The Stroumboulopouli

The Stroumboulopouli

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Is the Medium the Message?

I have a confession to make. I haven’t really been watching The Hour this season on a regular basis. Other things keep getting in the way. What I have been doing is watching online. However, this too has proved troublesome because I feel as though I am missing a connection, an interaction of sorts with not only the people I watch television with, but the interaction between myself and the object of television, and the thoughts which are transmitted through the television. Now, I’m going to digress I bit and bring in media theorist talk, coming back later to the point about interaction.

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.


Anonymous said...

don't worry Allison. I understood perfectly.

I was thinking about that the other day.I'm divided on the issue. I also have had to watch online aswell, not because of the timing, but because my patience with commercials is zero.And online I can watch it whenever I want.

To me, it dosen't matter how I view the hour, I just want to view the hour. And yes, for me, the internet is replacing t.v. When I'm watching the hour, I'm also multitasking with 5 or 6 other things while the hour plays in the background. Watching it on my t.v. upstairs, dosen't allow me to multitask. I have watched this whole season online. online, if there is a specific interview i've seen, i fastforward. people have grown more impatient as technology evolves and things can be viewed in seconds as opposed to consecutive minutes.

the problem is that because i'm constantly distracted multitasking, i don't think about what's being presented, i just take it as it comes. so the internal conversation is non existent. that why i'm always here :P

excellent post


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Very thought-provoking post. While I am still undetermined whether I follow McLuhan's or Innis' perception of media, or perhaps a mix of the two, I am certain that I find there is an inherent difference between watching a program like The Hour on television or on the internet.

For me it generally boils down to the difference in human interaction that the two media allow, with internet watching being a solitary pursuit and tv watching being a family activity. So watching the Hour on television generates discussion and consquently, I think, a more thorough understanding of the issues that are presented.

Allison said...
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Allison said...

I understand the annoyance with commercials too.

You've touched on a good point with the multi-tasking. I think that might be one of the reasons for my disconnection. I'm listening but I'm not taking it all in, also this might have to do with the size of the little screen, that 1 inch by 1 inch box is hard to watch for 60 mins straight.

There is a great line I read the other day about watching an interview on TV and how the audience doesn't care what is coming out of the persons mouth, so long as how they say it is dignified and they present the argument neatly. I thought this was fascinating, as I often find myself engrossed in watching interviews, but if someone were to ask me the next week what that person was arguing, I'd probably answer, "I'm not sure, but it was presented clearly."
Funny how the mind works.

I grapple with McLuhan, proabably because I disagree with him so much.

I definitely miss the connection of watching it in a group. And even when I watched it alone on TV, I knew that others were watching so a partial discourse was there you know? But as you said, online its all about the indiv pursuit, thus fracturing how the information is presented.

Barbara said...

The strombo radio show in conjunction with Georges myspace comment page is another way people can get together and enjoy the medium (not TV in this case but radio)as a shared experience.
Best way to enjoy The Hour is in the live studio audience. Next best way is with family or friends.
There is some talk of a few of Georges fans putting up a forum or chat room where we can all share the viewing experience or just share whatever we want.
There is that element of multitasking again....

John Mutford said...
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John Mutford said...

I really enjoyed this post, it made me think. Maybe my only problem with McLuhan's philosophy is the definitive. I'd agree a whole lot more if he had said, "The medium is a message" rather than "the message." Small point about semantics I know, but in this case I think it's necessary.

Allison said...
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Allison said...

Barbara W,
Yes, all of those are way to experience the Hour...I guess I'm still thinking of things outside of the show.

I'm actually going to disagree with the live audience part. When I go to a taping, the LAST thing I'm doing is engaging in what is being said, I'm paying attention to everything else that is going on, but that's clearly my subjective experience. Plus, they always tell you to be quiet when you try to talk to your

Thanks John,
I have to agree. Normally I'm one to say, semantics, semantics, but in this case it completely reworks the point.
"The medium is a message" rather than "the message" is a shift also to more of Innis' stance, and its almost a place where the two can marry, which is what I get out of all the theory.

I don't think one can be resolute on such topics, and that's my biggest problem with McLuhan. It always puzzled me that such a great mind, would stop the argument when it just seems to get going.

Anonymous said...

Hi Allison and Tammy - It would have been interesting to have heard McLuhan's ideas as technology keeps evolving. A few years ago, there was an program about him, including footage of interviews he gave, and I think his son's views also.

I find I am not really interested in following for too long on-line except to catch 'snippets'. Personally, I prefer to concentrate on one thing at a time because I don't really like being multi-directional!

For the taped show, the audience is positioned quite far back from the host's main platform and thought that disconnecting, as you watch the monitor. In comparison, although a different type of show in a large studio, I recall Johnny Carson's presentation of his typical opening monologue and how he kept the studio audience involved by looking away from the camera back at the audience. He said he modelled himself after Jack Parr.

Good post Allison !


Anonymous said...

Correction re. last post - apparently it is spelled 'Paar' - -
source Wikipedia.


Allison said...

Hi Alice,
It really would have been interesting to see how the debate would have taken place today, as technology continues to grow each day. I've seen a couple of films, or clips of him talking, but my memory is clouded on what I thought of them.

I wish I could concentrate on one thing at a time, its a skill...I'm learning!

Yes, see that's one of the reasons I don't want to go to a taping. I've been to many studio tapings, talk shows, etc and I never pay attention to what it going on in front of me, because its either hard to see, or too much else is distracting me.

I knew you meant Paar :) Yes, in some cases its really up to the host to determine audience interaction, through his/her body language.

Barbara said...

The beauty of going to a taping is you interact with George between taping this and that. He gives the audience what the viewers don't get... His personal attention. What I do is enjoy and try to take in the entire experience, then I watch the show at 8 or 11 to see what I missed and it's the best of both worlds.

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