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Virtual Tribalism - "The Medium is the Message"

By ITS Education Asia

By: Dr. Orville Leverne Clubb, Head of ITS Education Asia BTEC Centre

                  “The medium is the message because it is the medium that

                  shapes and controls the scale and form of human association

                  and action. The content or uses of such media are as diverse

                  as they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association.

                  Indeed, it is only too typical that the ‘content’ of any medium

                  blinds us to the character of the medium.” 

– Marshall McLuhan

A very hot topic when I was a university student was a book titled “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” first published in 1964 by Marshall McLuhan. From this     book the famous quote of the day was “the medium is the message”.  When this book    was written the major forms of media were radio, movies, television, & newspapers. As   a child I remember my grandfather telling me that a television was the “devil’s box” and    we would not have one in his house.

The devil’s box has evolved in many ways since the infancy of television programming. With satellite technology live coverage world wide is possible. This enabled a major new   devil’s box medium addition, cable news channel CNN which started in 1980 with 24         hour news coverage. This was followed by Fox news which launched on October 7,     1996.  The air time of both news channels is filled with opinion and panels giving      “expert analysis” of “breaking news”.  During and after the US presidential election there  was a polarization of the viewers of CNN and Fox along political party lines.  As we       have seen by the Emory University study   in my first blog in this series  political     information not favorable to a person views or political hero is rejected without further       thought. Using Social Identity Theory from my previous blog, we can see that we have a CNN in-group vs a Fox news in-group. Perhaps they are competing to become the “Ministry of Truth” as envision by George Orwell.

In George Orwell’s classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, there was a “Ministry of Truth” for the superstate of Oceania.  So how does the ministry of truth control minds? By constantly flooding citizens of Oceania with nonstop propaganda, explaining why political candidate A is so amazing or how political Candidate B is terrible and stupid. Assume Candidate A is elected, and everything you view on media is designed to tell you why Candidate A is so amazing, has always been amazing, will be amazing until the end of time, and has never ever been wrong about anything.

A new media is beginning to take up more of our time.  When I ride on public transportation I see most people riding with me working with their smart phone and ignoring their physical environment. This behavior is enabled by the marriage of communication and computer technology making available both the internet and telephone on a single device. The passengers that are not receiving telephone calls, are normally using “social media” and could be watching a movie, viewing a news app, communicating with a friend by a text based system,  viewing their Facebook page, etc. My brief definition of social media is “computer-enabled  technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information”.

Social networking is a new social organizational experiment that allow humans to form   interactive informal in-groups that don’t require physical presence.  The individual Facebooker views their personal in-group as the group administrator  of the membership  and selects friends.

A British Anthologist and Experimental Psychologist, Robin Dunbar, famous for Dunbar’s numbers, suggested that around 150 people is the maximum number of personal stable social relationships any one person can maintain. Dunbar’s most famous number is 150 from the above list and appears through out the WWW. Dunbar’s informal expatiation for 150 “The number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar”.

Again I got carried away and wanted to say much more on the blog topic so the next blog in this series will be a continuation  to develop the topic – Virtual Tribalism.

Catch all of Dr. Clubb’s blog posts in our Hong Kong Education blogroll.

Dulwich College Singapore

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