WATCHING Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance in the US Congress has brought to mind Marshall McLuhan’s theories. McLuhan, the most widely known medium theorist, is best known for his claim, “the medium is the message.” McLuhan argued that if the influence of the media interests us, then we should focus our attention on the ways each new medium reshapes social life. McLuhan was not contending about media content but about the ways the media extends our senses and alters our social world. He compared the “content” of a medium to “a juicy piece of meat carried by a burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind”.
In “Gutenberg Galaxy”, McLuhan concentrates on the shift from oral to print societies and cites that the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg reworked the balance of the senses, isolated, and highlighted certain senses at the expense of others. When people read (used the eyes), it intensified the visual and isolated it from other senses, like sound. McLuhan further said that print media developed the Western capitalist society that was bureaucratic and organized around mass production and an ideology of individualism.
Eventually, McLuhan paid attention to the electronic media and likewise argued that television helped reconnect the senses that were fragmented by print. This has been his basis for a perspective that lead to a utopian prediction of a “global village” based on how faster people can communicate regardless of the distance between them. McLuhan has furthered a progressive yet simple version of technological determinism that shows how each medium shapes our senses with inevitable outcomes. However, McLuhan’s prepositions oversimplifies the complexities of the media process and the message cannot be reduced to the medium.
McLuhan’s approach challenged perspectives in the same way that Zuckenberg and Facebook has recently encouraged discourse about social media and mediated interaction. The fallout on the data privacy scandal of Facebook stemmed from reports that Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm has illegally gained access to some 50 million profiles of Facebook users to use for strategizing election campaigns specially Donald Trump’s. For example, by collecting the total number of Facebook ‘likes’ by users, Cambridge Analytica was able to glean psychographic profiling and design messages with specific targets that helped Trump and even, Obama win the US presidential elections.
The social media, especially Facebook, has ‘rewoven’ social and cultural life in such a way that it even dictates interaction. New modes of communication has emerged by way of memes, GIF, net slang and netiquette. There seems to be a new sense of time and space where swiping left or up is akin to poking someone on the shoulder to catch attention.
However, the new forms of interaction that has very little connection to the physical world has made temporary even shorter and tiresome. To be digitally alive, one has to have presence across platforms not just Facebook. This means being brief on Twitter’s 140-character space, photogenic on Instagram, group conscious on Viber, sexy and available on Tinder and all that jazz. We have become so enmeshed in mediated experience that previous cultural forms of reading and rigorous thinking have been squeezed out. There is much interest on what’s trending and viral and blurring virtual with what is real.
To learn that our personal data has been leaked is sacrilegious but then again it is a human being’s prerogative how much information is to be shared to friends or to the Facebook ‘public’. Does everyone really have to know what you’ve eaten or will be eating? Or how big is that zit growing on your nose?
Though Zuckenberg has owned up to the major breach of trust, maybe we also examine how we’ve fooled ourselves to believe that washing dirty laundry in public should be trending.