Marshall McLuhan is a well-known communication theorist. He became famous in the 1960s for his studies in human thought and behavior by mass media. He coined the term “the medium is the message”. This means that often the medium in which the message is delivered dominates above all else. McLuhan was really ahead of his time making this theory before even the internet was born. Back then there were only a few outlets of media, but today the list seems to be endless. Some of today’s mediums are the internet, television, radio, podcasts, audiobooks, books, video, billboards, and more.
McLuhan divides up media into two categories of “hot vs cold”. Hot media means high definition and requires less participation from the audience. It focuses on only one of our senses like hearing or sight and has loads of data and information. Some media that are described to be “hot” are photos and radio. Versus, cold media means low definition and requires more participation from the audience. There is less data which requires the audience to participate more in order to fill in the gaps. Some examples of “cold” media are comic books and TV.
McLuhan almost indirectly predicted the invention and rise of the internet. Though, he also coined the term “Global Villages”, which means the time and space are no longer a restriction to the information flow. The future is now. The entire world population now has access to the internet via smartphones or other devices. The original intent was to be able to connect with anybody at any given time. But ironically, it has done quite the opposite. According to Jennifer Wilber, “The internet doesn’t necessarily cause social isolation. People who are already well-connected generally use the internet to stay and become more connected, whereas internet use among those who are already socially isolated is likely to reinforce social isolation. Though social isolation is related to internet use, it is not an underlying cause”. Being socially isolated varies depending on the user.
The theory of “the medium is in the message” must be thoughtfully considered when designing for society. Designers have the responsibility to understand how the audience will read the information and absorb it. The way we send this information trumps the actual information. People will absorb the message differently depending on the way it is presented. It’s critical that designers adapt to the changing of times because I believe that there will always be an ongoing shift of popular media.