Saturday, July 09, 2011

re: "medium is the massage"

A friend asks about McLuhan's phrase "the medium is the massage" or "the medium is the message" (the former was the title of his most famous book, though that might have been a printer's error, which he accepted as it threw a different and wholly interesting light on the question): I have often wondered whether McLuhan was not influenced by the analogous debate about "means and ends": some people start with the "end" they want to achieve (say, climbing Mt Everest) and then focus on what "means" will best enable them to get there. Others point out that the "means" we choose determine what end we will reach - and that these cannot always be determined in advance, in spite of getting all the detailed information possible. In "practical" things, the former seems the best way of proceeding. In "moral" matters, the latter is preeminent. However, the question is: is there any real difference between "practical" and "moral"? In fact, therefore, we have look at where means will in all probability lead us, AND we have also to look at where we want to end up, to check whether the means we choose will enable us to reach the destination we desire, and whether the destination we desire will be best reached by means "A" or "X". Possibly, McLuhan had this debate somewhere in his mind, when he examined the nature of the impact of the media on humanity. Most debate was focused on the CONTENT of the media. However, he was equally interested in the effect of the media AS media, in the same way as Jacques Ellul was interested in the effect of technology AS technology (not merely in the effects of specific technologies). By the way, if you don't know the work of Ellul, he is certainly worth getting to know as the pre-eminent thinker on that subject.... Sphere: Related Content

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