Medium: TV series starring Patricia Arquette as a mopey psychic.
Message: short communication sent from one person to another.
That’s what would first come to mind when I heard the words ‘medium’ or ‘message’. Life was simple back then. That was all before I was introduced to the work of Marshall McLuhan and his coining of the term:
“The medium is the message.”
Doesn’t really make sense if the first thing you think of is Oscar winner Patricia Arquette and an SMS. So what does it mean?
Well McLuhan’s meaning of ‘medium’ and ‘message’ is a little different to what you’d expect. In this instance a ‘medium’ is “any extension of ourselves…[that] enables us to do more than our bodies could do on their own”, and ‘message’ is “the change of scale or pace or pattern… introduce[d] into human affairs”. So basically what Marshall McLuhan was trying to say was that a medium’s isn’t characterised by its content but rather by the societal and culture changes that it causes. Mark Federman uses an example of this in his article “What is the Meaning of the Medium is the Message?” (2004). He writes “the message of theatrical production is not the musical or the play being produced, but perhaps the change in tourism that the production may encourage”. This is a solid application of what Marshall McLuhan means by “the medium is the message”: looking beyond what is obvious and superficial to see the bigger picture that the medium enables.
Let’s look at social media as an example.
The medium of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, is not just a platform that allows people to interact with one another in an online setting. Social media has given consumers an active role in the communication model and greater power over how industries operate. Consumers are able to broadcast their feedback instantly with very little filter, meaning industries have to work much harder to ensure that their message is being transmitted and decoded correctly. Social media has also allowed consumers to become producers themselves and create their own online content and express their own opinions. It can be said that the medium of social media has become the change that it caused. Its medium is its message.
Agree? Disagree? Or maybe confused? Comment or send me a tweet at @braydenpalmer01.
Federman, M, 2004. What is the Meaning of the Medium is the Message?. What is the Meaning of the Medium is the Message?, [Online]. 1, 2. Available at: http://individual.utoronto.ca/markfederman/MeaningTheMediumistheMessage.pdf. [Accessed 13 March 2015].
McLuhan, M, 1964. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw Hill.
(Original image from http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/medium-show_7024.jpg)