I find myself a little torn between both authors, Postman and McLuhan, as I can identify with both “The Medium is the Metaphor” and “The Medium is the Message”.
It is clear, to me, there is some truth in McLuhan aphorism, “The Medium is the Message”. I can see it in today’s children. They are no longer taught to write in cursive. The expectation is all text will be written on a computer or some other electronic device. Even I, who learned to write cursive, seldom use it in day –to-day practice. Well, what does that mean? If a letter was sent to someone, the process was slow. Even with early computers, reams of paper were printed and physically transported to their readers. What type of ideas can be created with paper print? How fast do those ideas spread? More importantly, how fast do they change? These are the type of questions raised when thinking of “Medium is the Message”. People would have unique thoughts and understanding directly related to how they communicated. If the medium changed so too would their thoughts and the effect on society.
McLuhan states: “The railway did not introduce movement…into human society, but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous human functions…”. As we have moved into the digital age, the speed and range information can be sent and received has never before existed in human history. The internet is the medium. It has connected commercial interests internationally and completely changed what it means to be local. Today, anyone can order a product from China or any other part of the world and have it delivered within a few days to their home. This is a simple enlargement of human function.
In fact, this new medium, the Internet, is displacing an old medium, TV, just as McLuhan pointed out in his statement: “The airplane, on the other hand, by accelerating the rate of transportation, tends to dissolve the rail way form of city… “. We can now watch TV on phones, tablets, or computers. People don’t need to be tied to one area of a home to watch TV; they can watch TV on their way to work, at the gym, or while standing in line paying for groceries. It has also changed what people mean by TV programming, McLuhan’s “message”. Large corporations continue to dominate traditional TV content, but now individuals can shoot videos of anything and share it with the world. The popularity of the website Youtube.com is a great example of how content creation has shifted. I’m not saying it has replaced traditional scripted-big-budget TV programming; though, it has significantly augmented available content.
I hope Postman would agree with most of what I’ve said; but I also think he would argue that the resulting media, due to the internet, creates many new metaphors, and these metaphors are the content of our culture. He didn’t explicitly write about the digital age in his essay, but he did leave clues about what to look for in these metaphors. I’ll refer to his example of the clock which originally came from Mumford: “…He shows how, beginning in the fourteenth century, the clock made us into time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time-servers.” I can’t give a more poignant example than our professor’s own rule regarding tardiness, but I digress. The clock hasn’t changed from the fourteenth century; it is more accurate, but its function is the same, yet how people have shaped their lives around time has. The clock ,or more precisely time, is now an integral part of the technology which allows the internet to function globally.
Using this as guide, how has this new medium, the internet, shaped our modern lives? I would make the argument for speed and connections; speed, how quickly people can communicate globally, and connections, people now have instantaneous access to information. They can use this information for shopping, entertainment, and business. They can also communicate with friends, family, or colleagues globally.
The medium of the internet has changed the way modern society communicates. It has in essence created a global community. Ideas can spread almost at the speed of light. The internet is the medium, but the way our society uses the internet to communicate is the media. “Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture.”