In praise of Marshall McLuhan

I am pretty sure that since I entered the mobile marketing industry 14 years ago, the most often repeated phrase I have heard has been “the medium is the message”. Actually I heard the phrase “this is the year of mobile’ a lot in the first five years, but that seems utterly redundant to talk about now. What has stood the test of time is Marshall McLuhan’s quote, first said in 1977 when he was talking about the ‘electronic media’ of television and radio.

Let me be honest. I used to hate hearing ‘the medium is the message’. I didn’t understand what it was supposed to mean and once I did I thought it incomplete. It is short and pithy and easy to remember, but much harder to explain. I now understand it to mean that the effect of the media itself is bigger and more long lasting than the messages it carries, although I am open to more gifted marketers correcting me. For McLuhan, television changed us more than the actual content we watched on it. When looked at from a wider perspective of course he was right. Television still dominates much of our lives from the amount of time we spend with it to the fact we rearrange the furniture in our houses around it.

What McLuhan said about TV and radio must be doubly true about digital technologies. The internet has changed our lives forever and the ability to access the internet on a mobile device, almost anywhere on the planet at any time has not just changed the way we live our lives, but the way we think and the way our thinking works.

For the Connected Marketer, our version of McLuhan’s statement is the recognition that the knowledge that we live in a state of constant connectedness is more important than the means of connection.

Mobile devices allow us to tap and find, tap and buy, tap and know anything we want. We have access to the almost sum total of human knowledge in an instant. The awareness that this capability is only fingertip distance away changes the way we think and act. At The Connected Marketer Summit & Awards, Dr Carl Marci, the Chief Neuroscientist at Nielsen discussed this and how mobile is re-wiring our brains. You can view his fascinating talk here.

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