Your Monday was McLuhanless, so let’s make Tuesday a day to reflect on one of the core messages of Marshall McLuhan: the medium is the message.
So often, people hear this phrase and think they know what it means. McLuhan, however, was speaking less about message and more about the impact that various media have on humanity. His reflections have helped me quit glorifying new media (ie. Internet-based, social media) in my work; now I guide my consultees to recognize both the positive and negative effects of these media. And I believe this is a fair-headed, more Catholic approach.
By stressing that the medium is the message rather than the content, I’m not suggesting that content plays no role–merely that it plays a distinctly subordinate role. Even if Hitler had delivered botany lectures, some other demagogue would have used the radio to retribalize the Germans and rekindle the dark atavistic side of the tribal nature that created European fascism in the Twenties and Thirties. By placing all the stress on content and practically none on the medium, we lose all chance of perceiving and influencing the impact of new technologies on man, and thus we are always dumfounded by–and unprepared for–the revolutionary environmental transformations induced by new media.
With all we’ve got to deal with in the Church, we can’t afford to be unprepared and dumbfounded. We’ve got to take off our blinders and put on our McLuhan Glasses, realizing the impacts new media have on families, on youth, on culture, on religion.
(Quote from McLuhan’s interview with Playboy, 1969)