What Is Media Literacy?
On the most basic level, media are a bridge. Media enable beings to communicate. Technically, media are a form of "mediated communication," which means that some kind of medium is conveying information. Media therefore, are enhanced communication. The more technology deployed, the more amped messages become.
The term "media literacy" is a bit of a misnomer. Literacy is something that we classically relate to with text. As we know, media encompass wide formats (the word itself is a plural of "medium"), and its most generic definition, "mediated communication," implies a lot of things. Just think of the types of media we engage daily: clothing, speech, print, radio, film, TV, Internet, etc. All these have very different ways of communicating. The concept of media literacy makes sense though. We understand that literacy is understanding, analyzing and effectively communicating some kind of new awareness concerning language and text, such as reading a book and then writing a paper about it.
So often when we speak of media literacy, we really mean multimedia (not just books) and some kind of critical engagement of a sample drawn from the infinite pool of mass media. And here is the rub: we say media "is" quite often because we think of it as some kind of amorphous entity, huge and massive beyond our grasp. We think of it as this big, singular thing, the way that ancient, monotheistic people may have thought of God. Unfortunately, it is hard to picture the entire media complex as some gray-bearded guy on a throne who floats in the clouds and dreams up all the stuff we are exposed to in our daily environment, a key word, since commercial media *is* the environment we inhabit. In terms of media, what we are facing is a very complex, systemic structure that is beyond the scope of any single image that we extricate from its ceaseless flow. In a sense it's like trying to know the river by dipping your hands into it.
Still, over the past 150 years as mass media has come into being, people have thought hard and written critically about it, and over time, models have developed in order for us to understand and analyze it. The most typical method is "deconstruction," which is, ironically, a technique that came out of literary analysis and linguistics. The principle of deconstruction is that language is "unstable," that is, it changes meaning in contexts and according to who reads it. When you are deconstructing media, you are the producer of meaning, you are changing the relationship between the maker (usually a corporation, but not always) and yourself. You are regaining control of the messages in a commercial environment in which we often feel powerless. The aim of deconstruction is to take the wind out of the message's sails at it navigates your brain. Advertisers know that once you put an image in a person's head, it can't be taken out. But what can be altered is the relationship with that image, and how much it influences us.
Keep in mind that media construct realities. As long as you live in a corporate dream world, you are living in someone else's future, one that doesn't necessarily represent your aspirations or needs. Reclaim the present; take control of the reality of your consciousness. Be media savvy, be media literate!