Mc Luhan’s “medium is the message”

When we think about the statement “the medium is the message”, at first it doesn’t really make sense, because one would think that the information is somehow independent from the medium. The medium is the channel through which the information flows, or a “container” in which the information is held, however, these entities are independent of each other and once we change the medium, we also change the message.  For example, we have a story about Winnie the Pooh, that originally was written on paper, and if we read it out aloud or draw a comics – it’s still the same story, regardless of the medium in which it is transmitted. This would suggest that the medium is transparent or invisible and that we only receive information, and we don’t pay attention to the form of transmission. According to McLuhan it’s not true; according to his theory, the medium does not only provide the information, but it also actively shapes it. This means that in practice it’s impossible to distinguish between “clear” information and the information formed by the medium.

 Each medium transmits information in a specific for that medium form, and at the same time it affects the information itself. Coming back to the story of Winnie the Pooh we can say that the same story written on a paper, read out loud or drawn in a comic book will not be the same message – by telling the story out loud we can create additional meanings by manipulating our intonation, where the written words don’t have that extra richness, that the sound of a human voice has, to express feelings like irony, sadness, happiness and so on. Of course we can write in different fonts, capital letters and try to substitute emotions with punctuation, which enriches the text, but it’s simply not the same. Comic books on the other hand uses graphic representation, and in the narrative course can gives the message new meanings, unavailable to written and spoken word. So each of the mediums has its’ own, unique characteristics, that influence the information transported through it. In this sense the medium not only provides information, but also shapes it, so the medium is also the message, and the nature of the medium has greater impact on the receiver than the message itself.

According to McLuhan’s concept, the content of any medium is always another medium. For example, the writing is the content of the print, the content of writing is the speech, and the content of speech is non-verbal thought process. McLuhan presents functioning of the medium as an example of electric light – the information is in its’ pure form until it’s used in a specific situation (for example to lighten the football stadium or a medical surgery). These situations are the kind of “content” of the light, as without artificial light, they could not have taken place. In this way, light as a medium shapes the form of human actions and interactions. So medium is the information and each new technology adds itself to what we already are. The medium is, therefore, the extension of man, although he is not conscious of the nature of the change that is taking place along with a new technological breakthrough. According to McLuhan it’s because the influence of the technology doesn’t appear in the level of opinions or concepts, but, without encountering any resistance, changes senses’ levels or patterns of perception .. Therefore, the scale of the changes that are taking place in society when new medium is introduced doesn’t depend on whether the public will accept it or not. In practice that means, that the content of the information is secondary to the form of it – the structure and pace of the medium imposes on us a certain way of thinking and interpretation of the message delivered.

 Ela Furyk



Maio 2013
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