Media History & Social Impact

Different forms of Media have always existed.  Different discoveries over the past 150 years truly contributed to vast improvements in communication which contributed to vast social change. The industrial Revolution spawn many new forms of mediums that could suddenly communicate a message to the masses (the country and/or the world for that matter) instantaneously. This Mass communication could not exist without such devices. In respect to the evolution of communication, this would mark the parting of the Literal Era and the dawning of the Electronic Era. People like Edison and his phonograph, Berliner with his recording gramophone and records, Bell (as in "telephone"), Marconi (the said "pioneer of wireless", "father of radio"), Zworykin (arguably credited as being  "the father of modern television") and so on, have collectively attributed to mass media being unleashed.

  • Literary media- where, since renaissance time, education and information came strictly from the written word. This was a time where man could privately interpret and judge the message. This was also a time where the media separated the 2 main classes in the world. You had the extremely large illiterate lower class and highly educated aristocrats. During this period the components of the medium were in the form of books, newspapers, articles even paintings and other works of art. This was, for the most part, an individualistic, segregating and relatively time consuming means of communication.

 Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian, is renowned for his famous statement: "The medium is the message". He noted that the content within the media is the obvious and easy thing to manipulate and control. The power of the media is in the medium itself. To understand the effect on society that the mediums  resulting from new and evolving technology is the golden ticket. To begin to understand some of what McLuhan is inferring, lets start by looking at the evolution of modern media itself by breaking recent history into 3 modern eras of media. Firstly would be the Literal Era (mentioned above), followed by the Electronic Era, and the present day; the Information Era :

  • Electronic media- where radio, tv, telephone and so-on offer instant long distant mass communication that influences our senses. This Industrial era saw to public education and the rapid growth to a new middle class. Recorded and broadcasted sound and moving pictures supercharged the message not only by the numbers it could reach, but in how effectively it would mould society.


Each process of the electronic era restricted the interactivity or multi medium capability. Example: People could not listen to a Radio announcement a TV station or certainly a  daily newspaper. Obviously, components of the process were not capable to produce the desired output. All the same, this era resulted in a drastic change inthe functionality of society. This CBC clip shows us how McLuhan distinguishes the difference between how the world of the Literary time was revolutionized by the electronic age. McLuhan suggests that the difference is in the switch from the individual solitary man to the development of tribal man.

Video: The Secret Life Of Machines - The Radio. Tim Hunkin and Rex Garrod take you through the workings and history of the radio.

Thanks to Jim James and Dipak Basu for contributing to this story

(Click here to learn about the many contributions of Alexander Graham Bell)

  • Computer Era/digital media- The big change in communication since mass communication of the electronic era is the adoption of multi media.  Digitalization has enabled traditionally separate mediums to be compressed into single devices which are much more portable as well. The affect of today's mediums, mediums on steroids, (the internet coupled with other digital technology) subjects society to ever increasing tides of change. Now the masses are armed with interactivity and control like never before. Some people choose which camera to watch a hockey game. Stop alive game and present their own replays, or even choose to watch the game at another time. They can contribute to the content on Wikipedia and much much more like, skype someone on the other end of the world, while the game is on  and catch e-mails at the same time and on the same device.
    Media Interaction was very limited before Digitization. Each medium of the electronic era developed differently with varied technology that could not be intermixed before the digital world was exposed. Now, interactive, multimedia devices that consume our waking hours, today. Communication machines that almost instantly process and manipulate vast amounts of information that allowed us to leave our atmosphere.

McLuhan - Chorizema  Here he tells us how the perception of politicians provided by TV, can be more powerful than what they actually do. Even though it is dated, we can see the same affect today in the kind of light the public saw Stephon Dion and Priminister Harper based on how they were portrayed in the media.

McLuhan believed that Pierre Elliott Trudeau once grew a beard because he wanted to cool his image several degrees while he was in opposition. Trudeau agrees and explains how McLuhan suggested looking for a razor if he wanted to "hot up" his political image again, and that people responded, when he shaved it off, by saying that he was back in politics.
Today's politicians are forced to learn how to manipulate social networks such as face book and twitter to lour votes as to utilize as weapons in order to destroy their opponents.

McLuhan - The Media is the Message

McLuhan infers to the fact that the medium is having an effect on us right from the very beginning of delivery from the mechanical means it tricks your mind. Most kids have made or seen flip animations where, as you flip the pages and still pictures appear to move. When you watch your TV screen, the picture you see is interpreted from tiny dots of light turning on and off, sequentially at a very high speed. These lights come in only 3 colours, a single shade of red, green and blue. Yet, we see a whole multitude of colours in the smooth flow of the virtual world before us. As our mind mixes the colours, like a painters pallet, and puts the rest of the pieces of the puzzle together, a message is created.

McLuhan showed us one example how the medium changed the way we view a simple game of football by introducing the "the instant replay". The instant replay makes us focus on the process instead of the game. Some might argue that it brings accuracy and fair calls to the game. the instant replay changes the focus the same way as when an artist produces a work of art for us to admire or critique, and we were to demand to see how they produced the effect that caught our attention. What affect would that have on the message from the piece? The message the artist intended might go the way of bubble gum in baseball cards. Baseball cards were introduced by Topps Gum (which eventually evolved into Bazooka Bubble Gum), as added value by the Gum producer, a gimmick to sell bubble gum. It wasn't long before the idea of cards helping to sell more gum tipped the scales. It was the cards that people were looking for. Topps medium that was meant to persuade you to buy gum, took on a new role and a new message. Topps was developing baseball, football, basketball and hockey products, and serving as the "gateway to the games" for millions of young fans, who first discovered the players through the cards, even before attending their first games. The cards became the focus to the package to such an extent that the gum is no longer included.

When we think of the imagery medium of photography we can see sequential social affects as a result of the process. In the beginning, as impressive a photograph was, some cultures feared that if they were photographed, their soles were captured in the picture as well. How people and things were captured has always been important because of how we would be perceived by others. You always wanted to look your best. After all, "a picture is worth 1000 words". Already, the process began to drift from reality. When digital photography took over from film, people argued that the natural imperfections of film would be lost and and even more unrealistic or false imagery would result because the lack of cost and convenience that digital photography offers. With digital picture taking, it doesn't cost any more to take 20 pics of the same thing and pick the one you want. You can see them instantly and retake them till you get what you development necessary. This is nothing to say about the manipulation, touch ups and so-on that can be quickly introduced to get the result what you, not necessarily what is fact. Now compound that effect when introduced to another medium like "Facebook". Pictures often taken out of context and used for purposes not for their original intent; sometimes without knowledge or consent of the people in them and/or even the photographer. The original picture with a message of fun and/or intimacy, can easily be twisted into a message of drunkenness, or inappropriateness and so-on. These social net works are now the biggest arsenals for bulling and alike. A picture worth 1000 words and be multiplied into 100,000 words.

McLuhan emphasized how he saw the TV as the machine planting the seed for the global society. In this clip he is resurrected as the visionary for the escalated effect of the information highway in turbo charging society into this global society of today. CLICK>>>>>

We have evolved from an oral society to a literal society, and from there to an electronic world based on analog signals and formats that kept everything separate. Today we live in a global village as a result of the computer through it's digital web which binds everything together. Social networking could arguably be the new king on the block of social change.

Media moulds us, changes us, controls us! The medium is what determines the effectiveness and speed of which we may be manipulated. Some say it spoils us, ... it ruins us. Some say that communication technology with it's instantaneous global social networking ability is the "best thing ever and that we can't live without it!!"". Others say that it is the ruination of this generation, of family interaction and work productivity. What do you have to say about that??... and if all this amazing technology is so wonderful, and we have to have it (...and we all do) Should we not be happy?
>> "Everything's amazing and Nobody's Happy.<<

Exercise: History Answers

  1. 3.) In the last few hundred years, the modern world can be broken into 3 media eras as a result to technical developments.
  2.      a)   What were the mediums of the day for these eras?
         b)  What was the big change that society embraced that distinguished each of these modern eras? ...or how did the way education and information delivery effect or change society as a whole in these eras?
  3. 4.) In simple terms; how does digitalization work?
  4. 5.) What was McLuhan talking about when he was referring to hot and cold?
  5. 6.) What are some examples that you can think of that the medium could play a role in the message?
  6. 7.) Do you believe what McLuhan said about the medium changing the way we watch football really affected us? Explain.
  7. 8.) Explain what Marshall McLuhan means when he says "the medium is the message".
  8. 9.) Compare and contrast today's relationship between society and "the medium" and that of which Marshall McLuhan highlghts.
  9. 10.)
  10. Multimedia Intro

    1           2  
    3 4         5   6



    1. During an election, politicians use media for this            purpose Of communication
    4.the process or how communication of a desired message Is transferred.
    8.a computer mouse is an example of this type of
    9. the form in which the content of a message is presented
    10. a desired message is sent received and understood


    2. The glue that brought mediums together to permit multimedia to takeover
    3. Mass communication is a product of this era
    5. combined or simultaneous use of different media
    6. McLuhan credits this as starting the change towards a global village
    7. communication purpose obtained through weather & sport reports

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