• Posted: May 19, 2008 13:15:19
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About the time the above image was made, a book was being discussed within intellectual circles. The book was authored by Canadian sociologist Marshall McLuhan and called "The Medium is the Message". The book was not a formal academic treatise but one of a new breed of books intended to popularize certain aspects of contemporary academic theory and debate. McLuhan's thesis, as presented in the book, was that the world was entering upon a new age in history wherein the scale and immediacy of mass communications would forever change the social landscape. The obvious face of that new landscape at the time was, of course, TV and to a lesser extent radio. Cell phones, the Internet, iPods, and personal computers had not yet been invented. Even so, McLuhan was not wrong. Mass communications have altered the social landscape.
It was amusing to read the faces of people working in media at the time, a smirk on their faces and glint in their eyes as if just having been handed the keys to a brand new 427 Corvette. They felt important. They felt powerful. They felt invincible. Disgusting to look back now over the succeeding four decades and realize how depraved and irresponsible we've all been both wielding and enjoying such power. With the clarity and wisdom of hindsight, the intervening period might justly be labeled "the age of exploitation", because that is most certainly what all that power has been used for, and little else. Every aspect of vain insecure human psychology and gullibility has been leveraged and milked to mindlessly exploit every conceivable human and environmental resource in the service of greed. It is a crime to which we are all complicit, and we remain so to this very day. Sadly, there is precious little hint of substantive change in sight, the prospect of $500/barrel oil perhaps.
I remember thinking at the time I first read McLuhan's book: "But what about content?" It was not an irrelevant question then and I continue to struggle trying to answer the same question today. Regardless of intention, the consequence of communication is what has actually been communicated. And the measure of consequence must be system-wide, not just personal. Anything less would be immoral, a betrayal of community. Hence, content should always be of and about community, all that serves, informs, and reinforces community. And not community that is separatist, but community that is inclusive, enlightened, self-aware, and bent upon evolving sustainably. There is no other fully moral direction to take.
And yet, the tease continues. And we all continue to fall victim to it.