Friday, November 4, 2011

The Medium Is...

So, several months ago, Mary Ann Allison, who was the Vice-President of the New York State Communication Association at the time (she's President now), and running this year's annual NYSCA conference, asked me if I would be willing to be part of a Pecha Kucha session there. 

What the hell is Pecha Kucha you might ask.  Or you might click on the link to find out, but basically it means doing a quick talk with a PowerPoint presentation consisting of 20 slides that advance automatically every 20 seconds.

As for how you pronounce it, it sounds something like P'chachka, but not exactly, and anyway I like to think of it as Pikachu-chu.
So, I said I would do it, not having any idea what I would do it on, but this year being the Marshall McLuhan centenary and all, I decided to create one based on his famous aphorism, the medium is the message. And I presented it first at the Media @ the Center Marshall McLuhan Symposium at Fordham University on September 17, that you've been hearing all about for the past couple of months on this blog.  And then I presented it a second time, as the last of 5 such presentations, at the NYSCA conference last month.

As I was working on this Pecha Kucha, I found that it was impossible to say all that I wanted to say in normal prose, and so I turned to a kind of didactic poetry for the format. I'm not saying it's good poetry, heck, I'm not sure if it's poetry at all, but neither is it exposition, and in writing it up, I used the format of poetry, so it is what it is, so to speak.

I also turned the PowerPoint into a video, and added the soundtrack, which is not exactly the same as the live Pecha Kucha performance, but provides some idea of what it was like. I've uploaded it on my YouTube channel, and you can go look at it over there, it also appears under the title of
The Medium Is... (A Pecha Kucha) , or just catch it down below.

And did I hear you say that you wanted to read the text too?  Well, okay, I can be accommodating, I'll add it in right here, for what it's worth.

The medium is…

The medium is the message
McLuhan's wake-up call
warning us to be aware
of the way that we get things done
because the way that we do things
determines what we end up doing
and the way that we do things
determines what we end up with
when we do the things that we do

The medium is the massage
McLuhan's pun and word play
our technologies work us over
manipulating our senses
remixing sensibilities
we shape our tools
and our tools shape us
individually and collectively

The massage splits into the mass age
from the Gutenberg galaxy
comes the age of the machine
the age of the masses and the massive
where the individual is an isolated
alienated atom
within the nuclear family
a corporate conformist
lost in the midst of a lonely crowd

And message divides into mess age
and we have made a massive mess of things
the global village a global garbage dump
McLuhan called it Planet Polluto
Except now
Pluto is no longer a planet
and soon enough
the same may be true of planet Earth

The maelstrom
McLuhan's metaphor
for our technological and cultural environment
a whirlpool of
and news
but there are patterns recognizable
within the dynamic mess
although immersed within the chaos
still we can find emerging order
provided we pay attention

Alfred Korzybski said
the map is not the territory
media are maps
they tell us about territories both real and imagined
different media map the world in different ways
each one shaping our view of the world differently
altering our sense of place
and space
and misdirecting

Neil Postman said
the medium is the metaphor
our metaphors create the content of our culture
and so
we come to see ourselves
our minds and our bodies
as writing tablets
or clockworks
or steam engines
or electric circuits
or as computers

Ashley Montagu said
in teaching
it is the method
and not the content that is the message
the drawing out
not the pumping in
he understood that the questions we ask
give us the answers that we get
or as the computer scientists say
garbage in, garbage out

new modes of communication
result in new forms of social mutation
writing erases the tribal world
inscribes us into civilized, city life
printing produces the modern world
nationalism and industrialism
and the electric circuit
binds us together as global villagers
and actors on a global stage

new media result in
an ongoing metamorphosis
Walter Ong says
human consciousness evolves
we are transformed
from tradition-directed orality
to inner-directed literacy
to the plugged in
people of the tube and the web

Show me the money and I'll show you the medium
the first coins followed the alphabet
paper money is a product of the printing press
and with computers and telecommunications
all that is solid
about cash and capital
melts into the air
and is gone.

One evening after a seminar with Neil Postman
I went out to a bar with my classmates
went to the Men's Room,
and saw graffiti on the wall that said:
pornography is technology's contribution to masturbation
and I said
the ghost of Marshall McLuhan was here!

Online and the on the air we go meatless
in person, our bodies are our media
as are our organs of perception
the ear thrusts us into the midst of things
at the center of action
surrounded by acoustic space
while the eye places us on the outside looking in
as spectators, voyeurs, and peeping Thomists

Media are tools for thought
every language contains its own unique worldview
written language brings linearity and abstract thinking
words, numbers, pictures, music
all encode the world in different ways
Isadora Duncan said
if I could tell you what it meant
there would be no point in dancing it

Oral cultures remember collectively
through songs and poetry
stories and sayings
the written record gives us
chronology and history
and now, memory is a database
randomly accessible
hyper and nonlinear
easily erased
and yet capable of recording
anything and everything
any of us say or do

Our media come from us
they are extensions of us
they are reflections of us
but we forget
we think our technologies are alien
apart from us
we fall in love with them
not knowing that we have fallen in love with
an image of ourselves
McLuhan called this
Narcissus narcosis

Through our media
we learn what the meaning of is is
formal cause greater than self
when every effect is special.
the calendar and the clock
the written word
the printed page
and the electromagnetic wave
all tell us
all about
space and time

Our media are extensions of ourselves
they come between ourselves and the world
they screen and filter the world
Max Frisch said
technology is the art
of never having to experience the world
but what comes between ourselves and our world
becomes our world
and so we become what we behold
because the medium is the membrane

The medium divides
the medium connects
the medium comes in between
in the gaps and the intervals
in the ground behind the figure
the medium surrounds and pervades
the medium is the environment
we enter into a conversation
we write in English or Spanish or French
we get into a book or movie
we go online
and we study media ecology

The medium is Marshall McLuhan
the medium is he
as the medium is you
as the medium is me
and the medium is all of us together.
so let's be the medium
and spread the message

And there you have it, hope you liked it, and in any event, it's one, two, three, p'cha-cha-cha!

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