The Medium Becomes the Message

Hoe's_six-cylinder_press

(History of the Processes of Manufacture, 1864)

As a result of technological revolution. As a result of time and space and context. Through no result of the individual, but of the cultural collective who receive change.

It is easy and justifiably logical to question Marshall McLuhan’s clear-cut admission. Interdependent, surely, the medium is but a vehicle for our message. It is, in essence, a means to achieve an end. We are taught to study each available medium for their inherent, tangible benefits. Cost, reach, credibility: The method is self-serving and incredibly backwards. According to McLuhan, anyway.

McLuhan’s doctrine would have us believe in the opposite of autonomy in communications. It’s not that the message doesn’t matter—it does, of course, matter. However, it is but a mere consequence of the medium that our message would have any meaning. That is to say that the medium almost certainly dictates the message.

(The Medium is the Massage)

(The Medium is the Massage, 1967)

It’s a very pantheistic philosophy—one that reasonably supports the notion that the origin of all communication is but an extension of human faculty. In The Medium is the Massage, McLuhan writes: “Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication” (1967). To which he further explains attributes in the divisions of the media-made environment. For example, whereby print fosters individual isolation, electronic technology encourages unified involvement.

It is eerily strange, even here, to witness the prophetic abilities of a luminary ahead of his time. Indeed, how accurate an assessment of the future communications landscape more than 30 years prior to the advent of social media. It is ever more apparent today, given the luxury of retrospection, that how we communicate—not what we communicate—is most critically important. And it will forever be so.

All electronic media (social, especially) have combined to create what McLuhan famously penned “a global village.” A sort of globalization that, taken in relation to communication theory, promotes partnership and dialogue as community activity. It is the media and not so much the content of those media that have defined the very nature of our associations with international populations. We are a collection of many, defunct of the individual characteristics once preserved and contained in isolation. We are a group who lack privacy but afford convenience. Altogether, this “global village” is but an inevitable existence imagined by McLuhan—a scholar familiarly aware that the message was always purely incidental of the medium.

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4 thoughts on “The Medium Becomes the Message

  1. I agree with you about the message always being an incidental of the medium. It was pointed out on my post that the entire world is not a part of the global village. Yes we don’t have privacy but we choose to share our lives over the internet. That is unless you choose to be famous then you do not have privacy because sites like Tmz.com are following your every move. As an average person you should still have some sort of privacy as long as you don’t share every detail on Facebook.
    Rebecca

    • I think you make an interesting point, and a valid one at that. Developing and third-world nations are yet incapable of fully participating in McLuhan’s “global village.” This is not an insensitive pronouncement but merely observational fact. It’s only a matter of time, however, when McLuhan’s vision will finally be realized.

  2. Hey David,

    Great post! I think your input stating, “It is ever more apparent today, given the luxury of retrospection, that how we communicate—not what we communicate—is most critically important.”. I think this not only is a powerful statement but it follows to what McLuhan was trying to say.

    Has McLuhan changed your own view of communications? Also if McLuhan lived another five years after his passing, what other theory do you think he would establish?

    • McLuhan has shifted my view of communications in a rather profound sense. I have always been a keen believer in the power of compelling content, but I had never considered how the choice of medium provides context for our message. As the originator and the source of the message, the medium is vitally important in how what we communicate is delivered and therefore received.

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