Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Crashing the Gate

The Message and the Tubes

"The medium is the message" - Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964

When McLuhan said that, it revolutionized the way media was looked at, and it still inspires thinking about the media today. But what does it mean for the new media? I think looking at feedback and gatekeeping -- and how they are different for old and new media -- is a good start at getting at the message in the tubes.

Feedback in the New Media

For old media -- tv or newspapers, for example -- feedback options are limited. Yes, you can write to the network or organize a boycott, but there is very little opportunity for direct feedback. And bits of direct feedback that get through, such as letters to the editor, do not share the same prominence as the content which inspired them.

New media has feedback in abundance, of course, and not only is it direct, it is also diffuse. Feedback is out in the open. Comments in response to a video on YouTube or to embedded video in blog post are just right there, with the original content. Feedback becomes new content itself. A viewer who is so inspired can make a video in response. A video in response. Video as a medium is not as mediated any longer. The gate has been crashed.

The New Gatekeepers

I am helping someone I know in RL with the commercial he is making for the MoveOn contest -- a :30 piece in support of the candidate MoveOn members voted to endorse. Here is an example of the new media at work: not corporations, not PR and advertising firms, massaging the message, putting out that one-way signal with indirect feedback.

No, it's people. Who this country is made of, and for. Making videos -- little thirty second videos in this case -- one of which could end up on the air. And the content of those videos is mediated, not through a corporate gatekeeper, but through a volunteer organiziation: netroots, the people.

And in the case of YouTube and blogs, the old gatekeepers don't have any more say: your message gets out when the people get it out.

The Medium is the Message

These changes in the media change the way we interact with the medium -- and with the content, and with the world. When direct feedback is a part of the landscape, we see ourselves differently, and we participate in the media differently. When we are the gatekeepers, we are the media. If the global village arises out of McLuhan's new media -- that is, the tv and the radio -- then the empowerment of the global villagers arises out of the convergence of those old new-media with the new new media -- that is, video and voice and of course text -- on the internet.

And what is the message: "We are here!" or, "Yes, we can!", or "Vote Obama", or "Vote Clinton"? Nah. That's the content. The message is the revolution.

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