Oddly enough, the author of the above writeup seems to have made themselves about as familiar with media theory
as it is possible to be without having actually read the first few pages of McLuhan's Understanding Media
. While the general statement that media
is accurate, it is absurd to suggest that the computer
is any exception.
The computer is not a medium. It is a conveyor of other (media).
This is essentially nonsensical. As McLuhan puts it;
This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the "content" of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph. If it is asked, "What is the content of speech?" it is necessary to say, "It is an actual process of thought, which is in itself nonverbal."
The general understanding of the term medium
(as it is used here) is that it describes mechanisms by which information is communicated. It is easy to see how the computer
meets with this definition (unless you are accessing this information through some arcane
channel whose existence I am unaware of). However, more generally, a medium is "The condition upon which any event or action occurs; necessary means of motion or action; that through or by which anything is accomplished, conveyed, or carried on..." (Webster 1913
) This definition is closer to the concept that McLuhan
was attempting to convey. The phrase "the medium is the message
" means that the actual content carried by a given medium
is largely inconsequential - McLuhan
cites the electric lightbulb
as an example of a medium
that, generally speaking, has no content whatsoever. The capacity of media
to restructure society is a function of the media
65535 notes that media "throw people's senses off," which is reasonably close to McLuhan's theory that media act as what he called "The Extensions of Man." Specifically, a medium may be said to extend some aspect of the human body when it broadens the scope of its abilities. The electric lightbulb can be said to act as an extensor of the eye, in that it allows us to see in conditions that would normally be inaccessible to us. Similarly, a car could be said to extend the legs, or radio to extend the ear. And, indeed, McLuhan suggests that it is possible for an exaggerated emphasis on these extensors to have a radical effect on our existence;
By putting our physical bodies inside our extended nervous systems, by means of electric media, we set up a dynamic by which all previous technologies that are mere extensions of hands and feet and teeth and bodily heat-controls... will be translated into information systems. Electromagnetic technology requires utter human docility and quiescence of meditation such as befits an organism that now wears its brain outside its shell and its nerves outside its hide.
A good example of the above would be the fact that I was able to access this quote without getting up from my chair (as indeed can you, at http://heim.ifi.uio.no/~gisle/overload/mcluhan/um.html) However, there are at least two reasons why this reshaping of the human being
cannot "get fixed" by the computer
. First of all, as the inventor of the phrase "paradigm shift"
would note, it is possible to move from one cultural paradigm
to another, but it is not possible to have a culture
that is paradigm
-free. Similarly, it is not possible to abandon media
without abandoning human interaction
itself. The influence of media
on humanity is not new - communities are defined by their media. Prior to the electronic age
, Western culture
s were defined by the printed word; prior to that, literacy
defined the gap between the many
and the priviledged few
. Even before there was written language, there was speech. It seems safe to say that, even if human beings
can be said to still have been human beings
prior to this time, there's certainly no going back now.
More importantly, however, the computer is far from being the end to the changes effected by media in human civilization. If anything, the changes are coming faster than ever. Moreover, these developments are not likely to lead to a static ideal state. The invention of genetically modified food and pesticides has led to an increased demand for organic food. Global communication allows large corporations to operate in third-world countries, and at the same time allows activists to co-ordinate protests.
Much in the same way that that the computer is a universal calculator, it also seems to have the capacity to become a universal medium. However, this doesn't mean that our existence will no longer be defined by our media; in fact, the power of this new medium seems to indicate that its power to reshape our environment may well be unlimited.