BBC Short Video Introduction, The Medium is the Message

At the beginning of this short BBC video, the narrator posits the question, “has technology changed us?” She exclusively focuses on the controversial conclusion reached by philosopher of communication theory Marshall McLunan, which is the medium is the message, using his book The Medium is the Massage as her primary source of reference. She admits that the phrase is deliberately paradoxical by pointing out that although we may innately consider the message to be the message and focus on the content rather than the form, this is not necessarily the case.

McLuhan argues that the medium itself is the message, that throughout history what was communicated (message) has been less important than the particular medium through which people communicated. At 0:59 in the video, he empasizes that technology that transfers the messages changes us. Moreover, it changes society, individual, family, work, and leisure components of civilization, thus, making the particular medium an extension of our physical and nervous systems. The shift from oral cultures, such as hunter and gatherer societies, to print based cultures thousands of years later radically shifted our mental and physical processes connected to the particular medium/technology of communication. At around 1:15, the narrator states how the printed word focused on the eye and visual ability of an individual to assess the message, whereas, in earlier Neolithic civilizations the dominant sense organ had been the ear, which emphasized auditory capabilities. McLuhan stated that the electronic media in his day; telegraph, telephone, television, radio were unifying people and encouraging participation, peradventure, at the expense of greater conformity. At 1:40, he admitted that some sort of a “global village” was rising as a result of the greater participation in society with these electronic mediums.

McLuhan makes prudent points about how the culture created by electronic media was allowing more participation while simultaneously increasing social conformity and brewing this “global village.” This was an inkling at what the internet has become. Internet culture is the global village of today, which has shaped modern society in ways unimaginable five decades ago. At 1:10, the narrator in the video made some valid analogies, oral culture to print culture for why the medium or technology that transfers the message changes us, but the particular message being transferred is less important. Overall, ideas or messages change our interactions with one another, but technology or mediums ultimately change our scale for such interactions, thus, fundamentally changing social and individual manners/thoughts in everyday life. Every new medium of communication changes our capacity to create, mold, and execute ideas. Although I don’t have any contentions per se that delegitimize the importance of the medium over the message, I do have some unanswered question within the context of the medium. What are the boundaries used to define a medium? And who created them? Could genres within television, movies, and music be considered mediums? They are not not universal or physical phenomenon but inventions– inventions that radically change the nature, purpose, and impact of the message being transmitted.

2 thoughts on “BBC Short Video Introduction, The Medium is the Message

  1. Micco,
    I am glad that you emphasize the paradoxical nature of the medium as the message. In the section of the book “The Medium is the Message” by McLuhan that I read, he explained the content of print as written word, the content of writing as speech, and the content of speech as thought. Though he did not specify this, I am wondering if he would describe the content of thought as a manifestation of our explicit and implicit understanding and perception of the world around us, which would be in turn be impacted by the medium through which we obtain information– and thus a continuous loop of the medium as message paradox.

    I appreciate your explanation of the shift from oral cultures to print cultures; I think that it could be argued that we are now in a “internet culture” in which we are accustomed to viewing and exchanging information instantly and effortlessly (for those with a solid internet connection). As the mental/ physical properties changed during the switch from oral to print culture, I am curious if this new wave of communication technology has impacted our cognitive states in ways that we aren’t yet aware of.

    Your final question about the boundaries by which medium is defined is interesting, especially when considering who created them. Is there a universal understanding of what a medium is, or do different cultures have different ideas about them? My guess is that they are viewed differently around the world; for example, cultures that readily embrace nature may find nature to be a medium from which they gain valuable messages. Does a medium have to be man made? Do the values of our individual cultures/ societies have significant impacts on the way we value the venues through which we gain information? My guess is that mediums might not be universally defined.

    1. Micco,
      I found it really interesting when you asked the questions “what are the boundaries used to define a medium? And who created them? Could genres within television, movies, and music be considered mediums? They are not not universal or physical phenomenon but inventions– inventions that radically change the nature, purpose, and impact of the message being transmitted.”

      I think that sub genres of music, television and music could definitely be considered medium within themselves. It is interesting to think about the fact that medium are perhaps not universal but in fact very personal to each individual person and each medium effect people differently instead of on a larger universal scale.

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