Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian considered by some to be the father of modern communications, had a saying, “The medium is the message.”
McLuhan meant the medium delivering the message shapes and controls human actions associated with it. The medium is what has shaped us into the creative beings that humanity has become. The printing press allowed us to create literature. The phonograph allowed us to record music. The radio connected us and allowed us to hear the news from other parts of the world. Television let us actually see life represented onscreen and the Internet made everything instant.
The example from my childhood showing McLuhan’s theory in action is the way everyone I knew used to crowd around their televisions at a certain time on a certain night to catch their favourite programs. In the 80s and 90s, Thursday nights was NBC’s “Must See TV” where and Seinfeld and Friends made their home, Steve Urkel, Balki Bartokomous, the cast of Full House, which is enjoying a wonderfully irreverent revival on Netflix, made up the line-up of ABC’s “TGIF” on Fridays and, most importantly in order to get the news, you had to watch the news on TV, either on a local broadcast at 6 or on The National on CBC. My parents watched both.
I wonder what Marshall McLuhan would say about the medium and the message if he could see it now.
I can clearly remember a time when there were no smart phones, or streaming services, no downloading or search engines. If I think back long and hard enough, I can probably find a memory or two of watching the original ads for an Apple computer between primetime sitcoms. The first computer my family owned had a model number that ended in 86 and I was in high school when people started getting the Internet at home. Facebook, Twitter or social media of any kind wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s mind and the first chat programs (ICQ) weren’t created until I was almost finished high school. I used to have to go to a video store to rent movies on VHS and I watched the world transition from cassette tapes to Compact Discs to streaming media.
I tell all this to the people I go to school with and they literally look at me as if were alive during the Stone Age.
It is amazing to think that things have changed so fast that someone who is 20 years old today has never been without the Internet. There are adults today who never knew a world without file sharing, without the words Google or YouTube as a part of their vocabulary, and it continues to change so fast it is next to impossible to catch up. I am trying but this blog is the best I can do and I don’t even keep up with that.
The creation of the Internet, the Web and their integration into our everyday lives has made things incredibly different. Everything is so much faster now and people have come to expect that the things they want (or think they need) are right at their fingertips. You don’t even have to leave the house anymore to purchase groceries. You can order online and get them delivered right to your house. All the information we know and understand comes from a little device we carry with us all the time. We can’t go anywhere without our smart devices and, most of the time, we can’t take our eyes off them, even when we are doing something else like trying to have a nice dinner.
I ride the bus often and when I take the time to look up from my own screen, I am shocked by how many people are just staring at their phones, texting away, looking at something online. I have been on a bus where only one person, other than myself, out of a full busload of people wasn’t looking at their smart device. That person looked 80.
The screens people’s eyes are glued to rule their lives. Youth have to be on social media or their lives are over but parents are terrified of who they might be talking to online, and rightfully so. This new age of connectivity between people has made it much easier for bad people to come into contact with good ones. There’s identity theft, cat fishing, revenge porn, and that’s just the start. Illegal downloading is actually hurting the careers of promising artists and filmmakers before they can even get them off the ground. Hateful people preaching violence and intolerance use the Internet to recruit the naïve to commit horrific crimes. Sometimes I feel disgusted there are parts of humanity who feel the way they do when I see the way we say the most hurtful things to one another without any real repercussions.
That’s not to say everything is bad though, just a lot of it. The creative power of the Internet is immeasurable and the content that has been created is incredibly diverse and interesting. It allows everyone to become an artist or an entertainer or a journalist. The connectivity of the Internet allows people and organizations to increase their reach and help more people than ever before.
I’ve been able to keep in contact with many friends who live overseas that I would’ve lost touch with if it weren’t for Facebook and other social media apps. I too have my eyes locked on a screen to get all my information and feel the insane need to “like” pictures and posts of people I know. But like everyone else, I think I am okay with it.
The medium has become much more than the message for us. It has become our way of life.
But what do I know? I am just an old man yelling at Cloud.