Paying Serious Consequences for Ignoring Media ‘Temperature’ [MM Monday]

It’s Memorial Day. You can find my remembrance of a friend in Friday’s post, 7 Slow Gives. I think he would rather I spend today’s post on McLuhan.

Each Monday, of course, we consider the observations of the foremost media philosopher, Marshall McLuhan, who was (is) a dedicated convert to Catholicism. McLuhan was interviewed countless times by – it would seem – every radio, television, or print outlet possible.

Sometimes, the interviewer dared to touch this question: What do you mean by ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ media?

While some media professors still grapple to explain McLuhan’s concept to students, my lame attempt to explain it is this: ‘Cool’ media require more sensory involvement on the part of the receiver, a more active engagement – like TV, whereas ‘hot’ media, like radio, do not. Think about how many elements your brain is processing while watching TV, as compared to listening to radio.

In interviews, McLuhan would often cite the foolishness of broadcasting war on TV — a ‘hot’ subject on a ‘cool’ medium. In other words: war is straightforward. We don’t need to decipher it. Television, however, is so involving that, McLuhan said, on TV “war becomes unbearable.”

And today? We find ourselves in a post-TV age, with younger generations’ interests in social media and the Internet clearly surpassing interests in TV. I find the Internet to be extremely cool; intensely involving. So much so, that we become easily burnt out. Our brains are trained to stress emotion and analyze several stimuli at once, rather than comprehend the linear nature of hot media such as print.

McLuhan wouldn’t have at all been surprised by our world today. Human dignity is so easily discarded in TV shows, video games, and real-life — not because we’ve slid down some unexpected moral slippery-slope, but because we’ve failed to determine the effects that our media consumption would soon have on our identities — as individuals and as the human race. As McLuhan said, loss of personal identity leads to violence.

We’ve been irresponsible.

I’d love to see the Church grab these concepts and carry them like a burning torch, but as I see it, we (the Church) are too occupied playing ‘catch-up’ with advertising agencies’ and professional broadcasters’ media tricks. As much as I enjoy working with media, and as much as they fascinate me, I realize the need for balance that we are dangerously ignoring. Let’s not forget that God’s gifts must be received with prudent hands.


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