The Medium Is The Massage

April 3, 2017


Back in the sixties at the time I was an undergrad at Syracuse I had the good fortune to take an aesthetics class with a professor who was a “McLuhanite,”  a devotee of Matrshall McLuhan.  Later that year I had the opportunity to meet Marshall McLuhan at a speaking engagement on campus, one of the highlights of my education.  At the time McLuhan had some radical ideas about media that were surfacing in the pubic awareness.  Chief among them was the idea that media itself was the message, not the content of the media.  He summarized this idea with the wordplay, “The medium is the massage” the title of just one of his books.  Perhaps the one book that explains his ideas the best was “Understanding Media.”  It’s worth the read.

His central argument is that the true message of any media is the way that it conditions us to think.  For example, print media is a linear media. Letters form words. Words form sentences. Sentences form paragraphs,  Paragraphs form chapters,  Chapters form books.  In this way print media requires that we think linearly.  A leads to B, leads to C etc.  We move on the page left to right and top to bottom, then front to back.  That is the logic sequence of previous generations. No longer today.

Today we have digital media, random access, surfing.  We can jump around the internet randomly from thought to different thought creating our own meaning from associations not otherwise formed by sequential argument. Also consider that at least two if not three generations have grown up on MTV, music videos, with fast-paced cuts and obtuse references created by visuals having no direct connection to the lyrics.  The meaning is formed in our minds.  It’s participatory.  That is the key. Mcluhan called this involvement “synesthetic” as opposed to linear logic which he called “anesthetic.”  Synesthetic logic requires the use of all your senses at all times accessed in no particular order.  Anesthetic logic requires that you anesthetize all your senses but the one that is required for comprehension, so that there are no distractions. Hardly the medium for the children of the ADD generation.

So now enter Twitter.

What is the message of Twitter?  How does it “massage” our minds to think in a different way?

Consisting of only 140 characters, Twitter forces the anesthetic mind to limit its content by condensing complex thoughts into simplistic platitudes.  It strips bare “logical” arguments reducing them to emotional pleas.  It encourages response, inviting debate and argument in a participatory environment with the illusion of a synesthetic veneer. The sheer numbers of followers is a false indication of support for the tweeter and thusly it entrenches ignoble ideas in the ever vulnerable public mind.  To disentangle implied messages contained in 140 characters is quite a bit more difficult than to deconstruct a logical argument made in verse.

For a mind that has no solid answers for the issues of the day, it is the perfect media. Rile emotion, gather support, but then what?  Sooner or later you have to act with effective policy based on firm ideas and a guiding philosophy other than just plain “Winning at any cost.”

So what did you really expect from President Troll?

Certainly not accuracy or truth.  President Troll’s disdain for logic can not be more apparent than his sloppy, fast and loose use of vocabulary.  Cowboy Troll shoots first then walks away never answering questions.  Take for example today’s Tweet:

“Did Hillary Clinton ever apologize for receiving the answers to the debate?  Just asking!


C’mon Donald, that’s just sloppy wordsmithing. Hillary never got the answers.  She was given the questions.  You’re the one who has to be given the answers.


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