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Marshall McLuhan’s (1911–1980) famous dictum—‘The medium is the message’—strikes a special chord today, as rapidly developing information technology has engendered a large number of media platforms and formats such as online newspapers, news websites, blogs, YouTube, Wikipedia, citizen journalism, we media and data journalism.
Prof. Clement So of CUHK’s School of Journalism and Communication explains that for McLuhan, technologies (the media) but not the content of communication are the messages themselves. Modern media are extensions of the human senses. Each communication medium has certain ‘massaging’ effect on the human sensorium. The audience may find the medium soothing and enjoyable, or deceiving and intoxicating depending on the type of media concerned. Hence the title of a later book by McLuhan co-authored with graphic designer Quentin Fiore—The Medium is the Massage (1967).
The media are so pervasive in all aspects of people’s lives that there is no way to hide from them. Technology has gradually taken over people’s lives, controlling their work routines, social rhythms and even spare time. Professor So gave an example: ‘The mobile phones and smart watches have made themselves indispensable to us. These devices monitor our time and diary, keep us connected with one another, give us all sorts of information, check on our health status, guide our ways on the road, keep us company by providing entertainment, etc.’
Professor So regards the Internet as the most important technological invention in the age we live in. By his count, Web 1.0 started in 1995 and was defined by online media and ‘computer first’. Web 2.0 emerged around 2009 and was characterized by social media and ‘digital first’. Web 3.0 came to the scene in about 2013 and gave us mobile media and ‘mobile first’. Web 4.0 is now on the horizon and likely to be powered by artificial intelligence.
While fully aware of the risk of surrendering our control, privacy and freedom, Professor So is equally optimistic of what the future holds for us: ‘For us to better adapt and thrive in this technology driven world, we have to become more tech savvy and forward-looking. Technology literacy has to be promoted for people of all ages, and we should be psychologically ready to embrace the brave new world.’
This article was originally published in No. 531, Newsletter in Jan 2019.