Rettberg continues to woo me with her affinity for contextual support. She provides a bevvy of text from seemingly brilliant media theorists that I’d never heard of and the background information she supplied in chapter one is and expanded upon with beautiful attentiveness to research and has surprising depth. This being said, I was disappointed at her dismissal of Marshall McLuhan. Her objective to his work was that he painted “outrageously vivid ideas” (Rettberg, 713) that nonetheless weren’t empirical. This claim in itself attests to the ways in which print culture and standardization have damaged our ability to hold valuable discourse.
For the sake of those who’ve not been exposed to McLuhan, I’ll provide a bastardized summary of The Medium is the Massage that I wrote in high school.
In Marshall McLuhan’s book, The Medium is the Massage, he introduces the idea that mankind’s very perception is changed and formed by the type media he is exposed to. The world of yesterday is almost purely visual because it was dominated by the linear concept of typography. We even explain our world logically through interconnected, but linear strings of conclusions, even though most useful human experience doesn’t have much to do with logic. This is because at an early age we are conditioned to think this way by total immersion into typographically dominated media. The alphabet is parts that, when strung together in a line, represent thoughts or feelings, or ideas. And because this was the prevalent medium for the past few centuries, we think in terms of the linear and the visual.
However, we are moving out of that age and into the new with the onset of the technological revolution. With the advent of the internet, our very perception of time and space has been blurred. As you read this, I could be a hundred thousand miles away, having just hit the publish button three minutes ago. Or three seconds.
So when technology pushes further and our thoughts and feelings become not only instantly available, but globally available, what do the concepts of time and space really mean to the mind? Mcluhan explains this by offering the example of prehistoric thinking, which was all-encompassing rather than linear, olfactory instead of visual. He said that in cave paintings of a man hunting a seal on the ice, the prehistoric artist would paint what lies beneath the ice as well, as opposed to a modern artist who would limit himself to the visual frame of an objective observer. Before typographics, a man’s understanding of the world around him was a total picture, everything he knew was simultaneous and overwhelming, as opposed to linear and visually limited. Words are the chains with which man shackled his sense of wonder.
McLuhan goes on to say that society is headed back towards this way of thinking, that the technology is making us all irrevocably and simultaneously involved with each other, a sort of global village.
As the internet grew and evolved it seemed to prove many of McLuhan’s points. A sort of global village did evolve. However it faced many obstacles, among them censorship from the government and an exhaustive supply of meaningless information meant to distract and entertain. Huxley touched on this in A Brave New World, but McLuhan doesn’t say much about the power of a media when used to control populations.
This last thought leads me to the point that I think Rettberg touched on, but didn’t follow to conclusion. The biggest obstacle to our changing perception and the freedom of information has been those in power, the gatekeepers of information under the reign of print media. The internet and the ideas behind it have been under near constant assault since their inception. At the beginning of the 21st century the threats from governments, both foreign and domestic, grew. The Patriot Act, the NDAA, SOPA, CISPA, as well as the NSA spying revelations have all demonstrated this point within the bounds of our supposedly democratic society. Evidence of online suppression from many other countries abound, especially after Arab Spring, which drew attention to the power of social media in the new technological
One of the most interesting concepts that I found in chapter 2 is The Gutenberg Parenthetical, which is an idea that states that the age of print media was merely a phase in human existence, and that technology is fast leaving print, and the linearity that McLuhan associated with it, behind. The University of Southern Denmark’s Department for the Study of Human Cultures features a research paper on their website entitled “The Gutenberg Parenthesis“. Their Position Paper explains the idea in more detail.
The new medium and how it constantly changes, defies standardization and other print based conventions, is also explored by the New Media Institute. Their about page is as amorphous and fluid as the concept itself, and does a good job explaining this from the very beginning. This constant evolution is what causes many stubborn Ivory Tower intellectuals to discard the very idea of it encroaching on the sanctity of print media. This phenomenon is what Rettberg means by lamenting a recently overtaken medium. Maiken Scott, a writer for newswork.com, discusses the Ivory Tower mentality and what TED talks and New Media are doing to change the way we share information in this article.
In conclusion, it is rarely argued anymore that the medium we choose to convey our ideas doesn’t have an effect on the way we percieve the world. This clash is especially evident ion the rift between pre and post-internet generations. However, the long term effects of the shift are still merely speculation. But as technology advances, the average citizen is finding that they have more control over the media they produce and consume, and as long as they protect this control from philandering governments with Orwellian aspirations, democracy may yet be possible, and our perception of the world will only get bigger.