This Is The Time To (Re)Read 'Snow Crash' And 'Understanding Media'

Sometimes, you need to go slower to go faster. In times of great change, developing a perspective can be much more valuable than just taking lots of actions for the sake of being active.

That’s certainly true today for folks who work in the world of marketing, media and advertising. The acceleration of digitally born trends in retail, gaming and social media today is changing our world much faster than any could have anticipated as recently as February.

Ecommerce as a percentage of retail sales has grown more over the past four months than it had over the previous four years. Video gaming is up more than 25% in that time, both in the number of gamers and the time they spend. Social media has catalyzed an intensity and polarization of passions and beliefs among those who post, read and share at frightening levels, and is fast becoming a primary channel of social and political discourse.



Simply put, the digital future we've long imagined is hurtling toward us, much faster than most are prepared for. The reshaping of society by these new forms of social, digital and networked communications has upended many of the principles that guided our expectations about news, opinion and its distribution.

The same for sports. We’re now seeing live sports events with virtual fans. We’re seeing esports with both real players and virtual players. And we have massive, multiplayer video gaming in virtual environments where gamers spend time between playing watching movies.

So much, so fast. How can you get a better handle on this? My suggestion is some essential summer reading. Now is the time to read — or re-read — both the Metaverse and McLuhan. I just did, and they’ve given me a lot to think about.

Published in 1992, “Snow Crash” is the extraordinarily prescient science fiction novel by Neal Stephenson that anticipated so much of what we know today, from virtual reality and cybersecurity to smart phone technology and converged media experiences, much of it manifest in what Stephenson calls the Metaverse.

For an updated twist on Stephenson’s vision, read venture capitalist Matthew Ball’s excellent take on the Metaverse from this past January.

But don’t read them alone. Never have media and its societal impact mattered more, and no book does a better job addressing how the media form shapes the message than Marshall McLuhan’s “Understanding Media.” I’ve read it several times over the past few decades, but it never hit home with me as much as it did when I reread it this past month.  In tackling how television and those who understood how to exploit it were changing its viewers, McLuhan foresaw the unique power of today’s social media platforms.

Stressed about the future? Need some perspective? Want to get smarter? Time to (re)read “Snow Crash” and “Understanding Media.”

7 comments about "This Is The Time To (Re)Read 'Snow Crash' And 'Understanding Media'".
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  1. Barry Frey from DPAA, July 31, 2020 at 8:55 a.m.

    You're so right about this and McLuhan my friend!  Good prognoticater's understandings apply throughout time, society and products.

  2. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, July 31, 2020 at 2:18 p.m.

    Thanks Barry! It is amazing that the more we see the impacts of new digital media like social, and some of the resulting polarization from self-reinforcing distribution of news and opinion, the more McLuhan's writings and speeches turned out to be spot on.

  3. Joshua Chasin from VideoAmp, July 31, 2020 at 4:51 p.m.

    Hey Dave. I read Understanding Media when I was 21, 22 years old, and just starting to work, as a $5.50 an hour statistical analyst at Arbitron. It took me months to read-- I wanted to make sure I was absorbing every paragraph, and it is SO dense; I remember I would often read it on a 45-minute rail commute, and find I'd only gotten through like 3 pages.

    I'm not familiar with "Snow Crash" (I don't read a lot of Sci-Fi), but I will absolutely reread the McLuhan. (I remember thinking when everyone was saying, "Content is king," that this was directly in opposition to McLuhan's "The medium is the message.")

    And I'll put Snow Crash im my shopping cart as well. 

  4. Joshua Chasin from VideoAmp replied, July 31, 2020 at 4:53 p.m.

    By the way, are you familiar with Tom Wolfe's essay on McLuhan, "But What If He is Right?" (I think that's the title; it's close.) I haven't read it in years, but I rememver in it he makes the case that McLuhan was a theoretical cognitive psychologist, and that he was really the only one, that congfitive psychology is generally a practical discipline. It was a good rtead. I'll track that down as well.

  5. Joshua Chasin from VideoAmp replied, July 31, 2020 at 5 p.m.

    here's the Wolfe essay:

  6. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, July 31, 2020 at 5:04 p.m.

    Josh, your comment took me back to my first time reading it, as 30 year old newspaper lawyer trying to learn "new media." It was so hard for me to read then too. This recent read went much faster, but of course I had to keep going back to read certain passages because they had so much in them.
    Thanks so much for the tip and link to the Tom Wolfe piece! I will read it this weekend!

  7. Barry Frey from DPAA, July 31, 2020 at 5:06 p.m.

    It was a bit dense guys, but I just pulled Marshall out of the line for a Woody Allen movie and he explained the whole book to me :-)

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