If the Message is the Medium, What am I Saying?
I love the “message is the medium” idea.
When I first heard of the idea, the question was posed – “Is TV a good or a bad thing?” People could argue that it was good because it could be educational. People could equally argue that it was bad because it was morally vacant and violent.
The “message and the medium” idea looks at it a different way. The TV as a medium has a distant authority, passing a message to individuals or groups sitting in silence in perhaps semi-darkness. So then, when figuring out whether or not TV is a bad thing – you are looking at how it functions as a medium – seeing what it does to people, families, groups – and society.
Phones. I said they were as good as obsolete. Yay! I mean terrestrial phones, in people’s houses. These are the ones that are doomed. So – let me message-and-medium them:
Phones ring loudly, interrupting the flow of someone else’s life. They demand to be dealt with then and there. You can’t see who you are talking to. You gesticulate blindly. (On the plus side there is the contact of the human voice – if you think that is a plus…!)
When people move out of their family home these days – they do not get a phone installed in their flat. Why would they? They have a phone already. When someone rings these days – they want to speak to who they want to speak to – not a random relative, lodger or flatmate.
If the terrestrial phone dies – there will be no more missed messages written down on lost post-its by unreliable relatives. There will be no awkward conversations with people you’ve only heard of and perhaps never met.
Perhaps, if the message is the medium, there is something to be said about a shift towards individualism within the family, when a family phone number is no longer the norm?
So, to facebook – it is intimate yet distant. People can be contacted privately or “conversations” can take place publicly. You can pick or choose whether or not to look at your friends’ holiday snaps. You can decide who knows where you are or what you are doing. You can comment in community on news events, local issues.
If the Message is the medium: people no longer become long lost friends. Friends reappear. Friends can be grouped and categorised. Creating real, physical social events is far less time consuming than in the days of phoning lists of people or posting physical invitations.
There could be an argument that people spend less time together in physical person because of facebook – but I am sure this is not the case for me.
As for email – it is just more clunky than facebook for messaging. If everyone I want to contact is on facebook it is a whole lot easier than typing in obscure email addresses.
Twitter could be accused of being shallow – but most of it is links to blogs or bigger sites. It has as much depth as the user chooses to give it.
But the message I think Twitter is, is that anyone can speak to the global audience and be heard. Power has gone from the authority of the newsroom to the witness on the ground who can tweet ‘what is happening now’. It has gone from top-down to grass-roots up. Authority has been spread.
Good thing or bad thing? I think, at this stage, this is a good thing. Power corrupts as we know. This level of democratisation of information is perhaps open to poor quality, shallow, morally vacant content – but in some places, this dilution of power has been very significant politically and practically.
As for the blog – it’s a dialogue rather than a diary. The medium allows for thoughts to be thought through, experiences to be related, ideas to be explored – and instead of allowing us to simply agree with ourselves, we have the privilege of dialogue with whoever in the world is interested.
You may be niche – but if you go global – it’s probably quite a big niche.
Which is nice.