Friday, May 28, 2010

The medium is the message

Marshall McLuhan understood something that many ignore:  the way we present ideas has more of an impact than the ideas themselves.  I suggest that the North Texas Conference Strategic Planning Team has indeed ignored this, and unfortunately, it is hurting their cause.

The Wikipedia summary of McLuhan's idea:  "The medium is the message is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. The phrase was introduced in his most widely known book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964. McLuhan proposes that a medium itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study. He said that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself."  

Twice now, Dr. John Fielder has sent emails to the clergy asked us to read important articles giving further explanation to the entire restructuring plan.  The emails contain links to archived copies of the North Texas Reporter.  I just now clicked on the link and timed how long it took me on a wireless DSL connection to open the file:  15 seconds.  That is approximately 14.5 seconds too long for the average person today to wait for a link to load.

Then, once I actually reached the archived newspaper, I had to scroll down halfway down the first page and hope to find the correct article, since a direct hyperlink was not possible, and then scroll several pages further down to find the rest of it. No hyperlink there either.  Because this is a photographic image of the NT Reporter, there is no way to mark and copy portions of the text in order to paste them in another document and make some reasoned responses to them.  Portions of it would have to be retyped into a response document--a huge time waster with the risk of a misquote.  Also, because of the nature of the photo-embedding in a PDF file, there is no way even to make comment about the thoughts and create a hyperlink to a specific point in the articles.  All this greatly limits the possibility of interactive discussion, something the Internet is remarkably good at.

In other words, after re-reading the article (I did read the print version when it came out), it still remains very inaccessible to me for comment and reflection and inaccessible to others in a way that would stimulate more dialogue.

Now, I believe the intent is good, but the medium chosen indicates almost no understanding of how current information flows in what is called "the cloud," that fascinating place of bits and bytes that forms how the younger generation--and much of my admittedly older generation, perceives the world.

Assuming McLuhan is right, and I do believe he is, the very medium being used by the Strategic Planning Committee to communicate a matter of vast importance has obscured the reception of that message almost to indecipherability.

Take what I am writing right now.  This is written in googledocs--none of this is stored on a computer I physically own.  In a few moments, I will publish this as a webpage, where it will immediately be sent to the blog called "A Pastor's Thoughts"  where I offer reflections on church life and also publish the articles that also go into other print media (The Denton Record Chronicle and The Krum Star).  Within 30 minutes after posting this on my blog, a service called "twitterfeed" will pick up on the fact that a new posting as arrived, will send a shorted URL to my Twitter account which, within about 2 seconds, pushes it to my facebook account.  There it is available for reading and comment.  Now, of the hyperlinks I just made in this paragraph, only one goes to the same kind of file the Strategic Team wants me to read.  That is the one to the Krum Star, a lovely, and very tiny, publishing company that publishes small town local papers, full of important information for those localities, but with no influence outside those physical boundaries. I don't think that is the kind of image desired, but that is the kind of image that is sent with this type of communication:  this is hometown news only and we are a lifetime from the cutting edge. The Medium Is the Message.

Much hard work has gone into this year of listening, meeting, planning, and restructuring.  I believe the intent is beyond reproach.  I also believe the medium being used to communicate this plan says, "Out of touch, unaware of the world in which we operate, old school, and how can they possibly be talking about new places for new people?"  

And that is a problem.

I have sent this message to the North Texas Conference Strategic Planning Team.  I don't think it is correct to offer public critique like this without giving them a chance to see it.  I just sense a lot of unrest of the part of clergy and laity about the restructuring plan and wonder if this is part of the problem.  

All comments are very much welcomed.

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