As a young doctoral candidate and journeyman natural history filmmaker, I wanted to give a talk at the 1989 Wildlife Filmmaker’s Symposium at the University of Bath, UK.
Back at NYU, Neil Postman had advised us that the best way to get invited to speak at a conference was to find out the topic of the keynote speaker’s talk, and then write a paper arguing the exact opposite. The Keynoter at this symposium was Jonathon Porritt, (then president of Friends of the Earth, UK) who was speaking on the symposium theme, “The Greening of Television”.
So naturally, I titled my paper The “Browning” of Television – How TV can be the Environment’s Worst Enemy”. The paper was well received, was subsequently published in BBC Wildlife Magazine, and has been cited in a variety of books and articles over the years. You can download a PDF of the full text here.
The core of the argument was that regular use of any technology encourages certain patterns of behavior and alters beliefs and attitudes about the world. I cited an example of how the introduction of a chainsaw into certain communities can transform ones view of a forest from a habitat into a cash crop.
Conservationists understand this influence, and try to encourage certain attitudes and behaviors to counter that effect and support a conservation ethic. The three behaviors/attitudes outlined in this article that were crucial to environmental conservation were;
1) Encourage a need to delay gratification
2) Promote a coherent and interconnected view of the world
3) Adopt a farsighted view of consequences of our actions
The article points out that the ethic of a television society is in direct contrast to these attitudes. Television avoids any delay of gratification, destroys coherence in one’s world view, and wants one to think no further than the next commercial.
I have always wanted to update this argument to include new technologies that have commanded our attention in the last quarter century, (social media, mobile devices, etc.) but haven’t had the time – and frankly, haven’t had enough first-hand experience with these technologies – to do this project justice.
Here is where you can help -
I would like to use the 21st century concept of “crowd-sourcing” to try to better understand this question;
What are the patterns of behavior that are encouraged by new media that might have an impact on conservation? Are we more coherent in our outlook because of our Twitter connections – or more incoherent because we are “balkanized” into faux “communities” of virtual “friends” who share common attitudes and never question their shared assumptions?
Please feel free to pass a link to this blog on to your colleagues, your students, or anyone else who might have an interesting take on what kind of impact newer media like Twitter, Facebook and the like might have on these crucial conservation behaviors.
All the best,