The Medium and The Message
By Arnold Kling
Not the topic du jour, by any means, but one that has interested me for a long time. Megan McArdle writes,
I’m an enormous fan of John McWhorter’s book on the decline of formal language, Doing Our Own Thing. I talked about it with him when we did a Bloggingheads together…One of the most fascinating things I learned from the book is how different oral and written languages are–languages without writing use short, redundant sentences, while written ones support a great deal more complexity in sentence structure.
…I wonder now if the internet isn’t marking a transition back to a written culture.
I highlight these excerpts to note the irony: she refers to Bloggingheads, an Internet TV program, and then talks about a transition back to a written culture.
I think that the Internet as a medium is one of my big sources of optimism about political economy going forward. The Industrial Revolution media–movies, radio, TV–are inherently propaganda media. They are one-to-many, emotional, and actively discourage thinking by holding your attention and not giving you a chance to reflect.
The Internet’s main advantage is that it is many-to-many. I can talk back to politicians, and anyone reading this can talk back to me. That helps keep propaganda in check.
For a long time, the Internet was mostly text. I thought that was a good thing. While other folks were saying that what the Internet really needed was broadband, I was sort of happy with the constraints of dial-up, which forced you to put information into text. I am a fan of Neal Postman’s view that reading promotes logical thinking, while video facilitates emotional manipulation.
I don’t think of cell phone text messaging as promoting complex sentence structure. But I do think I would rather have my children texting than watching TV.