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Part 2: What is the “media” ?

May 22, 2019

There’s lots of buzz about “the media” these days.  Americans seem to blame it for many things that may nor may not go their way.  For example “the media” gets blamed for liberal bias or right-wing conspiracies.  Our president blames the “the media” for not being fair or flattering and others blame “the media” for being too lax on abortion or personal rights.  It’s as if somehow “the media” has a bias or agenda. Some think “The media” somehow manipulates us into purchasing things or changing our behavior via advertising, marketing, or public relations. We even gravitate to whichever voice validates our own beliefs in exclusion to other’s “media”. But what is media and what does it really do?

Often, when we speak of “the media”, what we are actually referring to news reporting (journalism)  or un-moderated opinion posting on social media such as Twitter and Facebook. And although electronic media is what most of us currently think of in today’s information explosion, it’s really much more.  The term is actually the plural of the word medium (singular).

One of the most powerful and revolutionary definitions of media that I’ve discovered comes from the 1960s writings of Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan writes “Every medium is an extension of our humanity.”

Under this definition, literally everything is a medium, And it provides a powerful lens by which to assess and evaluate our culture and surroundings. For example the telephone is an extension of our voice and ears, the wheel is an extension of our feet (regarding transportation), clothing is an extension of our skin, security cameras are an extension of our eyes, a tv remote is an extension of our finger etc.

Ok, so the “media” is not really a singular thing or entity, so what? Why is this important to understanding our current culture?


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