful in many of its various approaches, it in general has a couple limitations that could be improved in order to make it more effective in helping people understand the effects of our daily use of ICTs. The first limitation is that most media literacy approaches do not focus on the biases of the medium itself. Each communication medium—be it newspaper, television, or smartphone—has its own biases, enabling some things while constraining others. Making sure that the medium is included in media literacy investigations helps keep the focus from solely being on issues of content and representation (which are still important).

5In addition, media literacy can benefit by including the broader environment within which the media use takes place. This is supported by the non-media-centric approach to media literacy advocated by Shaun Moores (2016) and David Morley (2007). This contextualizing move de-centers the focus on media and attends to the broader lifeworld where media happens. This is a critical component upon which I build, creating a practical approach that helps situate and identify the various relations that affect and are affected by our relations with specific media technologies.

The Human Becoming

6In order to understand the effects of media literacy on the human subject, we need to have a contemporary understanding of the human subject, one that counters a traditionally humanist understanding of an idealized autonomous and standalone individual—a concept with roots in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Instead, we are relational, and it is through our relations that we are constituted. Rather than viewing our selves as human beings, it is more appropriate to call our selves human becomings. We are in a state of constant becoming in a complex and sympoietic manner, evolving and transforming through the myriad of relations that are also constantly changing in our lives.

7The concept of complexity is key to understanding the human becoming as it shifts the gestalt from an individual subject to a complex posthuman subject. We are always and already in relations, not only with other humans but also with technologies and the world. These relations are complex, situated, dynamic, and emergent. How these relations influence a subject continually changes, and the ability to bring one’s awareness to a particular relation can affect the amount of influence the relation has.

Intrasubjective Mediation: Framework and Instrument

8The key to creating a new framework in order to situate media literacy and the human becoming is to build upon postphenomenology’s formula of technological mediation: I-technology-world. This helps us to (pragmatically) understand how we, as human subjects, are constituted through our relations. However, focusing only on technological relations limits our ability to understand and situate the broader relations that affect and are affected by media technologies. Therefore, in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding, we can include the other relations that are constituting our selves as well as influencing (enabling and constraining) the effects of the technological relations. This is where the intrasubjective mediating framework comes into play.

9Intrasubjective mediation describes the process of how the transformations that occur to the human subject through technological, sociocultural, mind, body, time, and space relations mediate—and continue to mediate through time—how the subject perceives and engages with the world. Intrasubjective mediation enables the ability to understand how all of our relations continue to mediate our experiences with our lifeworld, creating a way to investigate both the current and continuing impact from relations. In the case of ICTs, this helps us to become more media literate by understanding their broader and ongoing effects.

10The intrasubjective mediating framework and instrument is designed to enable a media user to better understand how media technologies are situated within a complexity of interrelations, all of which affect the user on an intrasubjective level. This framework and instrument provide a facilitating cartography for the human subject to become more aware through an autoethnographic process, guiding the investigator to analyze six groupings of relations. Additionally, the investigator then identifies and rates the effects of interrelations that influence the direct relations, leading to a clearer understanding of the complexity of interrelating factors that occur during any engagement with media. Through this broader understanding, the investigator enhances their own agency, empowering them to make better-informed choices concerning which media they invite into their lives.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Study

11Roger Silverstone (2006) points out, ‘All concepts are metaphors. They stand in place of the world. And in so doing they mask as well as reveal it’ (229). This holds true for the framework and instrument described in this book. On the one hand, the approach can help facilitate the investigation into identifying the interrelating effects of media technologies within the broader frame of all constituting relations. The approach has been designed with the media user in mind—either as a consumer, user, or producer of media. The goal of the approach is to enable a broader perspective on how we are—in part—constituted by the media technologies in our lives. However, it is impossible to identify all of the mediating relations that influence us. While the framework and instrument can help broaden our perspective, they can only facilitate our own inquiry into revealing a portion of the complexity of interrelations that affect us. And, attempting to create a comprehensive approach can give a person using it the false sense that they are actually being completely comprehensive. I first comment on the significance of the findings and then discuss some of their limitations.

Significance and Implications of Findings

12These findings are significant because they provide media literacy a practical way for situating the effects of specific media use in a broader context, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of the complexity and interrelationally of our media relations. The findings balance broad interdisciplinary theories concerning humans and technology and then connect them to a practical framework and instrument that can be used for media education. Not only are these findings based on solid, contemporary philosophical thought; they are also—most importantly—used to build a practical instrument for media literacy. I say importantly because while academic scholarship is often helpful for the academic world, in order to improve the everyday lives of people using media technologies, it is critical to do more than create academic theories. Through developing the theory into a usable instrument, there is an increased likelihood that there can be some positive effect on individuals and society. The framework and instrument are beneficial for researchers and educators of media literacy as well as users who engage with media.

Limitations of the Study

13The limitations of this study stem, in part, from the intrasubjective framework and instrument not yet being fully tested. While I have used the intrasubjective framework and instrument to analyze a museum selfie, as well as using it with a small group of students, further application and field research is necessary in order to ascertain possible limitations and make further revisions.

14How the instrument will work in other settings and contexts is still left to be seen. In addition, while I have validated many aspects through interaction with my peers (through discussions, papers, and conference presentations), I have not yet reached out to very many media literacy teachers and researchers who work in the field. I believe that further usability testing is necessary in order to generate feedback by students and instructors as they use the instrument to conduct their own investigations into specific media relations.

Critical Considerations

15When should criticism enter into the dialogue? Throughout this book I have kept from focusing too much on how to critically evaluate our media relations. Before being able to pass judgement on a technology and its effects on our lives, I believe we should have a credible understanding of the complexity of the situated technology. This is what the posthuman approach supplies, allowing us to be in a better position for us to judge whether we should or should not invite specific technologies into our lives, and how we should engage with the technologies that are already in our lives. This critical assessment is absolutely necessary. It is also easier to accomplish on the personal/micro level rather than on a societal/macro level. However, it is the second part of the process, and the primary focus of this book is in exploring the first part.


16In Chapter 6, I demonstrated how the framework could be employed to investigate and reveal the interrelations that I experienced taking a museum selfie. Additionally, I created a generic exercise that can be used for media literacy, which is now ready for media literacy instructors to experiment with. Up until now, I have been working mostly alone on the creation and implementation of the framework. This limits the likelihood of identifying what still needs improvement.

17As indicated in the above section, the instrument will benefit through continued usability testing. I imagine students using it to conduct their own investigations into specific media relations. This will help revise the framework and instrument. As Paul Cilliers (2005: 259) states,

There is no stepping outside of complexity (we are finite beings), thus there is no framework for frameworks. We choose our frameworks. This choice need not be arbitrary in any way, but it does mean that the status of the framework (and the framework itself) will have to be continually revised. Our knowledge of complex systems is always provisional.

18I believe that continuing to use the framework and instrument with university undergraduates and graduate students who are studying media education and media literacy will be very beneficial. Graduate students in information literacy and the library sciences could also benefit by experimenting with the instrument, both in order to understand their own media relations but also as a way to educate others about media literacy. Through continued studies with older students, potential issues can further be remedied before having educators modify the instrument in a manner that is tailored for younger students.

19Another recommendation for the field of media literacy is a policy type of recommendation. In Chapter 2, I discussed several organizations focused on media literacy (such as the Center for Media Literacy, the National Association for Media Literacy Education, and the Association for Media Literacy in Canada). These are very helpful resources for media educators, and they all have their own unique approach to, and definition of, media literacy. My recommendation is for these organizations to incorporate more of a focus on the importance of understanding: 1) the biases of particular mediums; and 2) how the specific context and interrelations influence, and are influenced by, our relations with media. These recommendations allow media literacy organizations to retain the strength of focusing on media relations while also including the broader context, allowing for a more inclusive and situated understanding.

Extrapolating to Other Fields

20Looking to the future, I wish to share my enthusiasm for the potential of using this posthuman approach for the broader fields of humanities and social sciences. The framework and instrument is a useful way to understand our selves as subjects who are continually being constituted through a complexity of interrelations. I believe that research in the various fields within the social sciences can benefit from leveraging the posthuman approach in order to situate and bring perspective to the specific research being conducted. I believe that it can even be used with a non-technological engagement. For example, using it to better understand one’s experience marching in a political protest.

21This approach provides perspective, which in turn helps us understand the interconnections and broader context of whatever research is being conducted. For instance, social science research focusing on the issue of race could use the framework in order to help situate the specific race relations, demonstrating how they affect and are affected by many of the other relations, all of which are interrelated in a complex existence. This keeps researchers from being too narrow in their approach, and can help demonstrate how race importantly interrelates and affects other relations more broadly.

22This posthuman approach is an effective first step toward a comprehensive situating framework. One of its strengths is in its interdisciplinary nature, having been created by bringing concepts together from different fields that have not necessarily interacted much previously. This cross-fertilization can now have benefits by introducing the approach back into some of the original fields of study. While the approach attempts to be inclusive and holistic, it is meant to be static. Both students and researchers in various disciplines can use it to investigate more deeply into any of the already defined groups and subgroups—or even create new groups and subgroups. To begin describing what this might look like, I will briefly explore how philosophical posthumanism, postphenomenology, and transhumanism might find the framework and instrument useful.

Philosophical Posthumanism

23Posthumanism has an excellent, broad perspective, creating a post-anthropocentric, post-humanist, and post-binary outlook in order to understand the complex and emergent human subject. However, while posthumanism excels at keeping a broad perspective of what constitutes a posthuman subject, it is less clear exactly how to implement the posthuman concepts into an everyday living of one’s lifeworld. Most helpful to posthumanism are the contributions in the field that implement the broader theoretical concepts into practical applications (for examples, see Adams & Thompson, 2016; Bayley, 2018). I believe that the intrasubjective mediating framework and instrument presented has the potential to be used in such a manner as practical tool for implementing posthumanist concepts relating to complexity as well as a non-humanist and a non-binary focus. The design of the framework leverages the broad concepts into a facilitating cartography that can be specifically applied to a broad range of research.


24Postphenomenology’s concept of technological mediation and the co-constitutionality of the I-technology-world formula is one of the main foundations upon which the framework and instrument are built. The framework can be useful in broadening postphenomenological research to include the other constituting groupings of relations. This inclusion helps keep postphenomenological research from being limited by its predominant focus on technology and allows the broader context of relations to also be addressed. Since the framework already uses many concepts from postphenomenology, it should be relatively easy to leverage it into the research within the field. This can also help the field address some of the criticisms that have been made against it in the past, specifically with regard to not incorporating cultural relations along with the technological relations (Scharff, 2006).


25While transhumanism is a forward-looking discipline, it is hampered by its foundation in rational humanist and Enlightenment concepts, dating back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Hughes, 2010a; More, 2013). As a discipline, it generally views the world and the human condition as complicated but solvable, allowing for an engineering approach to resolve many of humanity’s issues. While its goals center on improving the human condition through contemporary and future technologies, transhumanism would benefit by taking a critical look into the philosophy it is built upon.

26I argue that by leaving rational humanism (and the debate with bioconservatives) behind and incorporating intrasubjective mediation— with its foundation based on a complex, post-humanist subject— transhumanism has a better chance at positively improving not only the human species, but all living organisms on the planet. Therefore, I suggest that transhumanism evolve three of its perspectives: 1) the idea of a standalone individual to an interrelated and continually emergent subject; 2) the perception of human enhancement as complicated to understanding it as complex; and 3) a neutral view of technology to an understanding that technology is transformative and non-neutral. By changing transhumanist’s theoretical foundation based in humanism to a combination of posthumanism, postphenomenology, and complexity theory, transhumanism can become more contemporary and bring a more balanced and grounded expectation for the future of humans, technologies, and the world.

Non-Western Cultures

27The scope of this research has remained embedded in the contemporary Western culture. However, as I conclude, it can be useful to think how this proposed posthuman approach might be used in non-Western cultures or to make comparisons between cultures. The framework is setup in such a way as to be useful in researching any culture, as well as being helpful in better understanding differences between cultures. For instance, some cultures might have a more developed sense of social interconnectedness, such as the idea of Ubuntu, which is roughly translated as I am because you are (Lief & Thompson, 2015). While much of this book has been focused on overcoming a strong sense of individuality that permeates much of the contemporary Western world, a culture based on the concept of Ubuntu can give rise to a vastly different lifeworld.

28But rather than idealize or in some way other such a culture, the framework provides a way to look at the embedded and situated interrelations that exist within these cultures. We can use the framework to better understand what is enabled and what is constrained across all the various groupings of relations. The framework provides a cartography to bring the various relations and interrelations to the foreground of our awareness and to see on balance how all the groupings of relations co-exist.

Final Thoughts

29While marketing departments spend a lot of money trying to convince us otherwise, there is no ideal technology that can do everything. Each enables some abilities while constraining others. Most ICTs, as technological objects, are closed systems. However, in their relations with humans they become a part of a complex living system. These complex systems and environments are emergent and dynamic, usually fairly stable in any one moment but dynamic over time.

30The approach presented here allows a systematic analysis of the many influences happening in the moment one is engaged with a specific media technology. The approach also helps a media user to more clearly understand that they are immersed in, and part of, an interrelated environment. Changing any one relation can have wide ranging effects on the other relations.

31One might ask the question, so what? My response is to point out that an increase in understanding—an increase in self-literacy—allows us to be more aware and better informed when we choose what ICT or technological medium we decide to engage with, thus helping us to regain agency with regard to all the relations within our lifeworld. To emulate John Culkin (1967), we shape our media environments and in turn our media environments shape us. Using this posthuman approach can help us more clearly understand the interplay of media relations in our lives, allowing us the chance to shape them to our best advantage.

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