You may be familiar with the title of this blog post as it comes from the works of Marshall McLuhan, a prominent Canadian philosopher. He specialized in the area of communications theory at the University of Toronto and spoke at length about media and its effect on society, locally and globally. His claim that the medium is the message describes how the medium by which information is transmitted ultimately reorganizes human behaviour. The idea emerged during the transition of mass media transmission from radio to television, but applies to all other mediums such as printed words, telephones, texting, movies, and the internet. Indeed, there are more mediums from which to transmit information and communications than McLuhan could have imagined as he died in 1980. His ideas hold more weight today than ever.
To expand on the concept, the advent of the printing press allowed for literacy to emerge as a normative experience. Literacy changed the way the individual received information about the world. Before the printing press, individuals derived their understanding of events and life experiences through others by oral tradition, or sermon. The printing press provided a choice to disband from the community into individual contemplation. As literacy became standardized, individuals were able to question the information received through oral tradition and extend their relationship with history and the imagined future. Instead of relying on institution and the wealthy to be the sole inspiration of our human experience, thoughts, creativity, historical perspective, and in essence the human narrative was becoming democratized. Individuals were able to construct their own plays, journals, poetry, fictions, research, and with each published work, develop new industry and physical structures as testaments of the effects of the new medium: the printed word. In the same way, the internet has shifted humans in how we communicate with one another. A global culture has begun to emerge through the medium of the internet, and a collective consciousness extends our relationship to “the other”. Our social lives are now intimately connected to screened devices, giving humans the choice to connect to others through electronics rather than having to share physical space, therefore retribalizing by democratizing the social experience in a global arena.
In my blogging history, I have written about the phenomenon of presence, a state generated through virtual reality (VR) whereby the audience’s sensory experience has been transported to a virtual space. This new medium, VR, in conjunction with the internet, will and has already begun changing how humans organize. Social media has become a vessel of unprecedented influence in many aspects of life, from changing our eating habits, our day to day routines, to providing a global stage for outrage and political mobilization. Once these elements merge with a more globalized physiological experience through the medium of VR, the change in our social fabric will be dramatic.
As psychotherapists, it is critical to consider our clients and ourselves within the context of the larger scheme. After all, what is empathy without the recognition of the individual within their lived experience?
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA