Saturday, September 13, 2008

Media As Extentions Of Man

(In response to an essay written in 1964 by Marshall McLuhan entitled "The Medium is the Message." This guy basically predicted the invention of the internet some 3 years after writing this essay. I would say he's someone to whom I should pay special attention.)

I believe that we need to be aware of our social context in a world of ever-changing technology, but we also need to be even more aware of the fact that "the 'content' of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium" (106), to the inherent nature of the medium. This sort of goes along with General David Sarnoff's statement "we are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them" (109). I think McLuhan is making the argument that technology does more than just add itself on to what we already are; it actually becomes part of us, or at least part of our sensory world. Separating ourselves from media in the way that Sarnoff is doing "ignores the nature of the medium" (110); he's essentially placing no relationship between the connectedness of media, our senses, and self.

What is the purpose of presenting information in any designated way? Why do we deliver some messages visually, others textually, and still others sonically? Why do we choose these specific media to deliver these specific messages? The message of a film is different than the message of film itself. McLuhan states that the message encoded within the medium of movies is "that of transition from lineal connections to configurations" (110). In this way, the message of film itself is steeped in history, in the representation of progress, and the concepts of cubism. "Cubism sets up an interplay of planes and contradiction or dramatic conflict of patterns, light, textures that 'drives home the message' by involvement" (111). Therefore, the message of the medium of cubism (in both film and static art) is of a world of structure and of configuration.

We package messages within media because of their effectiveness in this specific method of presentation. The message that a particular media is sending (this is independent from the content) relates mainly to our sense lives, which McLuhan states are in fact extensions of our self.

1 comment:

Alec Emmons said...

hey KJ,

I hope you don't mind if I share some thoughts on your riff, boring day at work...

Might I first direct you to the mid-century French Socialist Thinker Roland Barthes's book, Mythologies, first published in 1957, that approaches these same questions from a slightly different (and quite french) perspective. While a challenging read, (translations always feel like they're missing something don't they?) the essay on semiology has been highly influential on my own perception of our world, especially as individuals begin to iconicize and mythicize their personality using infinitely public mediums, such as YouTube, the facebook news feed, or even a weblog.

The web browser, as a medium, scatters the significance of messages accessed using it (the browser cannot currently weight significance or meaning of a particular page, regardless of content, throughout the medium, it thus becomes the surfer's duty to assign significance and weight their attention). This is a fascinating reversal of the medium/message of the 20th century (and prior), as this new era is one of abundance and of individual freedom to choose one's message...all digital replications on all devices accessing the web are equal. This opens up new lines of study as web platforms for self-expression are diluted with countless videos serving all sorts of purposes. The Medium of the "web," then, is a sort of global unconscious ether, rather than a scarce commodity only available at designated outlets (at one point, there was only one place to see a cubist painting, now thousands...and all digital versions are perfect used to be linear, now it can be reviewed and watched based on user's preference...DVR's, OnDemand, etc.)

It is interesting that within this media abundance, that in order to create a message that stands out, (meaning: needing a scare platform to leverage) advertisers have begun to use the living, breathing world as their canvas. Experience has become a message and medium in and of itself, combining all previous types of media elements in a new way. Re-encoding, reinterpreting, and remaking the planet to fit the face of their client. Strange, as the experiential canvas was previously reserved only for sacred parts of culture to ascribe meaning.

Here is an example of an advertising agency working in this capacity: