In an attempt to tackle any “misunderstandings” of McLuhan’s medium theory, Paul Levinson explains the media theorist’s views in relation to contemporary media, emphasizing the visionary character of McLuhan’s ideas. Rejecting the prejudices that surrounded McLuhan’s theory – the content of a medium being less significant than the message it conveys – Levinson takes a stand in re-examining McLuhan from a new media perspective.
Levinson explains how misinterpretations of McLuhan’s content theory occurred, as the theorist considered that a medium was not offered as much interest as it should have been. Instead, it was the content of a medium that received most attention, given the audience effects theories that defined media theory at the time. As a result, Levinson returns to what he considers McLuhan had implied and approaches content by situating it within today’s media environment. In this respect, Levinson draws a parallel between what content meant for old – traditional – media and what it means nowadays, in the Internet age. Departing from McLuhan’s idea that the content of a medium is another medium (speech for writing, thoughts for speech), Levinson claims that the content of the Internet are several media, as the web encompasses radio, television and print press. Moreover, the way web content is experienced today is two-way, and Internet users become the content of this new medium, since it is them who create it. However, Levinson avoids the label “technological determinist” that McLuhan had received , mentioning that web users are also “masters of media” having an “unprecedented choice over what content will be” (Levinson:40) He concludes by adopting McLuhan’s idea of old media being the content of new ones.
Levinson goes on to praise McLuhan for his visionary media theory that is most relevant in today’s media setting. In spite of not referring to a “digital” world as we know it today, McLuhan was able to distinguish a certain tension between “acoustic” (digital) and “visual” space (Levinson: 43), since the electronic revolution would grant electronic media a certain edge over the usual literal, visual means of communication. What Levinson attempts to do is continue McLuhan’s line of thought into the digital age: the acoustic space McLuhan talks about is better emphasized via web, as radio and television are both present in what we now call cyberspace.
Questions for discussion
Levinson mentions the existence of alphabet as the main content of digital media. He relates this to the case of manuscripts and the debate about dialectics and writing (see our first week discussion on Plato). Following radio and television as products defining cases of “closed acoustic space” , where ideas could not be fully grasped by the receiver due to the one-way communication system, how does blogging or any other online – written – form of communication stand apart? In other words, what would the downsides of trying to get your written message across online be? Are there still disadvantages to a two- way form of written communication?
Levinson places speech at the basis of our ability to relate to the abstract. He mentions media such as painting, photography, motion pictures , radio and television have nurtured this ability to address the abstract. What would the role of the Internet be(combining all the aforementioned media) in establishing our relation to what we think of as abstract?