As I read The Media is the Massage, I was repeatedly struck (or massaged?) by the incredible modern relevancy of these ideas from the 1960s. McLuhan could not have imagined the internet, let alone contemporary social media. Yet one aphorism after another speaks to today’s context:
“How shall the new environment be programmed now that we have become so involved with each other … ?” (12).
“The worldpool of information fathered by electric media ... far surpasses any possible influence mom and dad can now bring to bear. … Now all the world’s a sage” (14).
“Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of ‘time’ and ‘space’ and pours upon us instantly and continuously the concerns of all other men” (16).
Whenever we use social media (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter), we obliterate “time” and “space” far more effectively than 1960s television (even Batman). We read about and view pictures of our friends’ activities from across the world on the previous day. Time and space lose some meaning in the world of Web 2.0 as the “concerns of all other” people persist in electronica long after their conclusions. The “worldpool of information” not only competes for time out of our days but also exposes us to diverse perspectives – and perhaps leads to confusion. With so many sages, who should we believe?
I was particularly struck by the following quote:
“Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act – the way we perceive the world. When these ratios change, men change” (41).
If McLuhan’s logic is correct, then the modern computer interface clearly changes people. Gane and Beer describe interfaces as “conceptual and material devices that occupy and enable key points of contact within networks” (53). Interfaces structure the user’s experience and perspective through their navigation, visual design, media, interactivity, etc. Compare these interfaces, for example:
The interface's "massage" manifests in Facebook and MySpace's obvious similarities. Both interfaces rely on linearity and well-defined sections, the electronic extension of the printed book and the Western mind shaped by it.
In the 21st century, McLuhan’s central thesis – that societies “have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication” (8) – almost seems like an old truism or even a statement of the obvious.
Gane, Nicholas, and David Beer. New Media: The Key Concepts. Oxford: Berg, 2008. Print.
McLuhan, Marshall and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. New York: Bantam, 1967.