Marshall McLuhan’s Ideas Applied to Social Media

14Nov15

Social Media

Social media shapes message

By Geoffrey Johnston   –   Thursday, November 12, 2015

“Every technology has its own ground rules,” Marshall McLuhan said in a 1965 BBC interview.

“It decides all sorts of arrangements in other spheres,” said the Canadian-born communications theorist, who understood the power of technological innovation to disrupt and shape society.

For example, he described the invention of the printing press as a disruptive technological innovation. “It created almost overnight what we call nationalism, what in effect was a public,” he said. Unlike handwritten manuscripts, which “were not sufficiently powerful instruments of technology,” print created “unified, homogenous reading publics.”

According to McLuhan, when a new technology supplants the old, there is a transition period. “A new technology tends to take as its content the old technology, so that the new technology tends to flood any given present with archaism,” he said. For instance, “when print was new, it flooded the Renaissance with medieval materials.”

Although McLuhan died long before the advent of social media, his analysis is certainly applicable to Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms.

Social media is the message

Not so long ago, newspapers, television and radio were the main sources of news and current events analysis. However, many young Canadians now get their information from social media, an interactive medium. Yet much of the content on social media is being produced by newspapers and other traditional media.

Back in 1966, McLuhan famously said that “the medium is the message.” He wrote that various mediums have distinct impacts on the consumers of media. For instance, the world-renowned scholar asserted that a movie doesn’t require audience participation. “It’s a fantasy world, highly visual with the audience sitting very much back from the show,” he stated.

However, for McLuhan, television was “a profoundly involving medium with the audience as environment, the audience as vanishing point, the audience as screen.”

McLuhan drew a distinction between “hot” and “cool” mediums. He defined a cool medium as one in which “the information or data level is low, the fill-in or participation is high.” Conversely, he theorized that hot mediums “fill the situation with complex data,” and that means the “opportunity for completion fill-ins is less and participation is less.”

He stated that “cool means identification with the creative process.” And McLuhan asserted that “when a person is both involved and detached, he has to identify with the creative process.”

Twitter is the coolest of mediums. The micro-blogging website, by definition, is a sparse medium that does not allow the user to post a message that exceeds 140 characters. To paraphrase McLuhan, the data level is low on Twitter, and the participation level is high.

Unlike traditional media, there is direct communication on Twitter between journalist and reader. The wall between the two solitudes has been demolished by digital technology.

When the journalist posts a piece, Twitter reacts immediately, passing judgment on the quality of the reporting and writing, correcting mistakes, pointing out omissions, and offering intriguing alternative points of view.

However, not all interactions on Twitter are constructive. Too often, bitterly partisan politics, rabid political correctness, racism, sexism or anti-Semitism poisons the dialogue.

Another problem is the ugly phenomenon of digital executions. Fuelled by manufactured outrage and a sense of moral superiority, a lynch mob mentality often grips Twitter, and some unfortunate individual is singled out and vilified.

During the 2015 election campaign, former federal immigration minister Chris Alexander was unfairly targeted by the digital mob, including a prominent journalist, for his handling of the Syrian refugee crisis. Many inexplicably blamed him for the tragic drowning death of Alan Kurdi, a Syrian child refugee who perished crossing the Mediterranean.

Opposed to innovation

McLuhan stated in a 1966 CBC interview that he was “resolutely opposed to all innovations,” but he went on to say that he remained “determined to understand what’s happening,” because he simply wasn’t willing to sit and allow “the juggernaut” to roll over him.

Social media is here to stay, and established journalists and politicians had better try to understand the new technology — lest the juggernaut roll over them.  Read the rest at source: http://tinyurl.com/phu25wa .

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One Response to “Marshall McLuhan’s Ideas Applied to Social Media”


  1. 1 Verhalen 2.0 | marieke

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