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Week 21: Introduction to Media/Medium Theory. February 20, 2014. Lets think about medium theory…. The model of medium theory proposes that the most significant cultural and social effects of media derive from the intrinsic properties of the media themselves. (John Potts ). Medium Theory.

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lets think about medium theory
Lets think about medium theory…
  • The model of medium theory proposes that the most significant cultural and social effects of media derive from the intrinsic properties of the media themselves. (John Potts)
medium theory
Medium Theory
  • The radical and most challenging aspect of [medium] theory resides in the idea that the technology of the medium will affect the cognitive functions of those who use it (John Potts)
  • Our job today is then to distinguish causal or determining actions from those that prepare the way or make something possible.
how do we understand our relationship to media technology
How do we understand our relationship to media technology?

How do we begin to theorize and understand our relationship to media – to the different ways and means by which information is transmitted.

  • Do we conform our way of living to media technologies (Technology shapes us)
  • Does social change drive the development of new media technologies? (We shaped technology)
how do we study media
How do we study media?

Another way to think about this debate?

  • Impact media has on society
  • Impact society has on media

For example: The Internet

medium theory an intro
Medium Theory an intro…
  • Medium theory is interested on the impact technology has had on our social lives and on culture
  • Medium theory examines how media and communication technology has ‘structuring effects’ on society and consciousness
    • how we live
    • what we do
    • how we think
what is the relationship between media and society
What is the relationship between media and society?
  • If…media has structuring effects
  • Then…“medium theory foregrounds media technology, identifying the cultural impacts flowing from the properties inherent in technologies” (1).
    • In other words medium theory is interested in the role technology plays and the impact it has our everyday lives.
for example
For example…

For Plato

  • During Plato’s lifetime, writing was still new media as it had only been used extensively for a few generations in Ancient Greece

“If men learn writing, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder” (Plato Phaedrus.)

plato cont
Plato cont…
  • Therefore, in his work on Phaedrus, Plato warned of the negative effects of a new media technology—writing
  • Today – Isn’t Facebook ruining intimacy??
versus nietzsche
Versus Nietzsche

Nietzsche 1882

Our writing instruments [the typewriter] contribute to our thoughts.

  • In both instances, media technology is understood as having a structuring effect on consciousness
  • In other words, as media technologies change, profound cultural effects ensue both in the individual psyche and in broader social formations
who crystalized media theory
Who crystalized Media Theory?

‘Toronto School’?

  • For about 20 years—from the late 1940s to 1960s—the University of Toronto was home to the world’s most innovative ideas on media and communication
  • Included the work of Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Jack Goody and Ian Watt, Walter J. Ong, Elizabeth Eisenstein, Friedrich Kittler and Joshua Meyrowitz
their insights
Their insights…
  • To foreground the role of media technology in the study of society and culture
  • Communication systems structure both human cultures and the human mind
  • Definite social states and modes of perception (psychic states) are facilitated by different media forms
what did they study
What did they study?
  • For Innis, he was interested in the ‘bias of communication’i.e. how a dominant media form (orality or literacy) effected political and economic formations
  • McLuhan was interested in the effects of media on perception
    • i.e. how particular psychic states (ways of perceiving things) result from different media technologies
mcluhan
McLuhan
  • McLuhan was interested in the effects of media on perception
    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXJ8tKRlW3E
in a nutshell
In a nutshell?
  • Members of the Toronto school were interested in theories that help to explain what happens when there are significant changes in media technologies.
  • For example: with writing comes:
    • Analytical reasoning
    • Rational thought
    • Artificial memory
    • Precision
    • Linearity
    • Abstraction
medium theory cont
Medium Theory cont…
  • So, medium theory could allow us to conclude that the printing press was as an ‘agent of change’.
    • In politics
    • In Science
    • In Economics
    • In our own consciousness
    • Why? Because of all the ‘structuring effects’ on our minds that we just spoke about.
  • And then later... Merewitz argued that the television changed us too:
    • Favour emotion
    • Spectacle over argument
  • Therefore, each medium we have come to use has altered or changed our perception, our engagement
medium theory let s sum it up
Medium theory – Let’s sum it up
  • The message of any medium considers the structuring effect the media has on our everyday lives
  • Normally, in our everyday lives, we usually ask ‘what can we do with technology?’
    • Medium theory asks ‘what does media do with us?’
  • Medium theory explores the historical impact of communication technologies on modes of thinking, perceiving and behaving, and on larger political and economic formations
    • In other words, that different media have different qualities which have significant impacts on culture and society
the medium is the message
The Medium is the Message
  • Another way to think about structuring effects?
  • Medium theory argues that the Medium is the message.
    • Medium influences how the message will be perceived.
    • The form the message takes therefore matters
critiques of medium theory
Critiques of Medium Theory

At the heart of medium theory is the claim that communication technology has a strong influence on historical change and the construction of reality

This perspective is also called technological determinism

  • For some, this is too strong a claim and is seen as putting too much emphasis on media technology
technological determinism
Technological Determinism
  • The doctrine that social change is determined by technological invention
  • Critics argue that, while technology enables and constrains possibilities, other important factors must also be considered as agents of change
    • i.e. economics, politics, social formations
    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scnfYkd0a4w
cultural materialism
Cultural Materialism
  • Raymond Williams, an important 20th c. cultural theorist was a critic of medium theory
  • He accused McLuhan in particular of being a technological determinist
  • McLuhan stated:The medium is the message, Williams argued that the message is just as or more important then the medium
    • Where do we then situate agency? With technology or with society?
raymond williams cont
Raymond Williams cont…
  • For Williams, we cannot reduce social agency to a mere ‘effect’ of technology.
    • As such, Williams emphasizes the human or social dimensions of media technology
    • He saw technology as a means for those power relations to circulate
williams cont
Williams cont…
  • His famous 1975 book Television: Technology and Cultural Form examines the development of that media technology as social construction
  • Economic interest also shape technologies
why williams isn t completely right either
Why Williams isn’t completely right either

Let’s looks at the example of Edison’s invention of the phonograph.

some questions to ask williams
Some questions to ask Williams
  • Does technology always answer a pressing social need? For Edison the answer is no. There was NO need to record music
  • What role is played by the unique intrinsic properties of each medium? What can the machine do and allow us to do?
  • ***Can those properties create the conditions for the emergence of new social practices, and, in turn, social needs?
why was mcluhan right
Why was McLuhan right?
  • Those intrinsic qualities to new technologies to record sound and make more money!
and so
And so…
  • Media technologies do carry with them profoundly new possibilities
  • That is, media technology can be inscribed with the pre-conditions for cultural and social change
    • Yet our minds are preconditioned by existing media technologies
    • This commonly makes us initially blind to those possibilities