“The medium, or process, of our time – electric technology – is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life...Everything is changing…Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men [sic] communicate than by the content of the communications.” (Marshall McLuhan)
These prescient words were written by Marshall McLuhan in his ironically entitled book The Medium is the Massage in 1967. The volume was an accessible explanation of his earlier (and denser) work. His premise, ergo the title, was that:
“All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive…that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the massage. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments.”
Facebook has changed the world. It’s not so much WHAT’S said on this social network. It’s how it is said. It is the way we make ourselves known. We declaim. We share private moments. We express our opinions without regard of who reads our words. Being a friend is now a verb and relates to people who, in the past, we would have ordinarily forgotten. We publically open ourselves up to the world. The public square, once the center of town, is no longer a place where we need to physically gather to find out “what’s happening”. It is nowhere and everywhere. It is the global, virtual, social network. The soapboxes upon which we stand are plugged into an available power outlet.
So what do we do about this? Embrace it.
If what we say becomes, as McLuhan wrote, shaped by how we express it, then we need to understand the social networking environment. Notions of privacy are being thrown out, and replaced by new norms. The nature of public discourse is being redefined. The way our students conduct themselves in both the physical and virtual universes has been shaped by digital life and will translate into modes of behavior and learning in the classroom. The way we teach must reflect the way our students interact with their environment. We, the instructors, are just one facet of that educational milieu. Rather than bemoan the accouterments of social networking, it is incumbent upon us to truly understand the ramifications of these new definitions and modes of behavior and direct our energies towards accommodating what we do, as teachers and educators, to these new realities.
Socrates, in Plato’s Phaedrus, bemoans the state of humanity, blaming its inevitable demise on the invention of those insidious new technologies, the alphabet and writing. He claims that this new fangled idea of writing things down will result in the destruction of memory. How far have we gone! Technology shapes the way we experience the world. McLuhan wrote:
“The wheel is an extension of the foot; the book is an extension of the eye…clothing, an extension of the skin…electric circuitry, an extension of the central nervous system. Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act – the way we perceive the world. When these ratios change, men [sic] change.”
Social media has led us to new ways to interact with the world and with each other. Maybe this is the next step in human evolution.
And it was evening, and it was morning, the next day.