Is The Medium Really The Message?

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AR-medium1.jpgFifty years ago, in 1964, Marshall McLuhan wrote one short sentence that rocked the world: "The medium is the message". It was the major thesis of his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, and what he meant by it was that the way a message (which could be any content at all) is delivered is a part of the content, and is (at least) as important as the content, itself.

Although he traced his theory back through the print media, television was the medium McLuhan was most concerned with, and, as he told it, the fact of television -- of being able at any time to immerse oneself in a particular kind of multi-sensory, non-linear, sight-and-sound experience, was changing society and changing the people who live in it.

Whether or not influenced by Marshall McLuhan, science fiction writer Norman Spinrad, in his 1969 novel, Bug Jack Barron, had the title character, Jack Barron, a television talk show host, think something much along the same line -- that, to his audience, which he regarded as "a bunch of do-nothing couch potatoes", his TV show was more real and of greater consequence than their own real lives.

AR-medium2.jpgFrankly, I think McLuhan had a genuinely brilliant understanding of media, but not the one that he wrote about: Instead, I think he understood perfectly how to coin a phrase and to create an idea that was just radical enough and just perverse enough that, like the Zen koan "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" it would grab people by the head; cause them (just as the victims of con men and hucksters always do), to believe that he had communicated to them some Great-Knowledge-With-Which-To-Comprehend-The- World, and, despite the fact that it had no real meaning or real-world application at all, to make him so famous that I would be writing about him even today, half a century later.

In short, I disagree with McLuhan's theory. I think that the MESSAGE is the message, but that doesn't mean that his catchy words have no application - especially to audio and audiophiles.

As I talk with people and read the media, whether print or online, what I keep finding is people who tell me that they are music lovers; that "It's all about the music"; that their systems or, if they're manufacturers, their products, exist "only to serve the music"; and that, beyond the music, nothing else matters.

AR-medium6.jpgBullsh*t. If the music is really all that matters, why don't they listen to it on a table radio or some fifty dollar "Hi-Fi"? If they did, would the music of the Beatles, Beethoven, B.B. King, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, or Garth Brooks be even one word or one note different? Of course not!

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