I first heard of “The medium is the message”, a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan, somewhere along the way in high school, and shrugged it off as an easy enough, self-explanatory idea that basically emphasised the importance of the medium in which content is delivered.
After this weeks lecture and tutorial… I’m not sure whether I’ve clarified what I once knew, changed my opinion or have been completely confused what McLuhan once meant.
However, after a long time trying to pull apart a seemingly simple phrase, reading various texts and analyses, I’ve come to the conclusion that “the medium is the message” is a very confusing, paradoxical way of saying the the medium in which a message is delivered should not be ignored.
However! I don’t believe that McLuhan meant that the medium was the only message, or that the message being delivered is of some lesser importance to the channel or mechanism that expresses it. Mark Federman talks about how McLuhan’s theory was to open peoples eyes to the overlooked; to ‘look beyond the obvious and seek the non-obvious changes and effects that are enabled, enhanced, accelerated or extended by the new thing’.
The best example I can think of illustrating this is in a news broadcast. Typically, a viewer being asked what the message of the broadcast is would more than likely respond with whatever the story being told in the broadcast was. So, take a news story for example, about a gun shooting in a city near you, where people may have died or have been seriously injured. You, as the viewer, may respond that the message of that story was the event itself – to inform the public of the shooting that has occurred. McLuhan however, using his theory of “the medium is the message”, would observe that the message was not the event itself, but rather the change in scale, pace or pattern of behaviour that will result from it. In this example, the change or the influence that this story will have on the audience could likely to be fear, or now being more cautious or aware around a particular area. Hence, the message is, among other things, to bring about fear or caution to the audience.
So that’s my understanding of a deceptively difficult phrase that I’m sure I will continue to change my thoughts on, and am also sure will stick around for a while!