Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message” Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: Signet, 1964): 23-35, 63-7. (For citations, I used the pages of the pdf I consulted, which are 1-9).
The purpose of this blog post is to first provide a summary and response to McLuhan’s article, then reflect upon the content, medium, and message of this blog post.
McLuhan boldly states that, “the medium is the message.” But what is the “message?” To McLuhan, the message “is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs” (1). This has to do with any human creation, innovation, or action. This definition of the message is far more than just the consequences the individual or group of people who acted intended. For example, a play is far more than just the script, or the actors who act in the play. It is also the tourism, the audiences, the merchandise, the advertising, and more.
Therefore, McLuhan distinguishes between the medium and the content of a creation. He states that the content, or the intended effect of some sort of innovation or creation, is not “the message.” The content does not help us reveal the importance of a creation, innovation, or action. To McLuhan, the content is the obvious, the upfront. This differs from the medium in which this creation, innovation, or action is delivered. To McLuhan, the medium is anything that creates a change. This change can be intended, but is often unintended. In order to understand “the message” or the range of consequences of some human development is more than just understanding its content. In fact, one cannot grasp the message by only understanding content. One must look back, beyond the intended effects of a development. One must look to not only the way in which the development is utilized, portrayed, or interpreted but also to all the other ways in which it can be utilized, portrayed, or interpreted. Only by looking at the medium(s) of a human development, can one truly understand its message.
For example, the message of this blog post is not the post itself, or the words that I have typed. Instead the message is how the readers interpret the text, how they use it, how they share it, and how they change because of it. I am writing this blog post in the context of the “Doing the Digital Humanities” class. This is available to members of our class and our instructor. Others may have access to it, and I may repost this on the history department group blog http://digitalhistoryblog.wordpress.com/. The content of this post might be to expand upon and explain some of the particulars of McLuhan’s 1964 article. But that does not capture the message of this blog post. As the writer, maybe I cannot be entirely sure of the message of my blog post. I think this relies on questions of whether or not I can grasp the medium of my post. What is the medium? What can the medium of this post reveal? Is the medium just a blog post or is it more? Is there a difference in the medium of this post whether I post it on the course website or on the group blog to which I contribute? And if I cannot understand the medium of my blog post, who can? And what then is the message?
I post these questions because while I find McLuhan’s article fascinating, I am struggling with attempting to fully grasp what he means, how it applies to my own work, and how (or if) I can even attempt to utilize the his insights to analyze what I write. Let me know what you think.