The medium and the message

Marshall McLuhan has come up several times in my conversations this week with colleagues. I guess that’s not surprising, given his predictions about television as a post-content medium, and the large effect that such post-content media could have on society.

When I now read McLuhan’s theories, which once seemed so radical, I encounter something that feels like a documentary. We are indeed living in a time when the medium through which an argument is transmitted can have a greater impact than the logic of that argument.

I can see how this is true in my own work. For example, when you watch that video I posted here the other day, it’s very hard to tease apart a distinction between medium and message.

On the one hand, I seem to largely be giving a lecture about mathematical topics such as matrix transformations. Yet even though both my words and the visuals I present are focused on such topics, the video itself is about something else entirely.

Independent of any topic I speak about or show in that video, you know right away when you watch it that the real topic under discussion is actually the changing nature of media. This other layer of dialog between you and me is a clear example of what McLuhan was getting at: The medium is the message.

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