Category Archives: the web changes communication and culture

The Medium Is the Massage…. (Marshall McLuhan -1967)

Please click on the following link and watch the video if you have¬†15 minutes. I think you will enjoy this immensely, and after you watch, I’d like a word or two. ūüôā

The means of communication we employ, in part, determines the way we relate to one another socially, especially in regards to the intimacy of what we disclose about ourselves to one another. For example, when we write a letter long-hand, we compose rather slowly. The process allows us to stop and think about our next sentence. We can think about what we intend to convey, what the reader may interpret it to mean. In writing, we have the luxury of editing ourselves, removing potentially embarrassing slips of etiquette, etc. In short, writing a letter is a very formal means of¬†communication and we maintain a boundary of privacy. Conversely, the web, often delivered via handled device, require us to maintain an “on alert status”. Each of us may have several public accounts which¬†we monitor actively (social media sites, email addresses,¬†cell¬†phone numbers, countless subscriptions, etc.). When we are approached with an inbound message, it gets directly to our screen or phone, seemingly demanding a prompt reply. Due to the sense of immediacy and urgency of the contact, we reply more quickly than we might otherwise, so our dialogues often become more candid than¬†we intend them to be. Also, especially in the case of texts, tone and context¬†are often hard to determine, which can¬†sometimes lead to hard feelings until an explanation is delivered. On facebook, many of my friends and acquaintances post a pictorial view of practically anything in their lives. How far has the line between the public life and the private life blurred?

What does Eric Witacre’s¬†virtual choir illustrate about the future of social connectedness? First, we are almost entirely free of the constraints of geography to fulfill our social needs, or at least some of them. We can be on 2 different continents, and still be having a face to face conversation via extant technologies like Skype. Second, we can become part of a large social group, while sitting in the “privacy” of our own room or office, maybe in pajamas (as I am while I write this post ūüėČ )We are not usually communicating with one another from our pajamas…pajama-paradigm shift! Will this further blur¬†the line between our public and private lives?¬†Third, I have noticed a light case of FOMO¬†within myself, and in others.¬†Fomo¬†is an acronym for “fear of missing out”, and it’s akin to that feeling you had if you weren’t¬†picked first for kickball or if you weren’t¬†sure you were hanging around with the “right people” at a party. It’s not just me, it has infected the broader culture as well. I am facebook¬†friends with at least 6 people who are over 60! What the hell are they doing on facebook? I guess, appropriately, they are viewing pictures of the cutest grandchild in the world, but it begs the question why did they choose to¬†view them in the public square? Dont even get me started about twitter!(follow me please¬†!/scribblerjeff¬†) ūüėČ

I was inspired by Witacre’s¬†well conceived¬†of virtual choir. It makes me think there are indeed wonderful things about connectivity on the web to look forward to. The web is a powerful medium that lends some of its energy down the wire¬†to those who walk in its tangle. ¬†I am also filled with a certain dread as I see my future self¬† login to one more site, and connect with one more person, whilst posting one more picture. The web is a sticky place, that demands every bit of you, that you take from it. It’s a form of digital karma. I am trying to take care of my soul on the web. I want a bit of that give and take the mix of this medium offers, I just don’t want to lose the very core of my self out here. There is no doubt that technology is changing the way¬†we communicate again, in the same way tv changed us, and the way the Guttenberg Press changed us before that.

If the medium truly is the massage, as McLuhan said, then surely we are¬†both roughed up by, and made better by, our social interactions on the web… if we stay above the fray. You can’t avoid the massage if you want to be part of “the human network.” For example, if you wanted to reach me tonight, you’d have to be online.