The Other I

July 3, 2011

What would Marshall McLuhan have said?

Filed under: Just Stuff,Psychology, Philosophy & Personal Nonsense — theotheri @ 4:30 pm

Marshall McLuhan is responsible for recognizing how much “the message is the medium.”  In other words, the medium we use for communicating is itself part of the message.  Information communicated through the written page is quite different from parallel information delivered in person and face-to-face.  Poetry is a different medium from sculpture, the book is different from television, and communicate a subtly different message.

McLuhan died recently, so we must elaborate his ideas on our own.  Which I have been doing as I ponder the fact that Google is trying to launch another social networking site, while the younger generation is proclaiming that the phone and email are “obsolete.”

If the email is obsolete, what words should we use to describe television?  or radio?  or the book?  What words should we use to describe something as ancient as talking to each other, or communicating by drum beat across the forest?

I think “obsolete” is an obfuscating description, and rather misses the point.

These various media operate in different ways and subtly communicate different kinds of information.  They also almost certainly influence the formation of our very thought processes differently.

For example, Twitter can sum up the pithy insight and send it around the world.  But by definition it does not support a complex argument or discussion.  To the extent that it is used that way, it will make our thinking superficial and subject to the deadening influence of soundbites.  Much as I resonated to Obama’s “Yes we can!” clarion call, it would be frightening if that sums up a successful campaign for the presidency of the United States.

Social networks are in some ways a cross between blogging and tweeting.  Communications might be long or short, pithy or pathetic, personal or objective.  But all three of these media have a one-way potential.  I put an idea out there for anybody to read and respond to, but it is for anybody.   That means it is not for you individually.  I have not crafted the message for you particularly to understand.  It’s a global message that anybody is supposed to be able to understand.

And that means it severely limits my learning to communicate with a unique individual.  I’m not speaking in a whisper on the internet.  I’m  addressing the world using a megaphone.  That is a talent.  But so is being able to understand the unique individual.   Internet communication gives me experience in addressing the public.  It doesn’t do as much for helping me learn how to talk to that child curled up in a corner in tears.  Or the desperate young man on the edge of the bridge threatening to jump.

Email and the phone have the limitation and the advantage of being between individuals or a small group.  They are instantaneous, which I think is both their advantage and disadvantage.  One does not have to wait for the boat to arrive for the next letter.  You don’t even have to wait to turn the page or for the tv program to resume.  But the downside of instantaneous is that we don’t have time to think about our response.  We don’t walk away and ponder it.  It’s said and off it goes irrevocably across the air waves.

As I reflect on changes that have occurred even in my own sense of self, I who grew up in a house without a television, and who was middle-age before email was invented.  Being able to access the outside world 24 hours a day seems too often to focus my attention on how others may respond to what I think rather than my evaluating my own thoughts and decisions and action for myself.

In other words, I worry that too much public exposure dilutes our grounding in ourselves.

And this would be a terrible loss.  It would make us far too dependent on what others think.

And so, much as I obviously love blogging and the internet in general, I profoundly hope that emails and phones are not obsolete.  I hope radio is not obsolete.  I desperately hope books are not obsolete.  Even if we might read them on a Kindle instead of paper.  I hope long conversations between just two people are not obsolete.

I even hope long periods of silence alone in which I ponder my own small thoughts are not obsolete and survive the arrival of yet another social network.



  1. […] I have said – I have as good as given up on TV. I think its days are numbered. Today I was challenged by Terry on TheOtherI about some other media – so here are my […]


    Pingback by If the Message is the Medium, What am I Saying? « Wee Scoops — July 3, 2011 @ 10:08 pm | Reply

  2. Hi there – have posted a blog as a reply – although I haven’t touched on the half of it yet!


    Comment by sanstorm — July 3, 2011 @ 10:14 pm | Reply

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