Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Social media - is the medium still the message?

I haven't used media-sharing much (at all) and I was having a hard time coming up with something to say for this post. I thought back to my initial introducation to YouTube, by my then-middle school-aged son. I never went on it much myself - I just depended on him sharing his discoveries with me. As a result, I saw a lot of music videos, urban ninja videos, and monkey food diary entries which were amusing but didn't exactly knock me out with their potential.

Then one day he needed to change the strings on his guitar. The trouble was he hadn't done it before and the strings on an electric guitar are not quite as accessible as the ones on an acoustic guitar. My suggestion was to wait until his next lesson (a week away) and ask his guitar teacher to show him how to do it. His solution was to look at YouTube. Within minutes he had a video demonstration (well, several actually) by an accomplished guitarist demonstrating quite clearly and precisely how to do the job. I was pretty impressed!

I still haven't used it much, mostly because I haven't had a need for it. The trouble, though, is that unless I do use it enough to be familiar with it, I won't recognize the need when it walks in front of me. That's what makes some of this so difficult - finding the time to learn about new technology is difficult unless you actively make the time, knowing that once you've made the time and learned it you'll find all sorts of interesting things to do with it.

But if you're the sort who gets excited about all the new possibilities (and you probably are, or you wouldn't be spending all this time on your own just to learn how it works) and you're not in a position to be able to put what you learn to some productive use, it can easily lead to discouragement and frustration.

Anyway, I was pondering and pondering about what to write for this post and the thought suddenly came to me of Marshall McLuhan. Now, the only thing I actually remember about Marshall McLuhan was a four-part (I think) article that he wrote for The Mother Earth News, probably in the early 1970s on the topic of television and what it might all mean for us.

So, I jumped to Wikipedia and had a look for Marshall McLuhan and, sure enough, I found him there. The really interesting thing that I found in the article was this:

McLuhan's theory was that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not by the content delivered over the medium, but by the characteristics of the medium itself. McLuhan pointed to the light bulb as a clear demonstration of this concept. A light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, yet it is a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. He describes the light bulb as a medium without any content. McLuhan states that "a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence."[38] More controversially, he postulated that content had little effect on society –- in other words, it did not matter if television broadcasts children's shows or violent programming, to illustrate one example -– the effect of television on society would be identical. He noted that all media have characteristics that engage the viewer in different ways; for instance, a passage in a book could be reread at will, but a movie had to be screened again in its entirety to study any individual part of it.

Well, this is truly fascinating, especially when you consider that it was written in 1964! I read on to find that in a later book he went further to say:

Finally, McLuhan described key points of change in how man has viewed the world and how these views were changed by the adoption of new media. "The technique of invention was the discovery of the nineteenth [century]", brought on by the adoption of fixed points of view and perspective by typography, while "[t]he technique of the suspended judgment is the discovery of the twentieth century", brought on by the bard abilities of radio, movies and television.[42]

I haven't got any farther ahead in using social media-sharing, but I've sure added something to my to-be-read pile!


Jeff Utecht said...

You bring up YouTube as an example of social media...and it is a very good one.

But what about sites like that now host over 100 million creative commons photos that anyone can use and remix.

Or what about (this weeks focus) podcasting where you can go to universities such as MIT, Harvard, Michigan State, Yale, just to name a few through the iTunes U link.

Spend some time this week going through the iTunes store and find something personal or professional to subscribe to...they are all free and most are of high quality.

This is social media beyond YouTube. This is what is killing newspapers, magazines, and the TV. As I write this the NBC Nightly News is downloading to my computer in the background. I'll connect my computer to the TV here in a bit and just as if I was in the States watch the nightly news just time shifted a couple hours...all free...all legal...all through iTunes.

How does access to this information change teaching?

How does access to this information change learning?

Marilyn Bott said...

You're absolutely right, Jeff. There is a much greater world out there than just YouTube. When I said I hadn't used media-sharing much I guess what I should have said was that I hadn't produced anything much.

The thoughts were really just a reflection on my personal turning point - the point at which I realized there had been such a radical shift from providing a means for self-expression and personal entertainment to media-sharing as an entirely new educational and information-sharing medium that embraces education, personal involvement and collaboration. And, how my awareness of that was reinforced by what I read in the McLuhan excerpt.

There is an astounding variety of material available now via podcasts and other sharing methods, but more profound and yet unknown changes are being wrought just by the existence of the medium itself - by the things we're now able to do but couldn't before.