How media reshapes our consciousness


A related aspect of this discussion is Nicholas Carr’s provocative question – is the Internet making us stupid? See .

This short piece is excerpted from Evan Leatherwood’s essay, the whole of which can be read on his blog: .


Every form of communication invisibly lends its biases to the civilization that employs it.

Five centuries of print have given the world cities, industry, specialization, the middle class, mass literacy, continuous technological and social progress, and widespread democracy.

What kind of civilization can we expect from instantaneous electronic communication?

Marshall McLuhan (credit: Louis Forsedale)

Since McLuhan’s time, we have come to a partial understanding of television’s effects on society.  The Internet’s effects are even more dimly understood, yet the accelerated pace of change in the world demands that we understand them as quickly as possible.  The health of the political discourse is one issue at stake, but the health of our intellectual culture and even our minds themselves may also be at stake.

When Marshall McLuhan first proposed the idea that the dominant medium of communication shapes a society more than the content of its communications, he employed metaphors that foreshadowed neuroscience.  McLuhan said that the habit of reading print on the page promoted the visual sense to a place of unnatural prominence, upsetting its natural equality with the four other senses.  He also said that instantaneous electronic communication activated patterns of thought similar to an “oral” or “tribal” organization of knowledge.

The conclusions of neuroscientists currently studying the effects of computers on the brain are even more outlandish than McLuhan’s metaphors.  The concept of neuroplasticity argues that our brains at any stage of life are capable of being rewired by repeated activity.  The rewiring can be so fundamental that types of repetitive brain exercise are prescribed as treatment for diseases like schizophrenia and severe brain damage.  As we use the Web more and more, say some neuroscientists, we are literally reprogramming our brains to think in new ways.  And the new ways of thinking displace older ones.  As we learn to multitask, for example, we actually lose the ability to be silent and concentrate deeply on one thing at a time (Carr, 2010).  Not only do important political decisions require deep concentration, but so too does the formation of meaningful personal relationships.

If there is a chance that even some of these ideas prove to be true, then more than just our political discourse is at stake when we ask how new media are affecting society.  We cannot isolate the effects of media to a single realm, like politics or education.  Instead, we have to ask the broader question: “How is media reshaping our consciousness?”

Carr, Nicholas.  The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010).

About Evan Leatherwood: 

3 Responses to “How media reshapes our consciousness”

  1. 1 Latifah Soetrisno

    nice question! before media produce its text, they will reshape our consciousness first. they reconstruct our mind based on their value.

  1. 1 How media reshapes our consciousness « McLuhan Galaxy | Technology and Society: The Big Questions |
  2. 2 Homepage

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