Medium as Environment

I had a small revelation, a nice bit of understanding, while reading on the train earlier tonite. This is from an article called Towards an Ecology of Understanding (which I’m pretty sure I discovered though the McLuhan Misunderstood paper that was posted a few weeks ago), which is a fantastic article:

Over and over I’ve talked to groups and individuals about new technology as new environment. Content of new environment is old environment. The new environment is always invisible. Only the content shows, and yet only the environment is really active as shaping force.

The content of a medium is always older mediums. And the latest, newest medium is the active shaping force of society because we are unaware of its effects – we can’t act any choice on them. So long as this is the case, development of society is out of our control. Society is in the backseat, along for the ride & paying the gas fare, as media technology sits behind the wheel, advancing for its own goals.

Medium and Message is a relationship directly linked to development and progression. It’s the image of Vygotsky again, and his ZPD with the boundaries of Potential and Completed. Except, as a collection of people, compared to one single human, development is so much more difficult to autonomously shape…probably because at that level of distinction, consciousness is a lot less lucid or focused.

One way out of this abusive Medium and Message relationship is to diminish the idea of progression. To stop thinking that a car is better than a horse, that an iPhone17 is better than an iPhone16, and that this year’s model is better than last year’s. Seeing, as a default, available technology as a spectrum of tools, ready for use depending on the situation and need, will make you more aware of the effect of any medium, old or new. This will clarify the choices both in and of environment.

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