The medium is NOT the message


A post McLuhan perspective on user experiences on the Internet.


Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan's insights on the impact of media have remained valid as methods of communication proliferate endlessly.

“The medium is the massage.” – Marshall McLuhan

“It’s the MASSAGE, not the MESSAGE. Please focus on meaning.” – John Ribbler

Social media has changed the way people interact.  That is a given. Will its impact be as pervasive and dramatic as how television changed news and entertainment starting in the 1950s?  Who knows?

My objection is to experts who make broad pronouncements about the cosmic impact of every gizmo, gadget, widget, applet, and yahoo-twit-face-book-pod-ping-pownce-jigsaw in cyberspace.  Attempting to claim leadership (sometimes successfully) by deifying the new media, they mask the critical fact that messages matter more than the messengers.

The Globe Theater has historical importance only because Shakespeare’s lines were spoken there.   Without television, the world would not have seen Nixon sweat in his debate with Kennedy, but the vital truth was in Nixon sweating, not that television showed it.

This week’s TIME magazine cover story declares:  “Twitter is changing the way we live – and showing us the future of innovation.”  Time offers messages sent by prominent people as examples. “Kiwis have a lot of vitamin C.” “The White House just joined Twitter.” “there is a port-a-potty off the 96th Ave exit on E-470.”

Richard Nixon

In 1960, Richard Nixon's visual appearance during presidential debates was more impactful that the messages he delivered.

Author Steven Johnson finds “most inspiring about the Twitter phenomena” that despite the economic catastrophe “here we are – millions of us – sitting around trying to invent new ways to talk to one another.”   Do we have to say anything meaningful as long as we keep finding new methods for blabbing?  Apparently, we don’t have listen or learn as long as we are  following on Twitter.

To communicate effectively, people still need to know what they need to say, know who they want to reach, and why that audience should care.  Then, you should decide the best way to say it.  Want to change the world?  Message first, media second.

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