Technology and Me

I gave up on Calvinism for now ... alas, I still don't get it. *sad face*

I read a really interesting article over at that I apparently have a lot to say about.

In the comments, a debate broke out on whether mediums were neutral or not, but it turned into a misunderstanding of what kind of neutral the author was talking about in the article. Here are my thoughts:

Mediums may be morally neutral, but they are not totally neutral. Some mediums are far more effective for communicating a certain message than others. For example, the medium of a shrill voice would be a bad choice to communicate a comforting message, because it would embed confusion into the message.

The non-neutrality of mediums is one reason why a billboard would make a bad choice to communicate a long, complicated message. It is also the reason that many discussions in online forums take on a predictable set of patterns, why certain discussion forum formats are more popular than others, and why google ad words works so tremendously well.

Any medium you use to communicate a message, whether it b thu shrt frm txt msg, discussion forum, a screen (video), print, telephone, or face-to-face, will color your message by the virtues of the medium itself.

From the perspective of the one receiving/interpreting information, there is no such thing as an unadulterated message. We have to interpret the raw meaning of something through the vehicle with which the information is passed, so our assumptions about the medium itself plays a huge role in our ability (or inability) to interpret the information, or message, being passed through it.

Marshall McLuhan coined the famous (and often misunderstood) phrase "The medium is the message." What he meant by this is that any medium (a medium, by definition, is an extension of our bodies) carries with it (through it's intended effect/purpose) the potential to change the course of the way we interact and relate to one another; but when overused, the opposite (unintended effect) of the medium's intended purpose will result.

For example, the automobile is an extension of the horse-drawn carriage, which extended the ability of our legs. The automobile's intended purpose is to get us from point A to point B faster, thus allowing us to connect more quickly and with more people. However, our overuse of vehicles has produced some unintended opposite effects. Traffic jams reduce our ability to travel quickly (and thus connect with others) because we may have to spend quite a bit more time in the car each day to deal with jams. Also, death greatly increased with our overuse of vehicles.

Unintended consequences are problems that must be resolved somehow, especially when our overuse of any medium becomes systemic. This is why we have speed limits, laws about drinking and driving, and spend ordinate amounts of tax money on freeway construction/road repair etc. But these things can only try to side-step around the problem - the only way the unintended effects of a medium can be undone is through a reversal of our overuse. It's unfortunately that simple, and yes, that unthinkable.

The thing this relevant magazine article is trying to show us is that the medium of communications technology itself has a message that is unique to itself, and that message changes the course and scope of our interactions with one another profoundly through its intended purpose. However, through its overuse, an opposite effect results.

Here is an example (but not directly related): Today, I threw out my back while brushing my teeth. I know. It's ridiculous. The reason this happened boils down to the fact that I overuse the medium of chairs. The intended function of a chair is to provide comfort, but overusing this technology (no matter how good the chair is) will eventually produce the opposite (unintended) effect. That is, discomfort. Anyone who has sat in a chair for more than 6 straight hours should know exactly what I'm talking about. Another example is alcohol. It's an extension of our emotions, and it's purpose is to elate joy, give you a buzz, and create good spirits. But it's long-term overuse can often elate anger (i.e. The angry drunk), or in the short term, a hangover.


Seán said...

You're my favorite.

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