Medium is the Message, Marshall McLuhan

Until now, a lot of our class readings and discussions have looked at how mass media acts as an influencer within society with motives to disseminate the dominant ideology of the time. Marshall McCluhan takes this idea one step further and argues that not only are the messages conveyed to the audience of value, but the means through which they operate are indicative of social values and behaviors. The public isn’t just a passive audience taking in this information; they also interact with and use new media. It’s not just a new machine that shows us traits of our society, but also how we use it.

A major example of this distinction between medium and content and where the message lies is found in art, particularly modern and post-modern art. Jeff Koons doesn’t make kitschy art to be tacky, but he does it to make viewers to question what they find to be art and why through his own presentations. Graffiti as street art conveys its messages completely through the medium of creating art where art doesn’t belong. When it is commissioned to be displayed in a gallery, it loses its fundamental meaning of what graffiti is to begin with. In Armir Bar-Lev’s My Kid Could Paint That, content of the artist’s paintings takes a backseat to investigating the production of the pieces, and what that means to us as an audience.

Marina Abramovic’s “The Artist is Present” exhibit included a three-month performance that, on a surface level, seems completely devoid of content. However, the work’s focus wasn’t an absence of content, but rather the act of visual and connective engagement between the artist and the viewer.

Beyond art, the rise of the digital age demonstrates how meaning is manifested in medium. Neil Savage studied how the advent of Twitter has changed social behavior and what the role of the digital innovation means on a broader scale. His article “Twitter as Medium and Message” was published in March 2011 when 160 million users sent upward of 90 million messages per day via, which he says “opens a surprising window onto the moods, thoughts, and activities of society at large.” Because the platform is so easily accessible, it allows everyone to take center stage and voice their opinions.

Twitter as a medium could also mean change in how sickness is detected. Savage writes that a researcher found that he can use algorithms for tracking key words about the flu to help predict future flu outbreaks. Although less accurate than the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collecting data and running tests, it means a more immediate assessment of the situation. Twitter messages have content themselves, but it’s the context of how they are used for brief, immediate bursts of information by a large population that also indicates changing social behaviors. Jerry Seinfeld offered his own critique about how these digital mediums translate to our daily interactions.

We’re really not too far off from the age of the Jetsons (or the smart houses I was fascinated by as a kid), as the makers of the following video suggest. Emerging technology and digital mediums doesn’t just mean a new device to add to our collection; it means that a value for immediacy, ease and cross-platform accessibility can change how we operate.


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