Peregrine flight

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Media is the Massage

I was ruminating on the breakdown in civility and the polarization in today's society this evening and started thinking about the great Canadian author Marshall McLuhan. (1911-1980)

He wrote the seminal book, The Medium is the Message in 1967, on man's relation with technology, language and communication, which an errant typesetter mistakenly morphed into The Medium is the Massage.

I was thinking that McLuhan would find our current bitter vitriol quite normal and even predictable.

He would say, look at all the new delivery vehicles for information, tweats, twitters, blogs, blackberrys, print media, social networking sites, commercial radio, satellite radio, an abundance of news channels, it is a race to both understand and commandeer the new technology.

That technology is having a profound effect upon our discourse. Our communications have been irrevocably changed by the new technology. Instant institutional computer trading on stocks and options  have created havoc and instability in the markets.

We now live in a world of instant analysis, where the most ridiculous rumor can become viral in a matter of seconds, and whether true or not, impact the world in a powerful way. The medium has overthrown the message. Perception once again drives "reality".  I wonder if he would view the breakdown in manners as an outdated cultural artifact?
...[I]f a new technology extends one or more of our senses outside us into the social world, then new ratios among all of our senses will occur in that particular culture. It is comparable to what happens when a new note is added to a melody. And when the sense ratios alter in any culture then what had appeared lucid before may suddenly become opaque, and what had been vague or opaque will become translucent.
"The railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheel or road into human society, but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous human functions, creating totally new kinds of cities and new kinds of work and leisure. This happened whether the railway functioned in a tropical or northern environment, and is quite independent of the freight or content of the railway medium.

 ...since the inception of the telegraph and radio, the globe has contracted, spatially, into a single large village. Tribalism is our only resource since the electro-magnetic discovery. Moving from print to electronic media we have given up an eye for an ear."  Understanding Media - 1964

At the speed of light, policies and political parties yield place to charismatic images. 

Only puny secrets need protection. Big discoveries are protected by public

Spaceship earth is still operated by railway conductors, just as NASA is
managed by men with Newtonian goals.

With telephone and TV it is not so much the message as the sender that is


I am going to have to dig up my old college McLuhan textbooks and see if I can come up with a stray epiphany or two. He would be having a field day today.  All of his postulations are being verified at warp speed.

"The more precisely
POSITION is determined,
less precisely the MOMENTUM is known"
Werner Heisenberg.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is great. Thanks for the refresher course. I tend to forget that we are all hyper-aware of events, which make us forget the contents and react to the immediate impression rather than the deliberation that longer term consideration would avail. Your blog successfully provides us an opportunity for reflection. Keep up the good work.