Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Medium is Not The Message

I am reading through Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood's SuperConnect: Harnessing The Power of Networks and The Strength of Weak Ties, specifically right now, the chapter "Cyberspace--Brave New World".
The authors are exploring where the internet--cyberspace--fits in with shaping who and what we are, with an additional perspective of how this is changing are ability to connect via 'hubs'. After all, language and the ability to communicate have been shaping who we are as groups and individuals for 50,000 years, give or take. The difference, the authors are saying, is not in an increased ability to communicate messages, rather an increased ability to connect.
This is interesting to me on numerous levels. Many of the points of their book are not new, not novel, or earth shattering for those that have followed the whole 'internet phenomenon' over the last 15-20 years. One point of the Cyberspace chapter being that the internet is not another communication medium, but rather another dimension of existing forms of communication. The other, is that online relations cannot supplant those of face-to-face relations.
I don't overly disagree with either point. They argue that cyberspace can be as much about escapism than it is about exploring new knowledge, new connections. Again, I agree.
The world online does not have the rich texture of life in our physical world, nor does it have the rich degree of social cues necessary for connected relationships. However, these are not black and white, either one or the other options.
What the authors, and myself, are getting at, is how well we blend the two worlds is where the greatest gains are going to be had.

Without reviewing the entire book, I do want to use these points as a jumping off point to perhaps something more subtle that I continually want to bring closer to the surface.

My purpose as a consultant is to increase the abilities to adapt and thrive in these ever changing conditions of the 21st century for you and the organizations of which you are reliant upon . That means being not only being able to make us better aware of our environment, it means not only being able to shape our environment, it means being aware of and shaping our environment in a sustainable way.

The internet or cyberspace is another layer of complexity over an already existing environment. It can make us passive (escapism) or active (growth), both perhaps in the same moment. We can broadcast messages, we can receive messages. We can connect those messages.

We can do this in a manner and to a degree that is unprecedented in human history. In 1964, communication theorist Marshal McLuhan famously remarked, "the medium is the message". He was speaking in a time of the rise of television, and commenting that the medium--TV--was the "message". That is, it is the ability to mass broadcast messages that is the message, rather than being what message said.
The question than is, is the internet just an extension of that? Is the medium the message? Is it more important that you and I can broadcast messages rather than what message we broadcast?
The answer is maybe. The answer should be; "Yes, it does matter."

The point I continually try to raise, to bring awareness to, is that we are the medium, we are the message. We have the tools to both extend and increase our knowledge of our environment, of our social systems, and share that knowledge in ways that makes us better people, makes our organizations better at what they do and better to be associated with and to work within.
That power, that ability lies within each and every one of us. But we have to take leadership, we have to take ownership and responsibility of that power.

It is that ability to take the lead, to learn to share what we have to give, learn to grow from what is being given back that can shape a prosperous economic and social environment where more people 'win'.
We are that medium, we are that message.

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