On the medium is the message

“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.” (McLuhan 7) Fascinated by ambiguity, I find McLuhan’s assertion both intriguing and beguiling, if not downright cute. I have read his work, his explanations, his rants, his assertions, his reasoning, but I remain unconvinced. I think the secret to his famous assertion about mediums and messages is more poetically interesting as a puzzle or conundrum that it is as an actual statement of theory or philosophical position or ideological battleground. The beauty in his statement lies in the ambiguity of both words which work in tandem to deconstruct each other. So medium and message work together and against one another to form a line of poetry that might mean practically anything, which also means they signify practically nothing. Yet therein lies the beauty of the phrase: since it is bereft of a clear meaning, it is full of ambiguous ones. We might argue until the next millennium arrives and nothing will be resolved. You see, his own explanations make no more sense than anyone else’s. His intention of clarifying the meaning only serves to befuddle clarity and understanding. If he is trying to say that as human technology develops, the ways we communicate will change, then I get that, but I also think his point is totally obvious. In other words, he himself cannot clear up the structuralist problem posed by his assertion that the medium is the message. Confusion is working in his favor because there is no clean way to explain his aphorism. In a sense, his own fame as a pop culture icon and hipster writer is due entirely to the anarchy he creates, not the clarity he provides. Everyone is talking about what he means, but nobody is really sure, and no one wants to admit that. Though I suspect he is sincere, I also suspect a bit of the “emperor’s new clothes” syndrome: I can be hip and cool by offering to explain McLuhan’s fabulously intelligent, but totally unintelligible, bumper sticker slogan. I also suspect that if he had tried to create confusion and chaos on purpose that he would have never succeeded. His success lies in his genuine earnestness, his ability to perceive major changes in human communication, and his intuition about how those changes would change human beings, the way they interact, and the way they perceive the world around them. Twitter may be the medium, but the message constantly changes. Does Twitter as a medium “mean” anything? Probably, but those speculations are probably best left to the prophets, a couple of pop star icons, mystics, philosophers and Silicon Valley gurus.