marshall mcluhan : “the medium is the message”

No, it isn’t.

I understand the idea of the extreme provocation statement as a way to start meaningful debate, but in this case I just disagree totally with the concept that the communication method is more important than the content of the message. To claim that, in my opinion, is to silence the individual and dismiss their experiences and expression.

The act of sending a letter, or the decision to choose to send a letter over other forms of communication is interesting, the idea of telephone communication as a concept is more impactful on the world than what you actually say on the phone to your mate, yes, okay. But to say it is more important (which is what he claims in an Australian TV interview) and that those words don’t matter is to exclude a whole area of human interaction and experience, which I don’t think makes sense when we’re thinking about the concept of information sharing and HCI.

I haven’t read his texts, which may be more nuanced (and I intend to read some of his writing) but that statement in itself is not inspiring to me. It is easy to say that the medium is the message when the world is already telling your story because you are part of the white male academic elite, but for someone who is, for example, a woman or non-binary individual, LGBT+, not able bodied, not white or western, the individual experience and expression becomes incredibly important. The use of social media for activism is more important than the fact that people are communicating via social media. What the tool is used for matters a great deal.

expanded cinema/structural film : medium as message in art

That being said, I love many works of art that fit into the catagory of “medium as message”, however I don’t think that they are beautiful because they explore the medium, they’re beautiful to me for their minimalist, meditative quality. The ones that don’t achieve this meditative beauty are less interesting, a “hm” reaction, or “oh, that’s clever”. Works that merely demonstrate technical quality aren’t inspiring to me, I want to be moved by art. I find “Shutter Interface” by Paul Sharits to be moving. For me it isn’t about the qualities of the projector, it is a beautiful use of colour and sound and atmosphere that gives an intellectually stimulating and (I imagine, though I haven’t seen it in person) a bodily experience. Even if the medium is the message, it’s not the one I take from it; Sharits is communicating something more than that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *