What McLuhan meant

Marshall McLuhan was concerned with the observation that we tend to focus on the obvious. In doing so, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time. Whenever we create a new innovation – be it an invention or a new idea – many of its properties are fairly obvious to us. We generally know what it will nominally do, or at least what it is intended to do, and what it might replace. We often know what its advantages and disadvantages might be. But it is also often the case that, after a long period of time and experience with the new innovation, we look backward and realize that there were some effects of which we were entirely unaware at the outset. We sometimes call these effects “unintended consequences,” although “unanticipated consequences” might be a more accurate description…..Why is this understanding of “the medium is the message” particularly useful? We tend to notice changes – even slight changes (that unfortunately we often tend to discount in significance.) “The medium is the message” tells us that noticing change in our societal or cultural ground conditions indicates the presence of a new message, that is, the effects of a new medium. With this early warning, we can set out to characterize and identify the new medium before it becomes obvious to everyone – a process that often takes years or even decades. And if we discover that the new medium brings along effects that might be detrimental to our society or culture, we have the opportunity to influence the development and evolution of the new innovation before the effects becomes pervasive. As McLuhan reminds us, “Control over change would seem to consist in moving not with it but ahead of it. Anticipation gives the power to deflect and control force.”

An excerpt from What is the Meaning of The Medium is the Message? by Mark Federman, Chief Strategist at the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology

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1 Comment

Filed under History of New Media

One response to “What McLuhan meant

  1. Instead of “the medium is the message,” the reincarnation of M Macluhan says today:

    The content belies the context.

    Same idea, nearly as catchy, and a fuller meaning. It also has more hope in the people (to understand it), and less hope in the systems that are hiding the structure (context) within the content.

    Evil Wizard
    The word Made flesh

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