What is the Meaning of The Medium is the Message?
by Mark Federman Former Chief Strategist McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium - that is, of any extension of ourselves - result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology." (McLuhan, 1964, p. 7) Thus begins the classic work of Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, in which he introduced the world to his enigmatic paradox, "The medium is the message." But what does it mean? How can the medium be its own message? Of all the Internet searches that end up at the McLuhan Program website and weblog, the search for the meaning of the famous "McLuhan Equation" is the most frequent. Many people presume the conventional meaning for "medium" that refers to the mass-media of communications - radio, television, the press, the Internet. And most apply our conventional understanding of "message" as content or information. Putting the two together allows people to jump to the mistaken conclusion that, somehow, the channel supersedes the content in importance, or that McLuhan was saying that the information content should be ignored as inconsequential. Often people will triumphantly hail that the medium is "no longer the message," or flip it around to proclaim that the "message is the medium," or some other such nonsense. McLuhan meant what he said; unfortunately, his meaning is not at all obvious, and that is where we begin our journey to understanding. Marshall McLuhan was concerned with the observation that we tend to focus on the obvious. In doing so, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are
introduced subtly, or over long periods of...
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