Medium, Message… A Mystery?

BCM112 meme


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!

– Holly




2 thoughts on “Medium, Message… A Mystery?

  1. xavd582 says:

    Deceptively difficult, indeed! Your meme pretty much sums up my initial thoughts on the topic; I had trouble wrapping my head around such a black-and-white statement as well. Through my (admittedly brief) research, I’ve come to understand that there is an extended meaning to the phrase… that what we consider the “message” is itself another “medium,” and thus has its own meaning. Consider a book – the medium is the book itself, and the message would be its contents, right? But if you think about it, text is *another* medium, that can exist independently of books. So in your news report (a really good example), the medium is indeed the report, but further than that, the medium is speech and video, and through video the medium is the participants being filmed… I’m not really equipped to explain it deeper because I don’t fully understand it myself, but it’s certainly an interesting way to think about McLuhan’s quote. (Or I could be misunderstanding the whole thing. Who knows?)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lillian Wareing says:

    Hi Holly! I really liked your post. It seems as though you’ve come to a really solid understanding of McLuhan’s concept and you expressed the information in a very clear, easy to read, and easy to understand format. The TV news example is wonderful, and I think applies to this concept really well. Something to think about is the same news story being reported through different platforms and the effect this may have. How different would audience reaction be to the story being informed to them through TV, radio, newspaper or online, and how would McLuhan’s theory apply to this? Very interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

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