Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Tedium is the Message

Cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan died in 1980 but his ideas live on, as does his cameo in Woody Allen's Annie Hall. Responsible for the popular expressions 'global village' and 'the medium is the message', he was also said to have predicted the world wide web (but then again so did Douglas Adams and Arthur C Clarke).

With technology moving so fast and now a central part of every aspect of our lives, 'the medium is the message' (and massage – McLuhan was fond of a pun or two) has become more relevant than ever. Essentially meaning that the content of the message is less important than the vessel in which it is expressed, this can be seen in new technology such as mobile phones, DVDs, iPads and the internet – more specifically new media sites like YouTube, Twitter* and Facebook, where bland pronouncements seem to be the order of the day. These sites are so restrictive** yet give the impression we're able to fully express ourselves and the world around us.

*Trey Pennington, 46, social media guru, shot himself in a church car park two days ago. He had six children and a great career in social media. He had 111,405 Twitter followers (though he was following almost as many, which surely can't be cool) and his last Tweet, hours before his death, was 'Sure am thankful for online friends who are real friends offline, too. Love you'†. In hindsight, this sounds a bit insincere. And gives no indication of how many of his online friends are actually real friends. In hindsight, presumably, none. Apparently Trey was depressed; his twenty-five year marriage was at an end. With all his virtual friends did he really have no one to turn to?

News of his death has spread around the web, with some sites saying Pennington 'died unexpectedly' (aren't most deaths unexpected?) and various virtual 'friends' of Trey's writing blogs about his suicide; one refers to it as an 'exit strategy', another adds 'Trey Pennington may have been depressed. Most suicidal people are.' Another blogger, shocked at the news, couldn't understand it: after all, 'Trey's online persona was amazing'.

†Dying people's last words are more likely to be spoken‡ (unless it's a suicide note) rather than written^ or typed but with people now communicating more via social network sites than in person, typing may well become more fashionable than speaking if people are going to be on their own with their phone, PC, laptop or tablet in their last moments.

‡Last week a woman died in a car accident whilst on a mobile phone. Her last words to her husband just seconds before the crash were, 'I think I've made a terrible mistake'. Which seems quite a surprisingly sensible, rational thing to say in the circumstances. In that situation my last words would be 'OOhhh ffffuuuuucccckkkk!!!'

^Trivia buffs may be interested to learn the last thing Walt Disney did before he died was write the words 'Kurt Russell'. Yes, that Kurt Russell from Big Trouble in Little China, who was a child star at the time, 1966.

**What is it with Facebook's 'Like' button? Like just seems such so bland, no committal (what's happened to love and hate?). Though it seems many people like it, including an Israeli couple who named their child 'Like' after it.

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