The medium is the moblog.
If Marshall McLuhan were alive today, might he have quipped that this newest electronic form of street journalism facilitates "all the news that's fit to Sprint"? He certainly would have itemized the ways in which this new medium is now affecting patterns of human perception.
Given his proclivity to season observations about the media with literary references, McLuhan might have chosen T.S. Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock to epitomize a moblogged man whose central nervous system was extended and projected--McLuhan called this extension "outered"--by the "profound organic character of new electronic technology" (McLuhan Gutenberg Galaxy, p.269), which literally and metaphorically "threw [his] nerves in patterns on a screen." (Eliot, p.6.) In fact, Prufrock's dilemma is curiously similar to McLuhan's point in War and Peace in the Global Village that "We have been rapt in the 'artifice of eternity' by placing our own nervous systems around the entire globe." (McLuhan Global Village, p.177.)
McLuhan's notion of "outering" as it relates to moblogging and its text counterpart blogging is best explained by Mark Federman, Chief Strategist for McLuhan Management Studies at the University of Toronto's McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology. According to Federman, blogging "outers," or makes public, the private mind. A digital personality or "digiSelf" interacts with others without the conventional impediments of time or space. (Federman interview.)
Blogs are an instance of 'publicity'--the McLuhan reversal of 'privacy'--that occurs under the intense acceleration of instantaneous communications ... Blogging is an 'outering' of the private mind in a public way (that in turn leads to the multi-way participating that is again characteristic of multi-way instantaneous communications). Unlike normal conversation that is essentially private but interactive, and unlike broadcast that is inherently not interactive but public, blogging is interactive, public and, of course, networked--that is to say, interconnected. (Federman "Blogging and Publicity.")
Moblogging has become the medium of choice for many journalists covering wars, riots, and other visually newsworthy crises because it has three essential elements that members of the press revere. It is portable, uncomplicated, and instantaneous. All one needs is a cell phone camera endowed with wireless Internet access. With the flick of a wrist, a Pulitzer prize-winning "decisive moment" might be captured and directly transmitted to a publication virtually anywhere in the world. In this respect, journalists now enjoy much more autonomy.
When asked what his father would have said about moblogging, Eric McLuhan replied that,
Electric technologies of all kinds make obsolete all of our old bureaucratic institutions, which relate to the world of print and heavy industry. No more is knowledge or information contained in books or buildings: we live every moment in an environment of global information and are ourselves translated into information. (Eric McLuhan e-mail interview.)
Prophetically, moblogging complements Marshall McLuhan's decades-old notion that, "One of the paradoxical features of substituting software information for hardware machinery is total decentralization." (McLuhan Global Village p. 184.) Additionally, moblogging illustrates his portrayal of electronic technology as having the capacity to "store and to translate everything; and for speed, that is no problem. No further acceleration is possible this side of the light barrier." (McLuhan Understanding Media p.58.) In an electronic environment, McLuhan reminds us that "in terms of the movement of information, it is the sender who is sent." (McLuhan Media Research p. 105.)
Senders love to send in the moblog community. In answer to the question "What would McLuhan say about moblogging," moblog guru Howard Rheingold, author of new media books like Smart Mobs, The Virtual Community, and Tools of Thought, posed a similar question, namely "What would Marshall McLuhan say about mobile telephony, texting, the mobile web, and the always-on world of wireless devices?" (Rheingold e-mail interview.) The question and its answer appeared in his moblogging site "The Feature." The article was titled "It's All About the Mobile Internet." Rheingold proposed to "take a long leap at the retrieval question and say that in some way, the mobile telephone is reviving the oral dimension that McLuhan claimed was supplanted by print literacy, which was supplanted by 'electric' literacy of simultaneous, image-heavy, quickly changing, multi-mode information." (Rheingold "McLuhanizing Mobile Media.")
However, "image-heavy, quickly changing, multi-mode information" has drawbacks. Simply put, "the quality of image produced by most photo phones still sucks," according to Steve Outing, Senior Editor for The Poynter Institute as well as columnist with Editor & Publisher. Nevertheless Outing is optimistic that higher-resolution camera phones will soon replace "the first-generation junk." (Outing e-mail interview.)
More importantly, Outing points out a distinctive aspect of moblogging, namely that it has created a:
... trend toward 'everyone's a journalist'--that is, the interactive nature of online/digital media moves citizens into the realm of journalism, participating and contributing to the world of 'journalism' alongside professional journalists. I see citizen and professional journalists as coexisting and complementing each other. Moblogs are an example [of a medium] where there's cross-over; either citizen or pro can publish moblogs, and either's work can be of value to the public. (Outing e-mail interview.)
Ironically, Outing's concept of "citizen journalism" reiterates McLuhan's notion that "once any new technology penetrates a society, it saturates every institution of that society." (McLuhan "Playboy Interview.") This saturation was conspicuously demonstrated a few months ago during the Democratic and Republican conventions. In fact, acceptance of credentialed bloggers, which first took place at the Democratic National Convention, forced corporate giants like the Associated Press, CNN and the National Journal to inaugurate their own weblogs to compete with the "citizen journalists." Rheingold's media savvy "Smart Mobs" put the fear of blog into corporate media organizations. This is vividly recollected in Mark Glaser's July 31 article, "Blogsploitation: Big Media try to Steal Bloggers' Thunder at the DNC" archived in the Online Journalism Review web site. (Glaser "Blogsploitation.") A hubbub ensued between citizen journalists and professional reporters.
These convention confrontations exemplify the scramble "to find new environments in which it will be possible to live with our new inventions." (McLuhan Massage p.124.) The key element about moblogging and its visually challenged counterpart blogging is that these new media fulfill a McLuhan insight, namely that electronic media decentralize both information and communication. In other words, we are propelled "Back to the Future" into an increasingly shrinking global village.
Decentralization is central in an electronic environment. Witness McLuhan's straightforward statement that "the instant nature of electric-information movement is decentralizing--rather than enlarging--the family of man into a new state of multitudinous tribal existences." (McLuhan "Playboy Interview.") Eric McLuhan enlarged on this idea, noting,
Like knowledge, learning too is now decentralized in space and in time. Everyone is a student from cradle to grave. To remain relevant, institutions of learning might now issue diplomas or degrees to registrants on entering and require that they stay for the four years to engage in conversation and dialogue and research. Training ought to move away from courses and subjects and turn instead to training of skills and of perception and sensibility, the sort needed by investigators and explorers. (Eric McLuhan e-mail interview.)
This means that electronic technology transforms information and learning, making the notion of the "classroom without walls" not only a reality, but one that threatens to defoliate the proverbial Ivy Tower. In the past decade, decentralization of education, as evidenced by the increasing numbers of accredited schools, colleges, and universities offering distance learning, parallels the decentralization of reporting. While reporters moblog their information, educators weblog with their students, providing updated news, information, opinions, and articles of interest. A blog may include journal entries, observations, assignments and links to reading material, and suggestions assembled by the user.
The shift from hard copy compositions and notebook-style journal entries to web-based blogging is taking place in and out of schools. "I teach at a DE [Distance Education] school in BC [British Columbia] and we are in the process of forming a partnership with Trinity Western University," reported Graeme Wilson, member of the board of directors for the Marshall McLuhan Center on Global Communications, and Marshall McLuhan Distinguished Teacher for BC and Canada. "They have developed a community that has students blog rather than send e-mail. We hope to initiate that in our school [Fraser Valley Distance Education School] shortly." (Wilson e-mail interview.)
It is evident that new media create new environments, ones that can radically reprogram our central nervous systems.
Electronic circuitry profoundly involves men with one another. Information pours upon us, instantaneously and continuously. (McLuhan Massage p.63.) [Such an environment may lead to sensory overload] because all media, from the phonetic alphabet to the computer, are extensions of man that cause deep and lasting changes in him and transform his environment. Such an extension is an intensification, an amplification of an organ, sense or function, and whenever it takes place, the central nervous system appears to institute a self-protective numbing of the affected area, insulating and anesthetizing it from conscious awareness of what's happening to it. (McLuhan "Playboy Interview.")
With moblogging and blogging, more and more media-savvy individuals like the above-mentioned "Smart Mobs" and "Citizen Journalists" can be roused from this self-protective numbing. The wide awake, the observant, will hold "a possible stratagem for understanding our predicament, our electrically-configured world." (McLuhan Massage, p.52.) Otherwise, media-battered somnambulists might, like Eliot's Prufrock, find themselves going through life "Till human voices wake us, and we drown." (Eliot, p7.)
Eliot, T.S. The Complete Poems and Plays. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1952.
Federman, Mark. Personal interview. 10 September 2004.
Federman, Mark. "Blogging and Publicity." What is the Message blog site. 19 December 2003. http://www.mcluhan.utoronto.ca/blogger/2003_12_01_blogarchive.html#107184093362428431
Glaser, Mark. "Blogsploitation: Big Media try to Steal Bloggers' Thunder at the DNC." 31 July 2004. Online Journalism Review Web site. 31 July 2004 http://ojr.org/ojr/glaser/1091135192.php.
McLuhan, Eric. E-mail interview. 10 July 2004.
McLuhan, Marshall. "The End of the Work Ethic." Media Research: Technology, Art, Communication. Essays by Marshall McLuhan. Ed. Moos, Michael A. Amsterdam: Overseas Publishers Association, 1997.
McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg Galaxy. Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1962.
McLuhan, Marshall, and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage. California: Gingko Press, 2001.
McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1964.
McLuhan, Marshall, and Quentin Fiore. War and Peace in the Global Village. California: Gingko Press, 2001
Outing, Steve. E-mail interview. 28 July 2004.
"Playboy Interview: Marshall McLuhan." Playboy Magazine, March 1969. Independent Media Studies Web Site. 4 August 2004. http://www.nephridium.org/features/indymedia/mcluhan_interview.html.
Rheingold, Howard. E-mail interview. 21 July 2004.
Rheingold, Howard. "McLuhanizing Mobile Media." 24 November 2003. The Feature Web site. 21 July 2004. http://www.thefeature.com/article? articleid=100229.
Wilson, Graeme. E-mail interview. 4 July 2004.
Coining of the term Moblogging is attributed to American writer and information architect Adam Greenfield, who organized the First International Moblogging Conference in Tokyo in July 2003. The word is generally pronounced MOBlog, (rhymes with Bob) giving stress on the first syllable, out of deference to the ideas discussed in Howard Rheingold's seminal book Smart Mobs. (Source: The FreeDictionary.com at <http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Moblog>)
Moblog host sites can contain highly personal scrapbook-type snapshots as well as genuinely journalistic up-to-the-minute moblog photographs. Representative examples of these sites include: EasyMoblog, "an open-source platform for the publishing of personal Web logs and moblogs," <http://www.easymoblog.org/>; MoblogUK, a "moblog community and personal photoblog that enables users to post images, audio and video to [their] own moblog, today," <http://moblog.co.uk/>; and Fotopages, an online photo log Web site that allows mobloggers "to create entries via e-mail, from a mobile phone equipped with a camera or any e-mail program," <http://www.fotopages.com/>.
* Gary Mielo is an Associate Professor of Journalism and English, and the Coordinator for Journalism and Web Publishing programs, at Sussex County Community College located in Newton, New Jersey. His article "Why McLuhan's Still Hot and Cool" appeared in the July 2004 issue of ETC. Mielo's Web site, "Communicating Across the Curriculum," can be accessed at http://home.earthlink.net/~gjmielo/ and his blog site, "MediaMessages," at http://MediaMessages.blogspot.com/.
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|Publication:||ETC.: A Review of General Semantics|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2005|
|Previous Article:||What I believe.|