The Medium is the Message. Say what?

So the second lecture ‘Trajectories of Convergence, the medium is the message’ was basically spent watching the squirrels eat their chestnuts out the window plus already planning my second ‘Gap year’ starting semester 2! The whole concept of the medium being the message just didn’t go through to me. However after breaking down the reading ‘What is the Meaning of The Medium is the Message’ by Mark Federman, the meaning of the notion hit me like a piano falling from a tree! (well not that intense).

Marshall McLuhan’s notion that the ‘medium is the message’ is complex but ingeniously explained. He thinks we presume the conventional meaning for “medium” that refers to the mass-media eg. Radio, TV etc. Plus we also apply our conventional understanding of the notion of the “message”, which is the content being put forth in front of us. His presumption was 100 percent correct as this is exactly what I initially gathered as the concept. McLuhan wants us to understand that we create the message, not the innovations that we create.

McLuhan states that the “message” is, “the change of scale or pace or pattern” that a new invention or innovation “introduces into human affairs”. He then places this against concern through observation, that “we tend to focus on the obvious. In doing so, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly or over long periods of time”, these are also known as “unintended consequences”. McLuhan tells us also that a medium is “any extension of ourselves.” For example “the medium of language extends our thoughts from within our mind out to others”, in other words speech is an outering/medium of our senses. Federman also examines how “McLuhan always thought of a medium in the sense of a growing medium.” “In other words, a medium- this extension of our body or senses or mind – is anything from which a change emerges.” A Cassette tape for example which was a media platform used by the dinosaurs only allowed sequential access to the message. Then when the new platform of ‘the CD’ was created this allowed random access to its contents which can result in multiple interpretations and understandings. The medium message therefore changed.

Now, to all my readers this may look like your reading the ‘Da Vinci code’ and trust me I thought I was too, so I’ll try explain a Gen-Y example of the medium being the message. So when a friend text messages you a very long, emotional message that’s either very interesting or you would rather poke your eyes out with a fork then respond. So how do you respond? If you send quite an elaborate extended response giving them deep, emotional advice its sending them your medium and message saying you want to talk about it. Otherwise, you can send a one word response such as “Oh” which implies that you really don’t give a hoot and sends the message directly to them that you don’t want to continue on with the conversation. What im trying to explain is that the message (do or don’t care) is embedded within the medium (length of text).

The understanding of the “medium is the message” is very useful as Federman states ” It tells us that noticing change in our societal or cultural ground conditions indicates the presence of a new message, that is, the effects of a new medium.” It can also mean that if we see that the new medium has a negative impact on society it gives opportunity to change the development of the innovation. This is all very true but with the rapidly expanding nature of social media and technology, are we going to a place of no return where we cannot influence the medium any longer?


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