Introduction

In his academic work, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), Marshall McLuhan changes the landscape of media, more so, mass media, by asserted that “the medium is the message” (McLuhan, 1964: pp7).

Scholarly debate has ensued, for many years after that, yet McLuhan envisaged a social life, social norms, and communities as we know then, completely changed by contemporary electronic communiqué. We then begin to think of the web as a medium and not necessarily a tool.

Social media in education.

social

Although the web and affordances like social media did not yet exist, McLuhan advocated for radical changes in education and suggested that people must be literate in many forms of media, moving away from mainstream media like print, which dominated the communication landscapes of those days. Fast-forward to 2021: technological advances and social media have become effective web affordances for education, instructing, and research.

Social media in this context is used to denote any technology that enables the collection, dissemination, and collating of knowledge over the web. In this sense, I understand the web as a medium for education, with positive and negative effects attached to it.

Communities.

When social media is used as a tool for education, its characteristics make it a suitable container to bring two communities together. The first community is the education community, and the second community is the natural habitat, where the individual exists in the digital ecosphere. The preferences surrounding social media for the web, and the fact that it is a preferred mode of communication by many scholars make the medium itself supersede the content.

Was McLuhan, right?

What McLuhan envisioned more than 50 years ago has become a reality, with social media connecting learners to many social worlds than what traditional mainstream media could not offer. I understand that the web is a space where adaptability and evolution are daily requirements.

For the web, the message received is really a message evolving, or recovered from anther source. For a person to understand the web, they must internalise the web as a medium, and somehow becoming the medium, or part of the medium in order to successfully use it.

Moreover, the web itself has an eternal connection with its uses, with each party feeding from the other. The web evolves based on the user requirements and inputs, a truly dynamic and interactive space. On the other hand, the users evolve as they embrace new digital vernaculars in their worlds in digital ecospheres.

The intention.

Why is this understanding of “the medium is the message” overarchingly important in my understanding of the web? As web developers and as participants in the digital arts culture – we need to be constantly aware of the changes that happen around the message carried by the web, the evolution that it brings to its end users.

“The medium is the message” could be used as a template for tracking these changes in the evolution of the digital society and culture. More importantly, to highlight the effects of a new medium. With this early warning, we can set out to characterize and identify the new medium before it becomes obvious to everyone – a process that often takes years or even decades.

And if we discover that the new medium brings along effects that might be detrimental to our society or culture, we can influence the development and evolution of the innovation before the effects become pervasive. As McLuhan reminds us, “Control over change would seem to consist in moving not with it but ahead of it. Anticipation gives the power to deflect and control force.” (p.199).

Conclusion

Social media and the two-way web are an active reality in 2021, exacerbated by a plethora of affordances that enable new ways in teaching and communication. The best foot we must put forward is understanding the web medium as the message and the massage container at the same time.

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