If the media are the message, what are we being told?

Right now, you are looking at an Internet news site. The content is free to the users (you). It is updated multiple times throughout the day. Ten or 12 years ago, sites like this were few and far between. Today, they proliferate.

In the current issue of Coloradobiz magazine, columnist Jeff Rundles asks what it all means. And, since he looks to the late Marshall McLuhan for the answers, we had to bring you a taste:

I can’t imagine that a “newspaper” delivered electronically will change the game. The news organization itself has to be completely transformed not in the delivery of its content, but in the creation of the content itself. Think bloggers. Think Daily Beast. Think interactive. What is produced won’t be in a “subscriber’s” living room or on the front porch at a specified time, but rather in his pocket and her purse, always on, ever changing, constantly updated, under siege every moment, and at once immediately disposable and accessible forever.

But since I know nothing of McLuhan’s work, I’ll let him have the last word:

“The next medium, whatever it is — it may be the extension of consciousness — will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.“ – Marshall McLuhan, 1962

Perhaps since McLuhan’s books were known for being dense, weighty and even a little circular, he became known more for the snappy one-liner than anything else. Here then, are some McLuhan quotes lifted from his estate’s website.

The future of the book is the blurb.

The ignorance of how to use new knowledge stockpiles exponentially.

Politics offers yesterday’s answers to today’s questions.

The answers are always inside the problem, not outside.

News, far more than art, is artifact.

The story of modern America begins with the discovery of the white man by the Indians.

So, to use the generic phrase, “new media,” how has new media affected the body politic? Has it, like all media before it, become the message?

“Political science is still sitting around trying to figure out what the effects will be,” said Colorado College political science professor Bob Loevy.

“What we know is that new media provides the opportunity to connect groups together for political action that is inexpensive and quick. It has had a tremendous impact on fund-raising.”

Loevy noted that political campaigns now regularly employ paid professionals to manage new media as an outreach tool.

Indeed, just looking at the most recent campaigns in Colorado, virtually every major candidate had a prominent “Donate Now” message on their website that was click-able and allowed people to literally donate right then. It is safe to say there will never be another major campaign without such functionality — at least not until something better and faster comes along.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck posted his concession announcement to his website via Twitter. Republican Dan Maes announced via Facebook that he planned to raise a million dollars in a 24-hour period. It didn’t happen, of course, but …

YouTube videos of Ken Buck talking on various subjects became viral, spiraling out from their source until virtually everyone following the race had seen more than enough.

We can see that the medium matters, but with McLuhan long gone, who will tell us what it means?

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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