MAD Perspectives Blog

 The Medium is Still the Message

Peggy Dau - Thursday, February 10, 2011

Marshall McLuhan famously stated the “medium is the message", (or massage, thanks to a publishing error), in 1964 and his prescience is still right on the money.  “The medium is the message” because it is the “medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.” (Understanding Media, NY, 1964, p. 9).  As we read about the impact of the iPad (and the various competitive products from Samsung, HP and others) and iOS and Android based smartphones, we are seeing that yet again, the medium, is shaping our human interaction.

The medium is the Internet and its plethora of websites, search engines and  social networks that we utilize to gather and share information for pleasure or for business.  The medium is the device through which we access content 24x7.  The medium as a device has proven that it can shift industry business models.  One only has to look at iTunes impact on the music industry and wonder if the iPad will have a similar impact on the publishing industry.  NewCorp’s recent announcement of “The Daily” and its willingness to agree to a revenue sharing model with Apple, because they are the medium, is telling.  It made me wonder, do we pay for content, or do we pay for the medium?

Content owners will argue that they are the ones creating value.  They invest in the creation of a story that we want to consume. And – this is an expensive process whether it is development of a news story, TV program, feature film, novel, or pop song.  However, we cannot consume it without the relevant medium.  Thus the medium, or the distribution channel and device, also provides value.  In days gone by, the medium was a newspaper, book, TV or record.  Today we are digital.  All content, entertainment or business, is available in multiple formats for consumption via multiple devices.

So, what is the message?  Is the message that we must be connected 24x7?  Is the message that new devices enrich our lives by simplifying our access to the content we crave?  Or, is the message the content itself – created and provided by media companies, enterprise business, small business and individuals.  I think we can agree on a few features that fulfill McLuhan's mantra of the medium impacting human association and action:

Availability -  Our ability to easily search, find and consume content feeds the desire for more content

     2. Accessibility – Our ability to easily retrieve content via our wired or wireless devices and networks feeds our desire for newer, better, faster devices and networks

     3. Simplicity – The medium that allows us to readily devour content attracts a wide audience and compels us to both create and consume increasing volumes of content

Look at the success of Facebook.  The look and feel is quite simple.  It is available 24x7.  It is easy to find or invite friends.  We can scroll through recent posts or we can search for specific topics or groups.  We can access Facebook on our desktops, laptops and smartphones.  We can access Facebook at home or on the go.  We can just read or we can post status, pictures or video.  What’s the message?  In this case the medium is Facebook and the message is connectivity and the understanding that your message/status can reach far beyond your identified set of friends.

The medium is the message.  We only need to look at the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt to see how the medium has enabled the organization and alignment of dissatisfied constituents.  The internet as the medium facilitated the voicing of concerns to drive government leaders to respond to messages received (or ignored) through other mediums.

What medium is next?  How will it accelerate our human interaction? 

What’s your perspective?

If you haven't read Marshall McLuhan's books, check them out at Amazon!