Media, Messages, and Subjectivity

Monday, March 10th, 2014 by lola192

I’ve just read McLuhan and my head hurts a little. It’s possible that my headache is a result of sleepiness due to Daylight Savings robbing me of an hour of sleep. However, it’s much more likely that I find McLuhan confusing and a little goofy. Consequently, I have lots of questions and very little in the way of answers. My post may get a little convoluted, but, hey, it may also make you think.

McLuhan states that, “It is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” and that the “medium is the message”. If McLuhan is correct and the medium is indeed the message, and if that medium does control the way readers respond to it, is there any room for subjectivity? If the medium is the message, then we need to learn how to read the message. If we fail to read the medium correctly, does the message becomes confused, fragmented, or possibly lost completely? As I mentioned in class last week, when reading a piece of digital literature or a text like Riddell’s Writing Surfaces, I frequently find myself imagining their content hanging on the walls of a contemporary art museum or gallery. I do so in order to access them in such a way that my traditional training in literature prevents.  Does that thinking process alter the message I receive from the medium? If so, can media be subjective? It seems counter-intuitive to say, “yes, it can”, but if the medium, rather than the content displayed by that medium, is the message, then surely different readers will unavoidably get various messages from the medium? Furthermore, if I am having to imagine one medium, i.e. book or computer screen, as another, i.e. pieces of modern art, in order to read it, am I reading the medium incorrectly and thus problematising the message? Or, does McLuhan allow for variations in how one reads and thus understands the medium as the message?

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