Thursday, July 23, 2009

Media Enchantment and the Real World

I recently received a pair of e-mail announcements from The Economist magazine (I’m a happy subscriber to the print edition). The first message indicated that an electronic version of the magazine was now available for the Kindle e-reader. The second was that the latest in the magazine’s ongoing online debate series, on “Israelis and the Arabs,” was now being launched and could be followed on the e-reader.

What was telling for me was how the messages combined media and real world items. Now, media exists in the real world, I know, and a debate about conditions among Israelis and Arabs or anyone else is not the same as the conditions themselves. But those are more abstract quibbles.

The issue here is that amidst our generally justifiable techno-euphoria today, especially regarding social media, the connection of evolving technologies to what’s happening in the actual world is often neglected or at least downplayed. Our very celebration of the speed, variety, mobility, and accessibility of digital media can easily lead to an emphasis on proliferating and interconnecting technologies themselves and only a superficial or fleeting engagement with whatever information they are ostensibly communicating.

In other words, and perhaps unavoidably updating McLuhan, it’s a reminder that while (new) media are themselves an important message we can dwell over, media technologies also (still) communicate about issues that have meaning for flesh-and-blood human beings and consequences on the ground and in actual lives.

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