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• His work with Artists for Peace and Justice
• UN Ambassadorship for The World Food Programme
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Is the Medium the Message?
When one thinks of media history, and the advent of television the catch phrase 'the medium is the message', which Marshall McLuhan coined undoubtedly comes to mind. However, it is important not to leave out another voice that too shaped the way in which media is perceived today, and that is the voice of Harold Innis. Both McLuhan and Innis developed schools of thought on media and its relationship to the viewer, yet there are fundamental differences in their ideologies.
Innis argues that one holds the ability to change and interpret the information that is given to them, through any medium. McLuhan states that really it is already predetermined for the content itself is not the message. McLuhan's concept, 'the medium is the message,' can be broken down to that any extension of ourselves is the message and it is not what we do with the extension that is the message, it is that the extension itself exists. McLuhan states, "The content of any medium is always another medium."
The fact that the medium reaches other people is the message, not for what it does when it gets there. This then starts the debate between form and content. The form is like a blank canvas, and the content is the paint, not the picture. McLuhan's concept is the centre without margins. He is saying that the 'picture' is not there, so one cannot judge invisibility. It is up to the viewer what he/she does with the paint; it has no relation to the message itself.
This is in direct contrast with Innis's concept, which is that it is up to us to determine the value of the information that we are given. With McLuhan's concept there would be nothing to determine because he rejects the idea that, "Its not the machine, but one did with the machine, that was its meaning, or message."
OK, still with me? I felt the need to detail some history and concepts of thought because I wanted to ask, how do these arguments change when we bring in the computers and the Internet? Or do they not change? Has the computer replaced the television, and the Internet the dialogue of television content?
One of the biggest struggles I have had this season watching The Hour (because I’m viewing online) is that I am missing an open discussion. However, sometimes I would watch The Hour alone on TV, and I still feel different watching online and alone to watching through the TV and alone. And I think is is because I’m missing a few steps. Watching through the television I have the physical space between the object and myself. And somehow this space is different between the computer and myself. It would seem as though I have missed the next step of digestion. The conversing out loud or in ones mind with the television in real time, is somehow different online. It is as if I am seeing the canvas and looking at the paint, but no picture is coming.
I apologize if these ponderings make little sense, I just felt the need to get them out, as next week when I delve into CBC history and discuss This Hour Has Seven Days, which was indirectly built upon ideas put forth from McLuhan.
Innis, Harold. The Bias of Communication: A Plea For Time. University of Toronto Press: 1951.
McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media.