Commentary

Is The Medium Becoming Meaningless?

I'm not a media person or a futurist by any stretch. My fascination with media has come from a desire to connect and interact with an audience. And any tinkering I have done in media is because over and over I was confronted by the fact that with the best ideas, it was very difficult to separate what was media and what was message.

The "medium is the message" was still a fairly esoteric idea the first time I read it as a young man. But today the statement has become quite literal thanks to our ability to create custom media applications to tell almost any story, to deliver almost any message. In the coming years, the "medium is the message" may become so ubiquitous that it's completely meaningless. Yeah, the medium is the message. No shit.

What can we expect as our republic and free press system transitions to completely democratic media?

6 comments about "Is The Medium Becoming Meaningless?".
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  1. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, July 21, 2009 at 3:28 p.m.

    Alex,

    There’s a theory in literature that there have only been something like seven stories ever told, and that everything written since has just been an iteration of those basic plots. I think that is somewhat true about media overall.

    I think it’s true that Twitter is merely an evolution of online chat or instant messaging, much the same way that social networks like Facebook and Myspace are merely turbo charged adaptations of earlier networks like GeoCities and TheGlobe. But I also think that every new generation of media brings new nuances and forms of connectivity that enable people to relate, share things and foster new relationships in ways that previous versions could not enable.

    As an example, I was struck by a story in today’s New York Times (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/21/hey-gang-lets-watch-the-web-together/?ref=technology) about Watchitoo, a new social media platform that enables users to simultaneously share multiple, multimedia experiences at the same time. Frankly, I’m not sure who wants to do that, and it’s definitely not for me, but I know it will change the way lots of people interact and share things with each other. And I guarantee you, it won’t be long before yet another new platform comes along that makes Watchitoo look static by comparison.

    Maybe the medium is just the iteration.

  2. Sallie Green from v2 Design, July 21, 2009 at 3:34 p.m.

    The key thing, for me, is that control of the medium is out of the hands of the network owners. With Twitter, FB, etc. we've all become broadcasters. For many of us, we have an audience of one (ourselves) but it makes us feel better to think that someone might be listening to what we have to say.

    Regarding the issue of whether everything is old is new again, I think the life cycle of how we use Twitter and other new media will be the same as with old media. Lots of players will get into the game, some will have early success, fewer will have sustainable success, and some late-comers will have huge success.

    And then there's the "democratic" factor. I put the word in quotation marks because it can mean social equality but, realistically, it means popularity. The Swarm moved from Myspace to Facebook during the last couple of years and now The Swarm is moving to Twitter. Thankfully, it's costing folks less to play around with Twitter and FB than to build crazy SecondLife environments.

    I see companies trying out direct marketing techniques on Twitter and it brings a tear to my eye. I started out in DM, the red-headed stepchild of marketing, and it turns out that maybe the junk mail kings can be kings again. In that regard, media is cyclical, but the content is fresh. Seeing TheEllenShow make people go on a treasure hunt for tickets adds to my understanding of Ellen Degeneres' brand and give me a good idea for a client.

  3. Alex Bogusky from CPB, July 22, 2009 at 2:55 p.m.

    Sallie makes a point about the DM folks finding a new home in social media and i think it's potentially true. Hopefully Twitter will find ways to protect us better than the govenrment protected our home address.

  4. Bernard Urban from Gigantic, July 22, 2009 at 6:21 p.m.

    Hi Alex,

    I too read McLuhan in college and spent a great deal of my career following his lead to the best of my ability. But I do agree with you wholeheartedly; things are quickly changing.

    Here is an excerpt from a blog post I wrote last week:

    "We have gone through a dizzying period of time where ideas have been inherently tied into the media that conveys them and it suddenly feels like it has become an outdated process. Technology is quickly making media transparent and putting new focus on experiential innovation, personal utility and useful content."

    You can read the rest here:
    http://gigantic.typepad.com/gigantic/2009/07/the-message-is-the-message.html

    Great conversation you have going here!

  5. Andrew Ettinger, July 23, 2009 at 9:13 a.m.

    I would like to pose a serious question(s) in response to your question: If the medium is meaningless then why do so many online discussions revolve around offline content? TV and movies dominate our culture, unfortunately more than books or newspapers do. As such, we see a huge amount of discussion online about those subjects. Moreover, why does every blogger/vlogger/YouTube producer aspire to offline success? People are makiong books comprised solely of Tweets. Bloggers are getting book deals and becoming talking heads on TV. If the medium was irrelevant would they not care to use "old" media?

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