Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Please correct the cliche: The Medium is the Message"

My emerging approach to understanding McLuhan has been to find out what content he consumed to produce the messages he gave us. So I've been discovering guys like Edward T. Hall, and Harold Innis. Especially, H. Innis! Reading him has been like an "Aha!" After a while, I realise, "Hey, there's a lot of valuable things here McLuhan skipped over." A larger framework for understanding media and communication can be found in Innis's work.

Well, as part of that reading and some conversations I've had with friends trying to convince the worth of McLuhan's message, resulted in my looking at the above cliche critically. It's a great cliche, and many people use it to actually cover up the message or to cover up their misunderstanding about media. My complaint about the above cliche, I think, is that it doesn't say anything about the receiver of the message. Did McLuhan assume that the receivers, listeners, readers, watchers, were faceless? What was their role in receiving of the message?

So with the receivers of message in mind, I thought the cliche could be improved if it was expanded to: "The medium is the message which becomes the content of a new media." This actually is nothing new and comes from McLuhan's own words. I'm just inviting you to change the meme a bit here. The emphasis on the expanded cliche is to say, that the receivers actually negotiate with the message, and take action in translating the old message into content, using it in a new medium. Literacy consumed speech or orality, print consumed the alphabet, tv consumed print, etc. The expanded cliche also reflect Innis's concept of balancing the bias of commincation. I find it interesting to note that Innis was actually more oral than McLuhan was, and McLuhan in this sense was more linear than Innis... but that's arguable. Maybe, it's just one balancing the other...

I wonder, what will the new medium that consumes the electric medium (tv, radio, wireless phones and internet) as its content?

1 comment:

Mark said...

"Did McLuhan assume that the receivers, listeners, readers, watchers, were faceless? What was their role in receiving of the message?"

Ummm... how about, "the user is the content." A simple example, in asynchronous communication, the receiver receives him/herself. Essentially, this means that the meaning or the effect is largely determined by the context, or ground, that is entirely that of the user.

Additionally, an older medium is the content of a newer medium, but the reasoning is the same. It is not that the older medium is necessarily the information content of the newer medium, although this may indeed be the case. Rather, it is the environment that was created by the pre-existing media that forms the content, or environmental ground, in which the new medium acts, or has its effects, or, in McLuhan's language, creates its message.But, of course, the cliché of the McLuhan Equation has been considerably probed - even by McLuhan himself:
The Medium is the Mess Age.
The Medium is the Massage.
The Medium is the Mass Age.