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ITP Classes (old posts, page 14)

"The Medium is the Message," by Marshall McCluhan

Marshall McCluhan begins his 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man with the paradoxical statement that “the medium is the message.” He argues that the specific content being communicated is less important than the medium through which people communicate.

He cites as an example, a simple light bulb. The light bulb is a medium without a message, but is overlooked as a communication medium because it “has no ‘content.’” If many light bulbs spell out a word, the word is the ‘content’ and becomes the focus of our attention. The light bulbs are the medium, even though the light bulbs haven’t changed.

This still seems paradoxical and unsatisfying. It is helpful to consider what he means when he uses the term “medium” and “message.”

He defines a “message” as “the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs”. The message isn’t a set of facts or banal statements, it is an impact on human behavior and interaction.

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"As We May Think," by Vannevar Bush

Vannevar Bush was an American engineer and inventor who was head of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II. In this role he oversaw all of the military research and development, coordinating the activities of large numbers of scientists, engineers, and thinkers of his time to build weapons of war, including the Manhattan Project.

Before the war the scientists and engineers were often in competition with each other for new discoveries, or they were willing to collaborate but unable to find out about each other’s work and learn from other people’s ideas.

Because of the war, many people came together to work towards a common goal, leading to rapid advancements in many fields. Vannevar would have certainly realized the value of the increased collaboration and how much more can be accomplished when the previous barriers were removed.

In 1945, the War was coming to a close. In his essay As We May Think, Vannevar expressed his concerns that the productivity of the scientific and engineering communities would decline as the pre-war barriers returned. He wanted to see the collaboration continue, but for the betterment of humankind, not the pursuit of destruction.

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Networked Media

Networked Media, taught by Shawn Van Every.

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