Media is explained, as Marshall McLuhan saw it, as a staple in the same way that corn or oil is a commodity. For every new staple, there’s an adjustment in the society at large. There’s an adjustment taking place in society with the way we process media. The instantaneous nature of information leaves us numb to the ad wars that used to rivet the chattering classes and the pollsters. People are affected by their own version of news, be it conservative or liberal or moderate. We can adjust the thermostat, the temperature controls to hot, medium or low as we like it. That means that politicians and advertisers must figure out new ways to reach the customer.
Emails and embedded messages, the subliminal acceptance is always important. Repetition and branding, the idea that we watch an ad without really knowing what product is even being sold is vital in the new medium. As McLuhan saw it, the content can’t offer clues to the “magic behind the media”. Or to the subliminal changes that occur in society. Those changes are occurring now. Trump just stepped on the gas and pushed the pedal down in a slowly accepting public ensconced in a fast-moving media environment.
A world where anything is possible
What was possible then? After the invention of the Gutenberg Printing Press, what followed? In order to explain the society and to understand our age of Mass Media as we assimilate into the Internet Age, we need to look at the master of media, Marshall McLuhan. Mcluhan wrote about media over fifty years ago, and the things he wrote about are just as relevant in today’s world.
After Gutenberg, came the Medieval Guilds and individual enterprise, where before the printing press, individual business guilds couldn’t have existed under the feudal system. Trade monopolies emerged with the guilds. A sense of Nationalism triggered the rise of the first superpowers in Europe. The British Royal Navy, the Spanish Armada and on and on. The Revolutionary War with the printed words from Thomas Paine and his Common Sense pamphlets and the newspapers of Benjamin Franklin were made possible with the printing press. The splintering of the Christian religion from Catholic domination to Protestantism, after Martin Luther was able to post his Theses on the door of the church, was only possible after Gutenberg. The American Civil War erupted from the roots of the writings of abolitionists such as Harriet Beecher Stowe with her best-seller Uncle Tom’s Cabin. None of these events would have been possible without Gutenberg and the Printing Press. Knowledge and information flowed ever more freely, and the masses became enlightened.
Now we look at the Internet. Already we are seeing such phenomena as the Arab Spring uprising, the rise of ISIS (not all things are necessarily good discoveries!), online dating, Facebook, Twitter and Social Media, Gaming, Drones, privacy issues and Big Brother, smartphones and cell phone tech, the rise of the Independent voters and the Utopian Dreamers who are all caught up in the constantly evolving Matrix that is only possible with the coming of the World Wide Web-the Internet.
So many things we couldn’t have imagined without the Internet and the Computer Age. We are still in the early days of a great cultural shift. Where does this road lead?
(Stay tuned for the next installment…Where are we going with this?)
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