Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) coined the phrase “the medium is the message” in 1964 when he published his often-referenced book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. (Read a PDF of the chapter here: mcluhan.mediummessage )
His point is relevant today. Whether we are tweeting, posting selfies, or searching for the closest Starbucks, technology itself has changed the culture. It has changed how we communicate, what we talk about, our attention span, and, weirdly, it has spurred a fascination with cat videos.
The impact on the culture from the emergence of a new medium can be related to the emergence of studio portraits or vignettes on post cards after the Civil War and through the first part of the 20th C. These served the same purpose as early selfies to share a slice of your life with the people in your life.
Another manifestation from the art world of early selfies, were the tiny miniatures painted as a forget-me-not for travelers who were leaving home, hearth, and loved ones behind.
One of the most remarkable examples of “the medium is the message” is the flow motion video of Dubai, by Rob Whitworth. In the video he flies us through time and space in an almost unimaginable and magical journey into the culture as represented by its human-made spaces, the natural wonders of the desert, and its 21st C citizens with their toys.
More credits for the video, “Dubai Flow Motion” and links to Whitworth’s work are below.
The technique itself is as jaw dropping in some ways as the images. The novelty of this technique is probably as it was originally with photography, miniatures, Polaroids, smart phones, and so on. The first exposure to the new technology is breathtaking and can be life-changing.
Do you remember the first experience with technology that blew you away?
And, with our voracious appetite for the new, we will devour this technique and undoubtedly search out a fresh more exotic medium for our messages tomorrow. But today, it is astonishing.
At every step our culture itself is being impacted by the media, as well as the message. Three-year-old toddlers now touch many surfaces assuming, until proven otherwise, that many surfaces may be a touch screen and by touching it, the child anticipates entertainment.
Is this the quintessential example of the medium is the message?
Curious and rather jaw dropping itself, isn’t it?
To read more about another type of “selfie” read my two-part blog post on Silhouettes: “A Cut of Silhouette History” and “When Shape is the Thing.”
Dubai Flow Motion by Rob Whitworth:
Sound Design: Slava Pogorelsky