If Marshall McLuhan’s “the media is the message” is to believed then, at least when it comes to technology driven interpersonal communication, we have reached a state of non-messaging.
Lately, I’ve been sending emails into the ether. Literally.
It’s become so easy to ignore an email. You’d think it would be so simple to bang out a reply, even a line or two, and yet often people don’t. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t guilty of this myself. At best, if you think about it, it’s just another way to ignore something we don’t want to deal with. Or, at worst, someone we don’t want to deal with.
It used to be you would ignore voicemail “oh I never got it” and before that it was ignoring answering machines “weird, I never got your message” and before that it was not answering the phone “oh you called?” and before that it was not replying to a letter and…well, who knows before that, but rest assured there was some way to ignore a communique.
The best intentions get laid to rest.
There is a small window of opportunity to reply. The immediacy in which we think we must reply to an email, for example, overshadows the very simple human decency of just replying, however uncomfortable or awkward it may be. Fact: there is no real-time limit on replying to an email. Perhaps there is some sort of rule I am unaware of (and I am sure some business consultant has built an empire on proper email etiquette), but given the immediacy of the medium, I am of the opinion that you should, and strive to, reply to most, if not all, of them. At least the personal ones.
What about the urgency of text messaging?
The speed of text messaging is almost hard to ignore and people get pissed when you do; even when the text doesn’t necessitate a reply. There is almost no way to dodge those…and yet we still do. Again, guilty as charged. But here again, you can reply as late in the day as you wish…and you probably should.
And fuck all, the proliferation of emoji’s. We’re reaching a point where, despite all the technological advances, we’re communicating using only emoji’s. God knows I have received text messages that are just emoji’s and, I am almost ashamed to say, I knew what the person was communicating. If we think about it, this is exactly how cavemen communicated. We bang out images on our smart phone the way they painted them on their walls.
If we continue this trend, we’re doomed.
In his benchmark work, Understanding Media, McLuhan speaks of the idea of a “hot” medium and a “cool” medium where a “…cool medium like hieroglyphic or ideogrammic written characters has very different effects from the hot and explosive medium of the phonetic alphabet.” If we are to believe McLuhan, this cool medium can bring “a lifelong state of psychic rigor mortis, or of somnambulism, particularly observable in new technology.” YIKES!
So not only do we have to worry about a society where there is the potentiality of hyper communication: where we are connected, at least in theory, yet we can ignore one another so completely; but also one where we turn into zombies (you’ll need to look up the definition of somnambulism to get the reference).
Media is the message and, from what I can tell, the message appears to be rather grim.