The Medium is the Massage

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 6/22/2014

Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication. It is impossible to understand social and cultural changes without a knowledge of the workings of media. The alphabet, for instance, is a technology that is absorbed by the very young child in a completely unconscious manner, by osmosis so to speak. Words and the meaning of words predispose the child to think and act automatically in certain ways.

Until writing was invented, man lived in acoustic space: boundless, directionless, horizonless, in the dark of the mind, in the world of emotion, by primordial intuition, by terror. Speech is a social chart of this bog. Listeners could memorize with greater ease what was sung than what was said. Plato attacked this method because it discouraged disputation and argument. It was in his opinion the chief obstacle to abstract, speculative reasoning—he called it "a poison, and an enemy of the people."

Print technology changed our perceptual habits ("visual homogenizing of experience"), which in turn affects social interactions ("fosters a mentality that gradually resists all but a... specialist outlook"). The alphabet and print technology fostered and encouraged a fragmenting process, a process of specialism and of detachment. The public consists of separate individuals walking around with separate, fixed points of view. The advent of print technology contributed to and made possible most of the salient trends in the Modern period in the Western world: individualism, democracy, Protestantism, capitalism and nationalism.

McLuhan wrote that the visual, individualistic print culture would soon be brought to an end by what he called "Electric technology". In this new age, humankind will move from individualism and fragmentation to a collective identity that encourages unification and involvement, with a "tribal base." McLuhan's coinage for this new social organization is the global village. Today's television child is attuned to up-to-the-minute "adult" news—inflation, rioting, war, taxes, crime, bathing beauties —and is bewildered when he enters the nineteenth-century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjects, and schedules. A new form of "politics" is emerging, and in ways we haven't yet noticed. The living room has become a voting booth. Participation via television in Freedom Marches, in war, revolution, pollution, and other events is changing everything. The rational man in our Western culture is a visual man. We now live in a global village...a simultaneous happening.

Though the World Wide Web was invented thirty years after The Gutenberg Galaxy was published, McLuhan may have coined and certainly popularized the usage of the term "surfing" to refer to rapid, irregular and multidirectional movement through a heterogeneous body of documents or knowledge.

Reading, writing, and hierarchical ordering are associated with the left brain, as are the linear concept of time and phonetic literacy. The left brain is the locus of analysis, classification, and rationality. The right brain is the locus of the spatial, tactile, and musical. "Comprehensive awareness" results when the two sides of the brain are in true balance. McLuhan writes about robotism in the context of Japanese Zen Buddhism and how it can offer us new ways of thinking about technology. The Western way of thinking about technology is too much related to the left hemisphere of our brain, which has a rational and linear focus. McLuhan and Powers criticize the Shannon-Weaver model of communication as emblematic of left-hemisphere bias and linearity, descended from Aristotelean causality

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