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After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western world is imploding”. With these words on the first page of Understanding Media published in 1964, MarshallMcLuhan burst onto the intellectual scene with his most influential book. In 1964, Marshall McLuhan published Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, a foundational work in media theory that many academics agree is responsible for laying the groundwork for contemporary media studies. Rather than focusing on the meaning of messages in media, he focuses on analyzing the medium itself.McLuhan argues that the actual structures and physical limitations of media create profound psychological and social consequences. Challenging conventional understandings of media, McLuhan defines media as,” an extension of ourselves,” (McLuhan) meaning that in addition to obvious examples of media like film, photographs, and radio, McLuhan also considers mediums like numbers, clothing, automobiles, and even electric lightbulbs. Although light bulbs aren’t generally considered a form of media, McLuhan challenges conventional attitudes by arguing that technologies like lightbulbs, automobiles, and bicycles are examples of media because they are extensions of man that affect how we perceive the world in which we live. The light bulb acts as a form of media because as its light illuminates the dark room, it functions as a device that allows us to process the visual information around us in a way that we normally wouldn’t.
The term “global village” was coined in the 1960sby Marshall McLuhan. Its ubiquity, like the global technologies which realizes it, has been widespread. At first, it seems like a technology that extends man’s ability to experience and interpret the world is positive and desirable. However, McLuhan points out that the inherent tendency to focus on the messages within the media makes us blind to the limits and structures imposed by the mediums themselves. For instance, the medium of writing is limited to the expression of speech, the medium of print is limited to the expression of writing, the medium of the telegraph is limited to the expression of print. Each medium that evolves from the last allows for less expressive possibilities and creates an increasingly restrictive form of communication. The Telegraph, which technologically evolved from spoken word, profoundly restricts the amount of meaning that can be communicated compared to spoken word. With spoken word, communication is much more expressive and meaningful because of nuances like tone, verbal emphasis, accent, volume, and so on. With the telegraph, the expressive possibilities of spoken word are reduced to a technological format that chisels away possibilities for expression. As a result, mediums enforce a format that demands conformity to technological structures which reduce our communicative possibilities, restrict meaning, and ultimately shrink the lens through which we perceive the world. A relevant example from today’s digital society is social media platforms like Twitter, which reduce expressive possibilities to140 characters of text or expressing one’s self through the ‘re-tweeting’ of posts by others.
Although McLuhan did not propose his theory in our era of the internet and social media, we can still draw important conclusions when applying his theory to our current communication practices. He believed that it was not what we said, but the way we said it that mattered most. In essence, the words we use are not as important as the way we choose to say them. McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message theory still holds value to the way we structure our B2B marketing efforts today. This theory helps to explain why we communicate through more than one medium. Marketers know that their audience will respond to the same message in different ways depending on the medium. With the increase of social media platforms, mobile users, and general interactions on the web, and the unique properties each medium possesses, it can be challenging to determine which medium will be most effective for your message. The most famous and frequently misunderstood of McLuhan’s theory is “Medium is the message”. It remains as true today as it was in the age of television.McLuhan’s point was that the impact of the medium itself is more significant than the content it carries; that each medium, from light bulbs to computers, conveys a message to its users. The internet, for example, isn’t important because of its endless supply of content, but because it has created a world where we expect content to be endless, immediately there.
The four largest social media platforms employ McLuhan’s theory of medium is the message like there is no tomorrow – (1) Twitter (2) Facebook (3)Instagram and (4)LinkedIn.
TWITTER – The logistics of twitter, a micro-blogging website, is unique. Users have a limit of 140 characters and the medium requires captivating messages in order to draw attention to readers. As a medium of communication, Twitter’s intent is to captivate and tap into our short-term attention spans. Messages target individuals who are too busy to read a full article, blog or the newspaper. Readers generally get small bits of information with the option to click on a link to read further. Many of us are constantly on the move and need our information quick and simple. The medium is the message of efficiency and urgency.
FACEBOOK – Facebook which is intended to foster a more casual social media experience. We don’t necessarily log intoFacebook to find business information, however, it’s a great platform to employ the word of mouth theory on the web. Facebook gives you the opportunity to share and link a business on an online platform; much like interactions between a group of friends offline. Not to mention, Facebook is the most active social media platform in the world, with 2.07 billion monthly active users. The medium is the message of connections.
INSTAGRAM – Instagram is a photo-sharing application and service that allows users to share pictures and videos either publicly, or privately to pre-approved followers. Instagram is appropriate to create more visual content, build awareness, and foster engagement. The medium is the message of visual interest.
LINKEDIN – Marketing to your audience through LinkedIn connotes professionalism. LinkedIn as a medium is used for primarily business-related purposes. For example, promoting a cocktail party would certainly not be marketed using LinkedIn as a medium to reach your audience. Alternatively, using LinkedIn to post more professional messages can be more effective than posting the same message on a more casual platform. The medium is the message of professionalism.
McLuhan’s big idea was to spot that the word “medium” has distinctly different meanings. The conventional one is that a medium is a channel for communicating information – which is why much discussion about media up to his time focused on the content that was being conveyed by print, radio, and television.
But there is another, equally significant, interpretation. To a biologist, a medium is an environment containing the nutrients in which tissue cultures –organisms – grow. Change the medium and you change the organisms. Our communications media likewise constitute the environment which sustains, nurtures – or constrains – our culture. And if the medium changes, then so do the culture. The medium is far more than the message, in other words. In fact, it’s all we’ve got.
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