McLuhan’s Thoughts And How They May Relate To Twitter

By | 15/08/2007

“The simultaneity of electric communication, also characteristic of our nervous system, makes each of us present and accessible to every other person in the world. To a large degree, our co-presence everywhere at once in the electric age is a fact of passive, rather than active, experience. Actively we are more likely to have this awareness when reading the newspaper or watching a tv show.”

Marshall McLuhan – 1964

Marshall McLuhan was well known for a period because of the theories he developed but over time he went into disrepute as people lost interest in his ideas. When the Internet and a new form of interaction with it, the World Wide Web came to be so McLuhan’s theories would once again become more relevant, at which point people began reading and studying his works, adapting them to this day and age.  I particularly the quote above. “makes each of us present and accessible to every other person in the world” describes twitter succinctly. When you have some free time later in the day take a look at twittervision and you will have a graphic representation of what McLuhan was talking about.

He began his discussion by talking about communication and how it sped up, especially at the beginning of this century. He speaks about how some of the worst dictators had direct communications to their soldiers therefore doubt was out of the question. In effect, there is no greater authority. Of course, this is one example. On the other side, we have a tremendous force for achieving great progress.

Anyone that currently uses twitter knows one thing. At any time of day or night, you will see a global conversation going on. Those who are in Asia easily speak to those in Europe and those in Europe easily speak to those in America. In fact, technology goes two steps further. The first of these steps is the short message system. By its very nature, Twitter is more like the telegraph than other technologies. 140 characters to get your point across. It’s short. It’s quick to access and it’s easy to spread. The second point is that it’s mobile. You write your message and send it from anywhere and people all over the world may see your thoughts.

A result of this is the friendships that can form. I’m in Europe and most of my twitters are read in Europe since most of the people up a the same time as me are in the same time zone as me but there is an overspill whereby Americans get access. Look at my twitter list and you’ll see that people in South Africa, North America, and Europe are following me and I’m following them. In effect, this brings me to the second quote.

“Electrical media however, abolish the spatial dimension, rather than enlarge it. By electricity, we everywhere resume person-to-person relations as if on the smallest village scale. It is a relation in depth, and without delegation of functions of powers. The organic everywhere supplants the mechanical. Dialogue supersedes the lecture. The greatest dignitaries hobnob with you.

Marshall McLuhan – 1964

As a result of high-speed internet access and mobile telephony I can listen to the discussion of anyone around the world as long as they chose to use twitter and conversely everyone can listen to what I have to say. As a result of this state of being there is a global medium bringing people closer together. Ev Williams, the creator of twitter is currently on around the world trip and he tweets what he’s up to frequently therefore a global audience is kept up to date. Friends who live in London twitter and I see what they’re doing and when they’re doing it. I can see how they’re feeling and I spot character traits. What’s more, Twitter is one of the most personal mediums I know. The twitter community is a worldwide group of people who like to keep each other informed about what they do, whether it’s their latest blog post, their most recent job interview, or the fact they’re tired and need to sleep.

That’s where the village comes into the equation. When you’re writing a blog post you’re an author. You must keep in mind who you are writing for. If you’re writing about how much you hate to sit in classrooms then keep in mind that both employers and teachers may find out how you feel. That audience expects the best you have to offer. In contrast, Twitter is temporary. What I wrote this morning is no longer relevant. What I wrote three hours is less relevant. What I write now is highly relevant. Now how does the village element come in?

A village is a small gathering of people who live in relatively close proximity. If the neighbour is in the garden reading a book you know about it. If they’re preparing a trip you’ll see the signs. If there’s a football game you’ll also know about it. In other words, there’s a great deal of familiarity and collective experience. This creates a strong sense of community. Go for a walk in a village and you’ll say hello to everyone. Go to the shops and there’s a chance either you or the person in front of you will chat with the cashier. That’s part of village life. It’s the same with twitter. Jeff Pulver says good morning to the world, Justin and Justine just take the world with them and Loudmouthman says goodnight. All of this is familiar.

In some respects, you could say it’s like instant messaging but on a global scale and without restrictions.

The third and final point is one of the hot topics at the moment as the news media need to re-invent themselves.

” The telegraph quickly weakened this center-margin pattern and, more important, by intensifying the volume of news, it greatly weakened the role of editorial opinions. News had steadily overtaken views as shaper of public attitudes….”

I chose this quote because of its relevance to the debate that is now taking place almost fourty years later. He goes into how important the telegraph was for getting the news to the masses and how there was a decline in the need for opinions since the news could be delivered straight to the people without opinion being delivered. In effect, the audience would be given the chance to read the facts and make up their own minds about what’s important. With digital media and the progression of online news so we find that people get most of their news as soon as it happens. As a result of this trend newspapers that focussed solely on getting people the facts about events would need, once more to go for the writing of opinions and editorials.

There’s a chance we’re living in one of the most interesting time periods for anyone working in the media.

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