Friday, October 17, 2008

media, medium, me

Last night I read a post by a particularly insightful guy questioning "to what extent news is news." He was deliberating movement in the market in relation to alleged news-- asking, to what extent is news embedded in the market...

With real-time technologies and more "social" ones at that, the role of "news" and/or "media" fluctuate.

I was thinking about this while listening to an outstanding presentation by Marcel LeBrun, CEO of Radian6 today. Marcel opened his talk with Marshall McLuhan's thoughts on "the medium as the message." Idea being, the medium, social technology in his case, has a larger societal impact than the messages contained in/on the medium. Marcel went on to talk about the richness of what he refers to as the "social phone," or social web in all its opportunities for participation.

Interestingly this same idea came up in David Matthia's comment in response to Peter Kim's post questioning the value of Influencer lists. Referring to Influencer lists as 'fad-ish', he suggests the real trend is in the influence of the medium-- in organizing and supporting groups (drastically simplified, but similar to what is discussed on David's blog, The Root Trend).

This is all particularly interesting to me because I don't necessarily think of the social web as a medium... Not that I'm the first to suggest this. I don't argue the richness, opportunity, or profound role of the technology in the markets or society, I just don't think of it as a medium. Still, I wonder about its role-- current and future.


Marcel LeBrun said...

Hi Kate,

It was a pleasure to meet you in Austin. I'll check out David M's blog as well.

McLuhan defined a medium very broadly including anything which extends our senses and enables communications. He even considered a light bulb to be a medium (one without content) because it enables people to create a space or environment at night that would otherwise be nothing but darkness - he said, "a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence." He equated a medium to an environment where communications takes place.

I look forward to chatting with you more in the future.

kate said...

Thanks, Marcel-- I like the breadth of that definition and its relevance to the collaborative space that technology enables today.

Jacquelyn said...

Super interesting, Kate... I have such a McLuhan crush.

Peter Kim referred me over to you from here - I'm a first year PhD student stalking the social media experience, and also a marketer by trade. I'm currently working on a paper and looking for any academic references around the usage of factors he speaks of in that post. Do you by any chance have any recommendations?

Let me know - - and thanks so much!

Tim Walker said...

Hiya, Kate.

One question: what would disqualify the social web from being a medium?

kate said...

Tim, I think medium has taking on a shallow meaning as a vehicle for marketing messages. People think of a medium along the lines of paid media. What I liked about what Marcel added is that McLuhan's definition was so broad-- any environment where communications take place. I think that's genius: more about social interactions than broadcast. Given your background, can you comment on the history of the concept?

Tim Walker said...

Sorry I'm getting back to this belatedly, Kate.

I like McLuhan's definition of medium, even if it's not the same as the prevailing one used in the field of media history. Physical conversation is a medium. Our choice of clothing can be a medium. Town criers from hundreds of years ago were a type of medium. And then there are also the modern *mass* media -- which, yes, is what we usually mean when we talk about the media in business terms.

In my view, the grand challenge of the social media (very much in the plural!) is that they blur the traditionally clear lines between personal media (like conversation or fashion choices) and mass media (like radio or movies). Given the nature of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, et cetera, it requires virtually no effort to shift from one to the other -- and in fact, users often don't even think about the shifts.

These are just some musings, not a real thesis. What do you think?