Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Medium is the Message

“The medium is the message" is one of the most famous phrases in communications theory. Coined by Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan, that phrase captures the truth that a particular medium of communications (such as a TV program or a movie) affects society not only through its “content,” but also by the “characteristics of the medium itself.”

Per Wikipedia:

McLuhan claimed in Understanding Media that all media have characteristics that engage the viewer in different ways; for instance, a passage in a book could be reread at will, but a movie had to be screened again in its entirety to study any individual part of it.

So the medium through which a person encounters a particular piece of content would have an effect on the individual's understanding of it.

Some media, like the movies, enhance one single sense, in this case vision, in such a manner that a person does not need to exert much effort in filling in the details of a movie image.

McLuhan contrasted this with TV, which he claimed requires more effort on the part of viewer to determine meaning, and comics, which due to their minimal presentation of visual detail require a high degree of effort to fill in details that the cartoonist may have intended to portray.

A movie is thus said by McLuhan to be 'hot' (intensifying one single sense) and "high definition" (demanding a viewer's attention), and a comic book to be 'cool' and 'low definition' (requiring much more conscious participation by the reader to extract value).

This concentration on the medium and how it conveys information — rather than on the specific content of the information — is the focal point of 'the medium is the message.'"

Since McLuhan passed away in 1980, we can only speculate how the great Canadian would’ve interpreted the latest and greatest media technology: The Internet. By bringing such an unprecedented amount of information to the fingertips of computer users, it’s easy to understand why many experts have called Internet “the greatest invention for the dissemination of ideas and information since the Guttenberg Press.”

The Guttenberg Press, just to refresh your memory, was Johannes Gutenberg’s breakthrough invention of the mechanical printing press in the mid-1400’s. It revolutionized book-making, increased literary, and indeed, according to many historians, helped facilitate the Protestant Reformation.

From The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Reformation & Protestantism:

“An often overlooked but vital occurrence that helped make the Reformation possible was the invention of the printing press. This made the Bible and other printed materials from the reformers widely available to the European population.”

“The teachings and writings of the first figures of the Protestant Reformation (Luther and Melanchthon) were widely circulated…In short order, Luther’s 95 Theses, as well as his other words, were distributed through Germany. For the first time in church history, all classes of society had access to printed reformationist materials.

“It was a whole new world in Europe, a world in which the dominant religious establishment would be under an intense public scrutiny like it had never known.

“Historians look at the events that led to the Protestant Reformation as a fascination mixture of thinking, reading, and action – all converging to bring about a revolution that would change the whole Western world.”

To summarize: “The Medium is the Message.” And the greatest revolutionary “medium” (the printing press) led to one of the greatest religious upheavals in history (the Protestant Reformation). That’s something to consider when evaluating the Internet’s impact on society in the future.

The Internet isn’t just increasing the speed of information and changing the way we gather that information (via a computer screen), it is potentially changing the way we THINK about that information – exposing us to new ideas, and exponentially increasing our ability to communicate with other people ABOUT those ideas.

With that in mind, wouldn’t it fair to claim that new religious and political ideas seem appropriate for the “medium” of the Internet Age – especially when we consider that - were it not for the Internet - the I.D. movement would be sharply restricted in its ability to reach the public (since the Scientific Established has deliberated excluded I.D. from "mainstream" sources of information).

Plus, when you consider that the Internet Age is still in its infancy, it's reasonable to assume that the synergy between the Internet and Intelligent Design has major room for growth.

If we date the emergence of the Internet to 1995 (with the release of Netscape Navigator), today the Internet is just 14 years old. It is still a teenager struggling to master its newfound kills and abilities.

A decade from now, when the Internet turns a young adult, who knows what it might be capable of.


**UPDATE, AUG. 19, 2009**

Still think social media is a fad? A clip 4-minute Youtube clip explains the Revolution.

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