2. Theoretical Conversations
2.1. Media Ecology in the Context of Communication Theories (This Section is Based on Scolari [4,5,6,7]
The various traditions of communication theory each offer distinct ways of conceptualizing and discussing communication problems and practices. These ways derive from and appeal to certain commonplace beliefs about communication while problematizing other beliefs. It is in the dialogue among these traditions that communication theory can fully engage with the ongoing practical discourse (or metadiscourse) about communication in society. (p. 120)
2.2. McLuhan and the Constitution of Media Ecology
2.3. McLuhan: The Apothegm, the Medium, the ‘Method’
Many people would be disposed to say that was not the machine, but what one did with the machine, that was its meaning or message. In terms of the ways in which the machine altered our relations to one another and to ourselves, it mattered not in the least whether it turned out cornflakes or Cadillacs. (pp. 7–8)
McLuhan is beyond criticism not only because he defines such activity as illegitimate but also because his work does not lend itself to critical commentary. It is a mixture of whimsy, pun and innuendo. These things are all right in themselves, but, unfortunately, one cannot tell what he is serious about and what is mere whimsy. His sentences are not observations as assertions, but, in his own language, ‘probes’. (p. 53)
3. McLuhan’s Vision of History
3.1. Medium (I)
- We become what we behold
- We shape our tools, and, thereafter, our tools shape us
McLuhan examines the diktats of two technological revolutions that overthrew a settled political and aesthetic order: first, in the mid-fifteenth century, the invention of printing with movable type, which encouraged people to think in straight lines and to arrange their perceptions of the world in forms convenient to the visual order of the printed page; second, since the late nineteenth century, the new applications of electricity (telegraph, telephone, television, computers, etc.), which taught people to rearrange their perceptions of the world in ways convenient to the protocols of cyberspace. Content follows form, and the insurgent technologies give rise to new structures of feeling and thought. (pp. xi–xii)
- It is necessary to rethink the notion of the medium in McLuhan’s proposal because its traditional reading, in which it is tacitly understood as a means of communication (or what we often just call media), is insufficient to account for the very reaches of the proposal.
- Once a greater conceptual clarity is sought, the revision of the concept can be supported by adjacent notions: prosthesis and incorporation.
- If thinking within the notions explained in point b is taken as a methodological possibility, it is possible to consider a reconfiguration of the notion of medium that overcomes the externality and artefactuality seemingly used by traditional readings of McLuhan to address it.
McLuhan offers an interesting analysis of the way in which the introduction of the telegraph transformed human intersubjective relations. He reminds us that, like the telephone, the telegraph makes us continually present and accessible to other persons for communicative relations. The technical medium of the telegraph, for instance, allows us to maintain intimate social relations across time and space, while also structuring those relations. In short, the telegraph does not govern the cultural content of our personal messages, but it does play some part in helping to form them. (p. 131)
3.2. Medium (II)
In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves—result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology. (p. 7)
3.3. From Heidegger’s Hammer to McLuhan’s Prosthesis
- The problem of the idea of medium is not in the device itself;
- All reflection on technology refers to the impact it has on man;
- This impact may or may not be conscious, depending on the degree of appropriation.
It is, perhaps, indicative of the bias of our intensely technological and, therefore, narcotic culture that we have long interpreted the Narcissus story to mean that he fell in love with himself, that he imagined the reflection to be Narcissus!
Physiologically there are abundant reasons for an extension of ourselves involving us in a state of numbness. Medical researchers like Hans Selye and Adolphe Jonas hold that all extensions of ourselves, in sickness or in health, are attempts to maintain equilibrium. Any extension of ourselves they regard as “auto-amputation,” and they find that the auto-amputative power or strategy is resorted to by the body when the perceptual power cannot locate or avoid the cause of irritation. Our language has many expressions that indicate this self-amputation that is imposed by various pressures. We speak of “wanting to jump out of my skin” or of “going out of my mind”, being “driven batty” or “flipping my lid”. And we often create artificial situations that rival the irritations and stresses of real life under controlled conditions of sport and play. While it was no part of the intention of Jonas and Selye to provide an explanation of human invention and technology, they have given us a theory of disease (discomfort) that goes far to explain why man is impelled to extend various parts of his body by a kind of auto-amputation. (p. 42)
For McLuhan, subjects and objects fuse. The media are the ‘extensions of man’. More generally, technology is the extension of man. To say ‘the medium is the message’ is to say that the technology is the content. But this is not technological determinism because McLuhan disputes linear causation and hence any sort of determinism. Linear causation belongs to the Gutenberg age and the phonetic alphabet. When technology, when the media, are extensions of the central nervous system, linear causation is deserted for a flattened, immanent world. (p. 178)
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