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Chapter 1: The Medium is the Message (Amusing Ourselves to Death)

Chapter 1: The Medium is the Message

The more we use symbols, the more our physical reality diminishes.

Instead of dealing with things directly, man has entered into a state of constant conversation with himself. He is so enveloped in linguistic forms, artistic images, and mythical symbols that he cannot see or know anything without the interposition of an artificial medium.

What is strange about these interpositions is that we rarely notice them. A person who reads books or watches television is not usually interested in how his mind is organized and controlled by these activities.

Clocks

Lewis Mumford wrote a great book titled Technics and Civilization. He shows how in the 14th century, the clock turned us into time-keepers, then into time savers, and now time-servers. In the process, we have become irreverent towards the sun and seasons – our only authority is made up of seconds and minutes.

Indeed, as Mumford points out, with the invention of the clock, Eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events. And thus, though few would have imagined the connection, the inexorable ticking of the clock may have had more to do with the weakening of God’s supremacy than all the treatises produced by the philosophers of the Enlightenment; that is to say, the clock introduced a new form of conversation between man and God, in which God appears to have been the loser.

The Written Word

Northrop Fry, the great literary critic has remarked, “the written word is far more powerful than simply a reminder: it re-creates the past in the present, and gives us, not the familiar remembered thing, but the glittering intensity of the summoned-up hallucination.”

What Plato said about the consequences of writing is now understood by anthropologists, especially those who have studied cultures where speech is the only form of communication. They understood that the written word is not just an echo of a speaking voice.

It is another kind of voice altogether, a conjurer’s trick of the first order. It must certainly have appeared that way to those who invented it, and that is why we should not be surprised that the Egyptian god Thoth, who is alleged to have brought writing to the King Thamus, was also the god of magic.

Metaphors

Metaphors fix images of things onto our minds, so that we can’t imagine one thing without the other. Examples: Light is a wave, God is a wise man, the mind is a dark cavern illuminated by knowledge.

But our media metaphors are not so explicit, and more complex.

To comprehend the metaphorical function, we have to consider many aspects about information: its symbolic form, its source, speed, and context within which it is being experienced.

It takes effort to understand that…

the clock recreates time as an independent mathematically precise sequence, that writing recreates the mind as a tablet on which experience is written, that the telegraph recreates news as a commodity.

Nature, intelligence, or human motivation is not see as things in themselves, but only as our languages are.

And our languages are our media. Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show BusinessChapter 1: The Medium is the Message (Amusing Ourselves to Death) 1

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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