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MEDIA PERSPECTIVES - August 29, 2018

Editor's Note:

I just wanted to let my readers know that I've created a blog where I will be posting essays and articles I've written on digital and online marketing. It's an extension of Media Perspectives. I hope you continue to read and enjoy!

Here's the link: Jaffer Ali's Blog - Perspectives from a Media Contrarian

Thanks for Reading!

Media versus Technology
by: Jaffer Ali
(Originally Published: July 10, 2006)

The online media community is a confused lot. The confusion may have started a long time ago, even before there was such a thing as the Internet. The confusion goes back to the father of the term "media", Marshall McLuhan. He is frequently quoted and generally misunderstood. With the pithy one-liner, "the medium is the message" the notion that technology itself could be considered "media" took root.

McLuhan's one liner may be succinct, but it has led to abuse. Some feel that if the "medium is the message", the Internet itself is media. The technological genius that allows for us to communicate is no more media than a copper telephone line is. McLuhan never meant to substitute the substance of media for the technology itself.

McLuhan meant something significantly different. He believed that technology would EXTEND human relations. The way in which information is distributed would have a profound effect on another term he coined, the "global village". Concerning the new status of man in technological, and media-dominated society, McLuhan said:

"If the work of the city is the remaking or translating of man into a more suitable form than his nomadic ancestors achieved, then might not our current translation of our entire lives into the spiritual form of information seem to make of the entire globe, and of the human family, a single consciousness?" (1)

In the modern day Internet vernacular, information has been cleaved from media. Technology has supplanted information in many observers' eyes. In fact, a case can be made that the word "technology" itself has largely merged with "media" in many eyes. This has led to unusual companies identifying themselves as media companies. Think back a few years and Doubleclick once considered themselves as a "media company".

The more cynical amongst you will suggest that Doubleclick defined themselves as a "media company" because that Wall Street sector was hot at the time. Doubleclick redefined themselves as a technology company when they stopped selling ads and only served them. From where I sit, Doubleclick was never a media company.

So part of the problem with online media companies is that many haven't a clue what media actually is. Companies serving banners call themselves media companies. Companies selling banners call themselves media companies. Those companies with the latest technology to deliver content consider themselves media companies.

And the industry magazines don't help matters any by perpetuating the misnomers. If you serve rich media, does that make you a media company? Just because you are employing the latest technology to distribute or disseminate information, should that make you think you are a media company?

The connection between information and media is inseparable. That is the original sin. Distribution methods change all the time, but can one have media without content? Distributors of information and creators of information are the media companies. Just as those selling televisions are not media companies, those selling bandwidth or iPods are not media companies.

Why does this matter at all?

The words in which we define ourselves influences the way in which we think of ourselves. The linguistic philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein said it best:

"The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for."

If we use the wrong words, we sow confusion in an industry that cannot afford this because rapid change creates enough chaos already. The misnomers also create problems by falsely placing companies into the same categories. Then false comparisons inevitably happen.

By ripping content (information) from a media definition, one is apt to place undue emphasis on mechanical processes. Companies mislabeled include: email deployment companies, rich media vendors, banner exchanges, advertising rep firms and just about any technology company that is part of the dissemination chain. To facilitate media is not the same thing as being media. But technocrats continue to blur the line between technology and media.

A company that enables bloggers with technology is not necessarily a media company any more than a company selling audio and video equipment. Both make it possible for media creation. However, The Daily Kos or Instapundit Blogs are media enterprises.

Yahoo is a real media company. AOL is a real media company now that they own and create content. Earthlink is not. is a media company. Datran Media, Cox Interactive, Level 3 Communications and Value Click are not media companies. This is not to denigrate any of these companies by the way. But I see no reason why we should perpetuate the abuse of language and propagate confusion.

What about Google? Are they a media company? I think they are trying to edge toward becoming one, but their corporate culture works against them becoming one. They are foremost a technology company and unless they start to understand content creation, they will most likely stay a technology company.

It is the nature of things for technology plays to want to become media companies. Instead of actually doing what they need to do to become a media company, they opt for the next best thing; declare themselves media companies and depart the field.

1) Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1994), p.61


Original Article: Media versus Technology

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