Ambient Media Culture: What Needs to be Discussed When Defining Ambient Media from a Media Cultural Viewpoint?

Ambient Media Culture: What Needs to be Discussed When Defining Ambient Media from a Media Cultural Viewpoint?

Artur Lugmayr (Entertainment and Media Management Lab (EMMi Lab), Tampere Univeristy of Technology (TUT), Tampere, Finland)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/jaci.2012100104


Ambient media is a new form of media, which deals with media objects that mediate information throughout the natural environment of people. In ambient media environments, the media becomes part of daily life activities and environments – similar to location based services, where the physical world has a virtual digital overlay providing digital services for the consumer on a specific location. As any new media environment, also ambient media environments enable a new form and way of communication and impact on human culture. This article should provide a first starting point for discussing the wide topic of ambient media, and introduce aspects that relate to the development of an ambient media culture. The article shows different notions and discussions from a media cultural perspective, that impacts on ambient media environments. It compiles the results of the discussions that took place during the 2nd meeting of the Nordic network “The Culture of Ubiquitous Information” in Helsinki on the 19th January 2011. It shall lead to an initial discussion of this aspect and provide new ways of thinking how ubiquitous computation will impact human culture and which impact theories of Martin Heidegger or Katherine Hayles have in this context.
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With the introduction of ubiquitous computation, a new technology was emerging in the world of information processing. Ubiquitous computation is based on Mark Weiser’s idea to embedded computerized equipment seamlessly throughout our natural environment (Weiser, 1993). Humans would interact with the digital world while they are engaged in their daily activities without being aware about the information processing infrastructure. Similarly, the world of pervasive computation (NIST, n.d.) and ambient intelligence seeks to embed information systems throughout our daily life and activities (IST Advisory Group, 2003; Ducatel, Scapolo, Leijten, & Burgelman, 2001). Several of these three terms can be used synonymously for the same phenomenon.

Viewing this technological trend from the viewpoint of media, we can see a trend towards the emergence of a new media form: the media form of ambient media (Lugmayr, 2007). Ambient media seek to embed media objects throughout our daily living environment to transmit information and media messages. The media object merges with human living objects. Many practical examples exist in research laboratories and in our practical life. Just a few very typical examples are smart homes, ambient interactive screens, location based services, and context aware devices. A few more examples can be found online ( As ambient media are newly emerging, it’s critical to understand the culture and social aspects of this new medium. Therefore, the viewpoint of ambient media within the scope of this research article is on cultural aspects of ambient media and the sociological aspects of this newly emerging media form.

McLuhan & Ambient Media

Ambient media follow the notion of Marshall McLuhan’s thesis that technology determines social outcome. Firstly a new technology is developed and enables to extend a life model outside the mind. Thus, media extend human senses of sight, hearing, touch, and smell to generate ideas, a new perception of the world, new experiences, and emotions (McLuhan & Lapham, 1994). Ambient media as extensions of our bodies will affect our mind-set and have impact on society and how it relates to our mental functions. While considering the content model for broadcasting, which developed from mass media (e.g., public service broadcasting), towards niche media (e.g., documentary channels), towards participatory media (e.g., social media) (Kueng, 2008). We are now in the age of ambient media, where media environments become smart and react on behalf of the consumer. This trend is depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Evolution of the content model in broadcasting (extended in Lugmayr, 2010; Kueng, 2008)


The main aim of this research work is to focus on the social and cultural impact, changes, and evolutions that took place that led towards the development of ambient media. The article shall compile the results of the discussions during the 2nd meeting of the Nordic network “The Culture of Ubiquitous Information” in Helsinki. The main research questions of this research paper are:

  • What are ambient media and their characteristics?

  • Which impact do ambient media have on culture?

  • Which affect does culture have on ambient media?

  • Which theories exist to describe the culture of ambient media?

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