Needles to say I read lots of very dull but worthy books on holiday.
The best of the lot was a brief work of genius, “The Medium Is The Massage”, (yes, massage) by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, published in 1967. It is an unusual book in several respects. It is at least 60% pop art and very brief. That it foresaw the Internet and aspects of social media in 1967 is amazing. It is apparently required reading for Media Studies courses.
Quite why you’d go to university for three years and incur a lot of debt to learn about something you can read about on a beach is a mystery to me. Saying that, I spent my time at university lying on a metaphorical beach, not really studying Computer Science while still incurring some impressive debts, so who am I to sneer.
Anyway, I bet you think I’m going to go off on one of my social media rants. You know, the ones where I start off by saying, “It is all wonderful, but…”. Well I’m not for once.
I read McLuhan’s book because it was quoted in several other things I’ve read this year, in particular, Jaron Lanier’s frustratingly conspiratorial and polemic, “You Are Not A Gadget” and “Who Owns the Future”, see my posts on these in, “Do You Pass The Turing Test” and “Information Should Not Be Free” for a flavour of them, and the balanced, sane and coherent, “The Shallows”, by Nicholas Carr. I would recommend them all but the latter is an especially good read.
Among many other things, Carr’s, The Shallows, introduced me to the concept of brain plasticity. This enables us to adapt and behave differently when exposed to new stimulii, for example, new media. New technologies (like watches, clothes and the wheel) change how we behave for good and bad. It helps explain McLuhun’s assertion that media are extensions of our faculties, that the book is an extension of the eye, the wheel an extension of the foot (a weird one) and that computer networks are an extension of our central nervous system and explores the implications, good and bad. That that last assertion about computer networks was made in 1967 amazes me.
The idea that we operate and behave differently when exposed to media, things we can project and extend ourselves through, of all sorts, clothes, the wheel, books, clocks etc., is fascinating and a great frame of reference for challenging ourselves at home, at work or at play.
A simple example, the arrival of the town clock meant we moved from getting up when it got light to getting up at a given time. The pocket watch meant we could schedule things more tightly still and so on. As soon as we could operate reliably in the medium of time, our behaviour colonised it, our frame of reference changed.
The way we connect to and interact with things changes us and creates new normals. Some are good, others bad both are subjective and doubtless reflective of personal preferences anyway.
When you think of media in this broad way, all sorts of things present themselves for consideration as things to which we adapt and which if we aren’t careful might constrain as well as enable us; Slides, meetings, newspapers, email, webex, books, ebooks, flared trousers, tube trains, boob tubes, rented houses, owned houses, watches, religion, radio, tv, football (in August, yawn?), golf (ever!), cricket (all year, really?), blazers, friends, processes, laws etc etc etc.
There are of course Social Media, but I am leaving that for today. I promised.
The point? Experiment with and enjoy the new. Then ruthlessly choose what works for you, what best helps you achieve your purpose and what makes you happy. Be conscious of liberating freedoms and arbitrary constraints inherent in each medium.
In this post I decided to revert to my natural long winded and verbose style. This is how I talk. I do go on rather. I should shorten this, but for once I won’t. I enjoyed writing it.
Assuming you got this far, I’d love to know what you think !