McLuhan was full of genius when he stated that “the medium is the message” (1) in a time when our humanistic tradition did not prepare us to understand the impact of technology onto our cognitive as much as social structures. As a matter of fact, it is easy to verify today that cell telephones or internet have become very powerful socialization’s tools, even when they transmit poor if not insignificant messages. Just think of chatting, or exchanges between young owners of cell telephones: Where are you? I am here. Me too. Let’s speak again later. (2) McLuhan’s intuition was provocative and meaningful in many aspects, but it was also too simple. And we have now to urgently revaluate the importance of contents, if we want to resist the alienating mass massage of mass media. We can’t afford neglecting any longer the importance of contents if we believe in the basic importance of rationalism and critical thinking.
Meanwhile we have also experienced a new step of media ecology. Media ecology is a human science dedicated to the study of media environments. The Media Ecology Association has proposed the following definition: “the study of media environments, the idea that technology and techniques, modes of information and codes of communication, play a leading role in human affairs”. It seems to me also that the history and the social and political context of development of those media, the kind of users or public they tend to reach, and the sociological analysis of their contents are very relevant to explain their nature, their success or limits, and their evolution. Media ecology has been developed by Neil Postman in a Program of media at
We cannot any more consider exclusively mass media communications in a time when self media emerge as powerful alternative. We observe that they are even able to create mass media events. Cell telephones and digital cameras offer now miniaturized webcams able to register any incident occurring in the street which you may casually attend. And the file may be easily sent, even in real time, thanks to internet, to popular websites such as Youtube, where they get accessible to everybody. These self media give to ordinary citizens, without any professional training or link to chief editors, the possibility to register and transmit crucial amateur’s videos from an airplane crash, from a natural disaster, from an excessive reaction of police, from the moves and behaviours of a well known personality, from a demonstration or a riot in the street. These video may soon be accessible around the world thanks to the web, and even attract the attention of large broadcasting television programs.
Allow us to mention here a typical example. We have seen recently how young people in Montreal, Québec, being excited by the victory of their Canadian hockey team, have decided to celebrate abusively in the streets, by breaking down show windows of shops and setting police cars on fire. It seems that they got even more excited by the possibility of filming themselves in action with their cell telephones. And being probably proud of such a transgressive spectacle, they have transferred their video on Youtube, giving thus real time material to TV channels which were not there to retransmit images of the street disorders. They were probably not so much motivated by a sort of narcissism, than by the possibility to act as reporters of themselves and give oneself a mediatic importance. We may see it as revenge from frustrated young people suddenly encountering an opportunity to take their place in adult society where they feel marginalised, and getting thus social recognition of their existence. They got aware that new digital technologies were offering them the possibility to get important, by creating an event in which they were the main actors and suitable to be eventually broadcasted later on. CNN is now broadcasting occasionally excerpts of Youtube's Citizennews Channel (3). They would see their images in the TV programs and big news papers, which usually don’t pay attention to them. And this digital promotion or exhibitionism in real time has become for sure part of their motivation to vandalize more and put more police cars on fire. Everybody has learned how to behave and smile for a photo. The codes are well known. But on that evening these young people have started more fires letting them hope better videos of themselves making the news for sure. The small cameras in their hands have finally made the event. I have often emphasized that digital technologies produce a psychotropic effect on those who escape from the heavy reality into the blue light of the cathodic screen. But this psychological effect of experiencing virtual spaces without gravity results also easily and rapidly into a counter effect onto real acts. In other words, we live now in a society of media and spectacle which results in a hybrid real-virtual world. You may act virtually in the real world and change it! These young sport amateurs became simultaneously film, news and event makers. They were acting inside the reality according to the needs of image producers.
Nowadays cameras multiply everywhere, waiting for something to happen. They are automatically in the right place at right time to create the event. Broadcasters will exploit their frames to amplify the event. We have to admit that mass media professionals are themselves waiting for something to broadcast. They sell news, therefore they need events. Eventually they create it. Of course, they look mainly for bad news which are selling much better! Sensationalism! God news is no news, no-event worth to be reported, because unable to catch the attention of telespectators or readers. Editorial staffs send reporters where something may eventually happen. And they are requested to report something able to make news. There is a need to nourish the media beast daily. Otherwise it will die from hunger immediately. Just think of the emptiness of the news on a bank holyday in summertime! Isn’t it terribly disappointing?
This law is bidirectional. The media is the event, and the event is the media. We may speak of real media cannibalism. The media never stop eating news. They gorge themselves of news. Of course such a statement may sound also too simple. But its provocative effect may be considered for a better understanding of today’s media.
(1) - Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extension of Man,
(2) - André H. Caron and Letizia Caronia, Moving Cultures: Mobile Communication in Everyday Life, McGill and Queen’s University
(3) - Voir http://youtube.com/citizennews