Is the medium really the message?
Technological determinism is the theory that aims to provide a causative link between technology and a society’s nature. According to the principles of this theory, the technology of a society determines its values, structure, history, etc. The progress of society is driven by technological innovation. The theory questions the degree to which human thought or action is influenced by technological factors. The communications theorist, Marshall McLuhan, said “the medium is the message”, meaning that the form in which society consumes a message determines the way the message is perceived.
McLuhan’s arguments about technological determinism are valid in the following ways:
- When we look at social media we often see this facade of the life you “should” be living. If you don’t own a mansion, get plastic surgery, drive a foreign car, or have a bank account with seven figures or more then you are behind in life. Social media is the medium, brought about by technological advancement, and the messages sent out through this medium directly impact society’s values and the structure of who is on top or in charge.
- Guns were created as a tool to aid in wars and disputes. The technology here is the link to the use of violence to solve your problems. When we consume the news there is often a story of how one simple argument escalated and resulted in death due to gun violence. This can be attributed to the subliminal message that having a gun makes you “invincible” or that you can “win” if you end your enemy’s life.
- The invention of the wheel revolutionized society’s mobility. The wheel allowed society to travel greater distances and continued to revolutionize the modes in which we traveled and transported goods. This had a direct and powerful impact on all of history.
McLuhan’s arguments can also be contradicted in the following ways:
- We have free will. We create these technologies and determine when and how we use them. No one forces us to listen to the messages thrown at us on a daily. We always have the choice to stop using the medium or change when, where, why, and how we interact with technology.
- Technological drift, which is the phenomenon that technology can have unintended or unexpected results and effects. Technology can be created to solve one problem but then the technology itself causes new problems. Although the technology may have moved society forward it can also regress in a way that isn’t beneficial to the improvement and advancement of society.
- The eradication of several diseases. The way of life has been drastically changed due to the technological development of medicines. People expect to live longer lives because conditions that used to be an issue no longer exist. The fear and anxiety these conditions have induced are now nonexistent because they no longer exist or we have medicines to combat the issues.