Week 4

The Medium is the Metaphor:

I appreciate Neil Postman’s The Medium is the Metaphor because it corrects what I found to be the most misleading handling by McLuhan of his seminal ideas laid out in The Medium is the Message.  In what I see as intentionally oblique uses of words in ways that often contradict their connotations, for reasons I don’t understand, McLuhan needlessly confuses the content of his essay to those without the intellectual horsepower equivalent to his own or the acute familiarity of his essay.  The medium is not the message, as Postman clarifies in his book – the medium is the metaphor: “[McLuhan’s] aphorism, however, is in need of amendment because, as it stands, it may lead one to confuse a message with a metaphor. A message denotes a specific, concrete statement about the world. But the forms of our media, including the symbols through which they permit conversation, do not make such statements. They are rather like metaphors, working by unobtrusive but powerful implication to enforce their special definitions of reality.”
Not only do I appreciate the chapter’s fixing of McLuhan’s delivery, it also illuminates effectively the magic of the advent of text-technology in more concrete ways than McLuhan did in his essay.

A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace:
I whole heartedly agree with what he intends to say, but what of the government’s responsibility to keep the internet neutral?  The government has a huge role in preserving net neutrality.
More practically, how would a completely decentralized network effectively organize – and grow – its continued existence without the help of capitalistic corporations and potentially nefarious and power hungry governmental institutions?
His writing is, obviously, intentionally idealistic and dramatic.  I really wonder what his practical approach to this very important topic is.

Week 3

The Medium is the Message

The phrase is one you hear often enough for it to slip into the mind but vague so as to go in unshaped or undefined.  By McLuhan’s clarification, this concept and its truths are not to be applied to the day to day transactions of the various mediums humans use to communicate.  It does not speak to individual pieces of content: radio show, tv show, newspaper article.   This was my misunderstanding.  “The medium is the message” is the idea that mediums, especially new mediums, as extensions of human thought, seen from the broader perspective, have the power to alter the state of society in materially more significant ways than the content of what that medium sends out over the course of its existence.  The advent of the printing press brought about widespread knowledge, surely, but more significant, as McLuhan posits, is the way in which the printed word created fixed points of view, individualism, nationalism, and a skewed sense of worth and intelligence.  The printed word and reverence for it created the foundation for the French Revolution – apathy for it and traditions that lay elsewhere allowed the greatest Western monarchy to stand.
It was enthralling to get my head jolted by this dense, academic, and high-theory essay (despite McLuhan intentionally using words loosely).  It was especially timely – and worrying – as I see my own brain inundated by notifications, emails, updates, reminders, tabs, apps, websites, podcasts………!!!  I really really think, now (!), we should spend some time reflecting on how all this technology is affecting the way we think ourselves and behave with each other.

Week 1



Reading response:
Vannevar Bush, in his 1945 essay As We May Think, boldly details a series of machines that would greatly assist man and his progress based loosely on technologies available at the time.  The essay was written towards the end of WWII in an attempt to call on scientists around the world to collaborate on initiatives that would help man, as opposed to ones that destroy man as they had been doing for years as scientific minds and resources were funneled towards the war effort.
Reading Bush’s essay, more than 70 years later, was delightful because we are able to digest his earnest attempts at predicting the future, and compare them to what unfolded in reality over time.  It was an especially god-like experience.  He, in one way or another, in varying degrees of accuracy, predicted the advent of several watershed technologies:
– the credit card
– the internet
– internet search
– the digital photograph
– head mounted micro-cameras
– computer vision
– text-to-speech and speech-to-text
– the personal computer and data-memory
Bush, in my opinion, was correct in positing that research and new human knowledge is useless without the easy accessibility of that knowledge for the purposes of discovery and synthesis.  Evidence of this is seen in the advancement of the human condition and the US economy since the mass implementation of the internet and their smart phones.