Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Living as a Zombie in Media Is the Only Way to Survive

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Living as a Zombie in Media Is the Only Way to Survive

Article excerpt


Writing about yet another among countless polls, surveys, and reviews of people's media use, Hamilton Nolan of the US-based Gawker blog expresses exasperation that all the breathless rhetoric in such reports boils down to one conclusion: "we're all fucking zombies" (posted on March 27, 2009). References to people turning into zombies because of excessive media use tend to have negative normative connotations. I argue that living in, rather than with, media not only turns us into zombies, but that such zombification provides us with adaptive advantages for survival in the 21st century. As (media) zombies, we are better equipped to embrace collectivism over individualism; to be anti-hierarchical rather than organized top-down; and to engage our mutual (media) worlds with passion and fervor without necessarily having a specific plan or goal in mind. In the end, the future of humanity as media zombies comes down to the question: if this indeed is a zombie society, what would be the mediated equivalent be of chopping people's heads off? The answer can be found in practices such as hacking (the skillset of fandom) and in the morality of the collective.


PEOPLE USE MULTIPLE MEDIA MORE OR LESS SIMULTANEOUSLY A LOT OF THE time--most of the time unaware of the concurrent exposure (Deuze, Media Life). (1) This multiplication of mediated experiences not only contributes to a lack of awareness of media in our lives, but it also amplifies and accelerates an ongoing fusion of all domains of life (such as home, work, school, love, and play) with media. This intense and immersive media use can be seen as turning us into helpless addicts, slaves to machines--zombies. We are zombies in that we mindlessly succumb to the drive of our devices; we are zombies because we use media in ways that erase our distinctiveness as individuals as we record and remix ourselves and each other into media. Our society zombifies as we navigate it--willingly or involuntarily--augmented by virtualizing technologies. The zombie concept can be deployed in understanding a society after media, in that when we live in media, we become less aware of our surroundings, less tuned in to our senses, and thus more like lifeless automatons. Yet at the same time, living in media extends our senses and enhances our abilities to connect with others, to see ourselves and each other, and to manage the growing social complexity of our world. In this regard, the zombie concept helps us to appreciate the boundaryless and viral nature of human bonds. Additionally, because the zombie concept recognizes the indivisibility of the living and the dead, it can be used to articulate the increasing integration of our lives (and bodies) with technology and media.

In this paper, I first aim to show that we already live in a zombie society, in symbiosis with technologies that have fused with lived experience to the extent that distinctions between organic and technological life have disappeared (or become meaningless). Second, I argue that living in media as zombies--in a media life--can in fact be beneficial to our chances for survival, providing opportunities for more or less new types of social engagement. Cases such as the global Occupy movement and the Arab Spring are used to support this thesis, as is recent scholarship on the significance of zombies as the "monster of the moment" at the start of the 21st century.

Media (R)evolution

Research on media use runs throughout both the industry and the academy, crossing numerous sectors and disciplines, all contributing to an overwhelming array of stories, studies, reports, journal articles, and books breathlessly documenting how people around the world use more and more media all the time. Anthropologist Keith Hart proposes a "revolutionary" take on our lives in media:

   We are living through the first stages of a world revolution ... It
   is a machine revolution, of course: the convergence of telephones,
   television and computers in a digital system whose most visible
   symbol is the internet. … 
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