Overview of the Recent Media Ecology Association 15th Annual Convention at Ryerson University, Toronto

02Jul14

The statue of Egerton Ryerson, founder of the school system of Ontario, at Ryerson University, Toronto

By Alex Kuskis

For the first time in its history the MEA held its annual convention in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, downtown at Ryerson University, though this was the second time the event had been held in Canada; the University of Alberta in Edmonton hosted it in 2011, the year in which the centenary of McLuhan’s birth was celebrated. Of course Toronto is where McLuhan spent most of his professional career, from 1946 on, where he died in 1980, and where he is buried in the northern suburb of Thornhill.

The theme of this year’s convention was Confronting Technopoly: Creativity and the Creative Industries in Global Perspective, perhaps appropriately hosted by a university which, as Ryerson Institute of Technology, was established to prepare graduates for technological and creative careers. Secondary themes, in deference to the host city, dealt with the 50th anniversary of the publication of Understanding Media (1964) and the Toronto School of Communication.

Coordinated by Phil Rose of York University, with the support of Don Gillies, emeritus professor at Ryerson (and one time student of Marshall McLuhan), the standard MEA convention structure was used: 10 presentation sessions over three and a half days, each consisting of 3 or 4 concurrent offerings of usually 4 presenters, organized around media ecology themes. The usual difficulty of deciding which of the concurrent sessions to attend was especially strong.  Interspersed with these were a series of plenary sessions:

  • A panel on Understanding Media with the theme of Addressing Technological Trauma;
  • A lecture by Joshua Meyrowitz titled Snowed-In by Surveillance: Technopoly and the Social Reconstruction of Reality;
  • A panel on The Early Days of the Toronto School of Communication (1946-63), organized by Robert Logan;
  • A performance at the University of Toronto titled Lines of Thought, which might be described as a half dozen loosely connected neo-Platonic dialogues probing the interaction of technology and culture;
  • A panel on Technics and the Sacred, focused on the thought of Neil Postman, Jacques Ellul, George Grant, René Girard, Ernest Becker, Kenneth Burke;
  • A keynote lecture by Ron Deibert, Director of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, on The Geopolitics of Cyberspace;

There was also a lunch time performance of a one-act-one-actor play written by Canadian author Rick Salutin about Harold Innis, titled Innis’s Foray. Ryerson University used this convention occasion to publically commemorate the Marshall McLuhan Seminar Room in their Rogers Communication Centre; the ribbon cutting was done by Eric McLuhan after welcoming comments by Dean Gerd Hauck and Donald Gillies. In a separate presentation on Friday evening, the Medium and the Light Award for religious communication was awarded to Father John Pungente, SJ for his longtime media literacy work by Howard Engel of the McLuhan Initiative of St. Paul’s College, University of Manitoba.

The final registration number of persons attending the conference was just under 200 registrants, which makes this one of the better attended MEA conventions. Onward to Denver, CO next year!

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