The Medium is the Massage

Herbert Marshall McLuhan, a 20th century philosopher, writer, and media theorist, was also a psychic. He coined the phrase “the medium is the message,” and predicted the notion of a “World Wide Web” nearly decades before it was invented. How? He hit the books. He studied communication theory and technology at Cambridge and St. Louis University. Other times, he studied verbal arts and the science of logic. He read, observed and saw the strange effects that the new media, such as the recent invention of television in the 1950s, was having on society. He realized that it wasn’t about content being created; it was about the media, the creators, itself. This concept of the media was a new notion that emphasized a much bigger picture. It wasn’t about what was being shown on TV; but rather, the special effect it was having on its viewers (whether or not it was engaging, exciting, etc). Thus, McLuhan’s most famous saying: “the medium is the message.” It became a well-known, almost cliche phrase that encompassed nearly all of what McLuhan had to say. Later, he would compose all of his theories in  experimental ways, most notably in his book, “The Medium is the Massage.”

Personally, I think that it is astonishing how McLuhan had an inkling of the “new media” even before the invention of Internet, news blogs, social networking, etc. By observation and study, he seemed to know what kind of issues and disparities today’s generation would face. He predicted a global phenomenon through the Internet, something that the world could share in collectively. Thus, the “massage”–the medium itself has a widespread effect on the senses. It was a clever play on words on McLuhan’s part.

The book contains images, graphics, and text printed in different, experimental ways. Some of the pages are intentionally left blank, and some contain significant and relevant photographs to the cause. The purpose of this is to make the reader wonder, to think about the current culture and how media directly affects our society. While we tend to think of media and the Web as positive and relaxing, something for us to unwind with, it is also a deceiving and addictive monster, constantly being used and updated and revamped. McLuhan predicted it from the start. He for the most part doesn’t seem like would be supportive of this notion of a freely-shared, addictive Internet culture that we are slaves to to this day.

Reluctantly, I agree with McLuhan’s position. I do believe the media has its own individual effect on us, turning us blind to our own senses. We laugh at funny, inappropriate things on the Internet; we hide behind our desktops and keyboards to anonymously send mean comments; we use the Web to uncover hidden archives and exclusive news updates. We have become totally dependent slaves, and it is no longer about the “content” the media provides. Rather, it is the medium itself in which we crave. Nowadays we cannot seem to live without our smart-phones, constant news updates, and stories from our friends.  We have allowed ourselves to become numb, and by continuing to slave ourselves to the media and the entrapping “culture” it provides, we hide behind the screens and watch the world enfold before us, rather than going out and experiencing it for ourselves. Living has become almost digital now; something to be updated frequently, documented for others to see rather than simply enjoyed and appreciated. For this, I truly hope for the well-being and authenticity of our media’s culture: that, while we may eagerly look forward to the future, we don’t ever lose sight of hope.

– AE

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2 responses to “The Medium is the Massage

  1. By just focusing on the text of the book, I neglected to pay attention to all the images, graphics, etc, that were displayed throughout the book. I am glad that you brought that up, because that certainly contributed to McLuhan’s argument about the “medium.” I think he was really trying to get his ‘message’ through to his audience in this book and I will say that it definitely captivated my attention and allow me to try to put things into perspective with the media’s role and takeover in our daily lives.

  2. I’m weirdly optimistic about the changing media. Print is great, sure, but what makes journalism worth pursuing isn’t the print. It’s what journalists before us accomplished through print. And there are so many great projects on the Internet that journalists are experimenting with that couldn’t be done in print. The medium is a challenge, and the best will rise to it.

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