Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Yes Virginia, The Medium is Still the Message

So, I recently commented on a blog post that one of the folks I'm connected to on Twitter was tweeting about.  My Twitter friend is John Greg Ball, and the author of the blog post is Seth Goldstein, who is identified as "the co-founder and CEO of SocialMedia Networks," for what that's worth.  

The post he put up is entitled, The Medium Is No Longer The Message, . . . You Are, and you can click on that title to go read it if you care to.  Just from reading the title, if you know anything about me, you probably know that I'd take issue with this post.

The main argument is that the advent of social media represents a profound change in the nature of media.  And here is what he specifically says about Marshall McLuhan's famous quote, the medium is the message:

Social media’s ascent has led to an Internet experience based less on pages and more on people.  As a corollary to this (and counter to Marshall McLuhan’s thesis), the medium is no longer just the message.  The permanence of words and images and their meaning in context has long been promoted as a foundation of media theory.  In an increasingly real-time environment, however, content gives way to identity, and traditional contextual analysis gives way to dynamic social interactions.

The medium is the message . . .  is the member.  This is why there can be no discussion of social media without a simultaneous discussion of identity, and why the growth of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are one and the same with the growth of identity systems online.  There are a number of technology and business trends that are converging around this thesis.
 So, now, here is the comment I left by way of response:

If you had just written about your own ideas about social media, I would have no argument with you. The problem is that you talk about McLuhan, and the fact is that everything that you’ve said here has been said by McLuhan a long time ago, and in connection to “the medium is the message.” By not actually reading what he and others in the media ecology intellectual tradition (like Lewis Mumford, who McLuhan drew on extensively), you and others wind up reinventing the wheel, over and over again. That’s okay, but a basic rule of thumb I would suggest to you is that you should do your homework and know what you’re talking about before making statements about it. The fact that you present a superficial sense of what McLuhan was saying, and derive it from a wikipedia article is revealing. It is very much an argument about the limits of social media, and the continuing need to read books and study subjects in depth. The fact that your multiple tweets about this blog post brought me here perhaps is indication of the down side of social media, although my response also illustrates its error correcting potential. Hmmm, maybe I’ll do my own blog post about it…
 And so I have.  I should add that John asked me what I thought of the post aside from the bit about McLuhan, and I added that rather than saying that social media replace traditional media, I'd say that they add to, alter, and ultimately encompass them, and that social media are the next stage in the evolution of the electronic media, bringing them closer to their true potential.

And so I say to you, believe it my friends, know it to be true in your hearts, yes Virginia, the medium still is the message, it always was the message, and it will always be the message.


Robert K. Blechman said...

I think with the computer, the cell phone and social media tools we've left the age of secondary orality and entered an age of secondary literacy. The new new media impose differing requirements for narration and citation and suggest different standards for authorship, copyright and even spelling. Secondary literacy incoporates elements of both primary literacy and secondary orality, but promotes new ways of "publishing", new definitions of celebrity and expertise.

Feel free to use the term "Secondary Literacy" however you like, but since I am a child of primary literacy, please cite me each time you use it.

Bruce I. Kodish said...

Good, direct but civil advice about the need to know what one is talking about. I'm sure that McLuhan has often been misserved by people who haven't read his work or have read it partially or carelessly.