Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

It’s the medium is the message, stupid

Posted on | August 9, 2010 | 2 Comments

L. Gordon Crovitz, writing in today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required), puts it simply:

“It’s ideas that count, not how they’re transmitted.”

This is a closing line in a column about e-books and the iPad. That a “print” journalist makes this comment directly and without pussy-footing around with adverbs is a testament to how far we’ve come.

Or, as the little boy said at the end of “Animal House” as the Playboy bunny flew into his bedroom: “Thank you, God!”

iPad Effect

The iPad has the industry atwitter. This, many argue, is the future of publishing. Yes and no.

If you mean this is the future of a new kind of communication, that blends words, video, audio and graphics, you better believe it. If you mean this replaces print, I think not.

Ideas are communicated differently depending on the medium (and, by the way, regardless of the cost of the medium). A book is a medium for ideas of enormous complexity; a magazine for ideas of somewhat smaller complexity, a news story for ideas of somewhat smaller complexity again. Television is fantastic medium to communicate emotion through images; it’s not so great for communicating complex ideas (The Decline of Culture–Part 863). That television dominates the media world today is directly connected with how ineffective our political system is at present. Radio may be even better than tele

Flyp capture

Screen shot from an article from Flyp Media's multimedia-enable publication

vision for communicating uncomplicated ideas because it lacks the image distraction.

Platforms and Promise

Platforms such as the iPad have promise for promoting new kinds of journalism. Just check out a place like Flyp Media to get a sense for the potential.

Still, there are levels of information engagement that all readers need and need at different times: details, data, context and overviews. No one medium can really deliver it all. That’s why saying the iPad is fantastic and print is not dead are perfectly compatible concepts. Every day I ride a bus with people who have ear buds plugged into an iPod and fingers tapping away on an iPhone or a Blackberry or a Droid.

The medium is indeed the message.

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2 Responses to “It’s the medium is the message, stupid”

  1. Jerry
    August 10th, 2010 @ 8:09 am

    The author of that quotation is so wrong!

    (And of course, you’re right!)

    You can still choose to shop at the corner hardware store — and the 78 year old proprietor who knows every type of plumbing fixture ever invented is still sitting behind the cash register eager to help — or you can go to Loews, Home Depot or OSH and get everything you need (except insight and knowledge) served up at a discount.

    Absolutely nothing wrong with the corner hardware store, except nobody goes there anymore.

    Great products and ideas never succeed in the wrong sales channel.

  2. Brad Pierce
    August 10th, 2010 @ 8:49 am

    Radio has brought me many interesting lectures and conversations over the years that communicated more than “uncomplicated ideas”. (Not that “complicated” is necessarily a virtue, sometimes it’s just a sign of muddy thinking.)

    Many of us explore data or code on a computer screen every day, this way and that way, and it’s not uncomplicated either. Impossible with print.

    Another important example to consider is exploring repositories of research articles such as and IEEE Xplore. Again, not uncomplicated ideas, but an experience much more difficult with only print.

    Finally, visual art can potentially be explored with the new media in ways that even the most expensive color plates in a book can’t match. Imagine exploring a 3D scan of a sculpture garden, hovering about, walking around, viewing it from any angle, in any lighting conditions, at any distance, with background material on materials, history, criticism, interviews with the artists, all only a click away.

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