Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

The Medium Is (still) the Message

Anyone familiar with Marshall McLuhan, and even those who aren’t, have heard his famous line, “The medium is the message.” What this one-liner says in a nutshell is: the content of any particular medium matters less than the impact it has on the people and societies using it.

McLuhan effectively reiterates Heidegger’s perspective on technology which insisted that the essence of technology was nothing technical, but, instead resided in a tendency to view the world, human beings included, in terms of resources. This tendency is best illustrated by the Anglo-American habit of referring to forests as “woods.”

While McLuhan’s theories were rightly associated with mass media like radio and television, it’s important to note that his thoughts on media were first formed through consideration of the “Gutenberg Galaxy.” As Clay Shirky recently pointed out, to describe the world prior to or following a completed revolution is relatively easy – describing a society, a community, or a technology in revolution, is exceedingly difficult.

That’s why I was interested in in Greg Verdino’s comparison of Twitter and Second Life. While I agree with him that there are a lot of similarities in these media as well as the hype surrounding them (I myself called Twitter a “one-dimensional Second Life”), I found it far more illuminating to read, “As marketers, business people and just plain old people, we need to look beyond the story (“hey everyone, shiny new thing here”) to find the story behind the story (“we are staring into the eye of a significant new truth.”)”

The medium is still the message. Twitter isn’t about the people on it or individual “tweets” or even the platform. Verdino seems to think it’s about presence and instantaneous connection. That sounds right to me, though I don’t think it captures the entirety of Twitter as “a signficant new truth.” To get at that, we need to resort to old science of hermeneutics and ask, “If Twitter is the answer, what is the question?”

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