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 !


11 thoughts on “Choices

  1. Once again, I read your post and momentarily imagined I was, in fact, reading something else. Before it was Bridget Jones, this time Douglas Adams. In fact, I had to re-read it just to make sure there was no mention of depressed fish.

    As someone who works in the ‘media’ industry (whatever that means) I live in a world driven by presenting pictures and sound in such a way as to be informative, entertaining, shocking, depressing, exciting, liberating, stimulating, upsetting, pleasing, beautiful etc. A whole spectrum of stimuli that, to your point, is there to be experimented with. Do you remember the first time you watched reality TV ? Big Brother ? I remember thinking “who on earth would want to watch someone go to the loo, live” ? Yet that whole genre has grown and grown.

    I realise that your suggestion of experimentation is much wider than what I am talking about but fundamentally it follows the same path. The world is there to be experimented with, and media and the stimuli it creates is put in front of us constantly and consistently, some may say invasively now. But I think that is, on the whole, a good thing. Well, as long as we don’t have Reality Generation Game Factor In The Jungle On Ice.

    • Evening. The main purpose of experimentation is to learn what works and what doesn’t which can vary from one scenario to another. We can get trapped in some media. How often do we rail against Powerpoint and Email. Each is horribly over used, yet each is, in given circumstances, a wonderful tool.

      Sometimes one experiments by accident. I have just spent a week in Plymouth MN. I borrowed an office and, by accident, had one large monitor instead of two smaller ones. I concentrated on conference calls!

      I do indeed remember the first time I watched Big Brother. It was also the last.



  2. As usual your post was food for thought (and food for fridayfood!). You shouldn’t read worthy books on holiday if it generates brain ache..! But seriously, is it the endless changes in media or the speed at which those changes happen that makes us feel over-stimulated? I don’t want to do without the wheel, my watch, trains, electricity or even the computer…but I do tire of the constant invasion of media wherever I am. I heard talk today on the radio of “digital detox” – getting away from phones, social media etc in favour of “real” interaction. The vox pop were horrified at the thought. But I like it real….

  3. I bore for Britain on using media with purpose and then leaving it when you are done.

    Try the Ted Talk in this post, it was where my trying to understand it all, the good, the bad and the need to consciously balance started.

    The whole plasticity thing is worth undertanding, it has helped me consciously switch, challenge, benefit and learn, I hope without becoming trapped in any one medium.

    As to vox pop, it is entertaining in some contexts and certainly democratic. On the other hand, I am just getting to the end of The Stephen Fry Chronicles on audio book (a medium that works especially well for autobiography, there I go again, very specific about my media) and am struck by how the prevalence of the vox pop has to some extent squeezed out very clever erudite people. Similarly I have stuck to newspapers and magazines that I pay for, the journalism is simply better than that in the freebies.

    Finally, on yet another note, the photos in your post today and excellent. They made me feel quite guilty about not knowing how to use my very expensive camera.

    • Why thank you sir! I can’t claim credit for them all – most were my husband’s work – but I am trying to up my game.

      The TED talk was interesting (what did we do before TED?). I expect that by the time I have finished typing this message, there will have been another great leap forward in technology that only the very young (being uninhibited) and the switched-on technophobes will understand. I await developments with a wry smile…

  4. A ‘Digital Detox’ ? Hmmm…now that’s an interesting one. I totally understand people who desire to spend more time communicating in a non-digital way but my problem with turning off all my technology is that I would be hugely ill-informed very quickly. I stopped buying any form of paper newspaper in 2009 and, to this day, have never bought a single copy – even on a Sunday. It’s not that I don’t consume vast quantities of news, but that now I consume it in digital format. This allows me to filter it much more efficiently and, to that extent, I can learn much more than I would otherwise have been able to. The same would hold true, to a lesser extent, with books and fiction. My Kindle now never leaves my side, and the same for my wife (the Kindle, not the wife), and now neither of us have bought paperback novels in about three years. We still buy books but they tend to be the sort that Delia writes in her sleep. And we still read just as much. It’s just that bookcase space is not at a premium any more.

    I would welcome the opportunity to turn off email though. In fact, where we went on holiday was in a 3G and mobile blackspot so we really were shut off from society. Kindles came on the beach with us, but phones were left at home since there was little point in taking them save for a sneaky game of Angry Birds.

    Not sure if this is at all meaningful other than to point out that things digital have become such an integrated and intertwined part of my existence that to take them out of the picture would probably mean me regressing half a decade.

    Darwinism at work ?

  5. An interesting exchange.

    The thing is, we each have preferences and prejudices.

    I have tend not to have too much baggage.  I have a very few good friends.  They exist in little circles.  I have an unconscious but ruthless tendency to prune and move on, retaining a very few over time.  I reckon to make 2-3 long term friends per decade, though once you are in, assuming it is mutual, you are in for life.

    I love small groups, of say 2 to 6.  
    I hate parties but enjoy crowds.
    I really struggle when I am thrust into any group where circle A is mixed with circle B because I behave differently with each and the average does not work. I have found myself at dinner parties experiencing the agony of being sympathetic with and interested in the person on my right, while being bawdy and foul mouthed with the person on my left.  
    The way I behave here I find bizarre, it is usually thoughtful and fairly serious. In person, while I can be like that, my default, face to face or 1:1 with friends, say by email, is I think at best playful and likely downright facetious most of the time.  You’d never guess that from my earnest outpourings here.  

    My philosophy overall is that we live and work to create the opportunity and surplus to play and enjoy, otherwise what’s the bloody point!

    The discussion thread that sometimes follows is my favourite bit. I suppose because it moves from being a house party (run away!) to a dinner party (stay up all night and hang the consequences!) and is a conversation.

    As to Kindles and so on:

    I don’t like baggage, so when I travel it is books on the Kindle and news and magazines on the iPad. To add a little twist or two though, I consume autobiography as audio, which brings it alive, and business and factual books on paper, so I can scribble on, highlight and rapidly relocate the key parts in a way that the laughable and  toy-like attempts at offering the same on the Kindle don’t even begin to replicate.

    I generally like the random and spontaneous. I get a bizarre thrill from observing and adding to the incredible associations and diversions that happen in intense conversations, especially in pubs. I used to enjoy consuming content on the web because it allows for rapid connections of ideas. I still do, but I realised that I had stopped thinking deeply about things, so I choose at times to constrain the connectedness a little to ensure I read long pieces fully and think about them. As a result, when I am at home I restarted reading news and magazines on paper a while ago.

    My preferences drive my choices.  My mother tells me I am complicated.  I suspect that to be code for, “A pain in the arse”.

    As I said above, I enjoy this bit of blogging the most.

    • You have certainly given me much to think about and consider, as usual Mr A. I would have guessed you were the sort who looks for deep and close friendships, few in number, rather than a wide and shallow gaggle of associates. I suppose this sort of dialogue challenges the social structures that you can legitimately impose upon yourself and others in the physical world since, by its very nature, this blog is open to all and sundry to comment on. Not that you’re about to invite everyone who comments round to your gaff for Pimms and chocolate any time soon, although it might make for an even more interesting social experiment if you did.

      Almost conversely, I find myself increasingly thoughtful and considered when responding to your blogs despite my superficial attempts at injecting a modicum of humour into them. In a virtual world, you force my brain to perform an Adams-esque out of body experience, pop round to the Spar, grab a bag of salt and then bash me over the head for being so bloody opinionated and one dimensional. The bit about Kindles is a good example. “I think therefore I’m right” is often my start point, forgetting that there are others who think very differently to me and my derision about bibliographic perfumery highlights the point well. I’m sure people think I’m just as odd for carrying three mobile phones around with me.

      So, in the interests of the advancement of science, I plan on mixing it up a bit. On my next business trip I will download audio books of magazines onto my Kindle, read novels on my iPad and carry paper versions of the movies I want to watch. I’m still trying to source some Eau de Papier but haven’t been to Tesco yet so I’m sure it’ll get sorted.

      I will, of course, report back.

  6. Well that was all most entertaining. As usual the debate is better than the original. I went mad and tweaked my ramble above into Choices 2.

    I am just heading into London to see a show (Fences), a direct result of my return to paper newspapers, the fourth play / show of the year.



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