The Message in the Medium

Just finished reading The Medium and the Message by Marshall McLuhan. A few sections struck me in particular:

Moderator: What do you suggest as alternatives that we offer instead of the search for identity through violence?

McLuhan: Dialogue. The alternative to violence is dialogue, which is a kind of encounter interface with others, people and situations. Yes, we live a world in which we have so much power. In the old days, you could fire or pull a trigger on a revolver and hurt people, but today, when you trigger this vast media that we use, you are manipulating entire populations.


The hidden aspects of the media are the things that should be taught because they have an irresistible force when invisible. When these factors remain ignored and invisible, they have an absolute power over the user. So yes, the sooner that the population, young or old, can be taught the effects of these forms, the sooner we can have some sort of reasonable ecology among the media themselves.

What is desperately needed is a kind of understanding of the media which would permit us to program the whole environment so that literate values would not be wiped out by new media. If you understand the nature of these forms, you can neutralize some of their adverse effects, and foster some of their beneficent effects. We have never reached this level of awareness.


Moderator: “Professor McLuhan, you spoke about us going outside for our privacy and coming home for the social aspect. I’d like to hear you comment on that in relation to electronic man’s new thirst for meditation, contemplation, mystical experience.

McLuhan:  Well, as you know, transcendental meditation has become exceedingly popular. All forms of mystic meditation have become very popular in our television age. We have gone very far to the East since television. Just as an exercise in awareness and so on, meditation has grown and come in very big since television. I’m not sure that that is good or bad at all, it just has happened. Do you think of it as a very significant event?

Moderator: I think of it as very significant, yes. It seems to me almost like a nostalgia for a return to that private self, without going outdoors to find it. Return to an inner union with God, with yourself, which electronic man seems to need and is looking for in this way.

McLuhan:  Jane Austin, of all people, has quite a big comment on that inside/outside. She said that people go outside to be alone just to prove their inner resources, that they don’t need people. We can make it alone, and that the romantic movement was based upon this psychic development.

Jane Austin has quite a bit to say about that. I was amazed to come across it in her work a few months ago. But there’s another American writer, Hawthorne, who regarded this American habit of going outside to be alone as an undermining of democracy. He said this is sheer aristocracy, this is putting on the aristocratic thing and it is going to undermine our whole democracy. Hawthorne regarded it with great alarm. The moralist, by the way, is always a person who never studies effects so much as studies the content of situations, studies the figure and not the ground.

This, I think, is of great concern to advertisers, who are here tonight in some numbers. Advertisers need to study figure, not the ground. They tend to count noses rather than to estimate the pressures under the noses. The form of gnosis.

It occurs to me that almost anything McLuhan says about tv works if you replace ‘tv’ with ‘the internet’

Joe Rogan Sells to Spotify

Photo by Jonathan Velasquez on Unsplash

Podcaster Joe Rogan has sold his immensely popular podcast to Spotify:

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/may/24/spotify-podcast-deal-the-joe-rogan-experience

From the article:

“By requiring Rogan’s listeners to use the Spotify app to tune in, the company gains far deeper data about who, when and where their audiences are; that, in turn, can be fed through to advertisers, who are more likely to pay higher rates if they can be assured that the target audience is listening. Control of the player also allows Spotify to vary the advertising to the audience, again increasing revenue.”

Alex Hern, The Guardian

This is unfortunate. I understand the need for these podcasters to generate revenue for their shows – they deserve something for their effort and advertising is one way to do that, however I prefer the more direct ‘donation/subscription’ model of someone like Sam Harris – where I feel I’m more directly supporting the person and their work vs. paying a large corporation who’s going to track my actions and advertise back at me. There are several other people on the internet who’s work I feel I directly benefit from and therefore I’m happy to support directlyBrad Warner and Ben Weaver among them. This move by Spotify will effectively position it as the Facebook of Podcasting. 99% of people probably won’t care – and to me that’s part of the problem.

I’d never used Spotify for several reasons, I am happy with Apple Music and I didn’t like their app/interface. This gives me one more reason to opt out. It will be a shame because if/when Rogan’s show goes exclusive on the platform, I’ll miss it.

Facebook Lets You See All the Data Collected on You

Facebook has launched a new tool to let you see all the data that’s been collected on you both on – and interestingly enoughoff the platform.

Facebook knows what you’re doing on other sites and in real life. This tool lets you see what it knows about you.

I haven’t had a personal Facebook account in over a year but I have an empty one that I use to manage Facebook Pages for my company and clients. The data I found there was interesting. I can only imagine what would be there for a regular/heavy user.

My stats showed many of the websites I’d visited via the browser I use at work – roughly 151 data sources, dating all the way back to June of 2019. At that point it simply said I’d reached ‘the end of my available activity’.

One of the interesting things I saw using the tool, you can further drill down and see what advertisers targeted ads at you and if you were specifically on their contact lists.

Drowning in Oceans of Data

Gerry McGovern presents us with some facts to ponder regarding all this data we’re constantly accruing. He compares the amount of data we’re currently amassing to what its equivalent would be as paper in his post Data Expands to Fill the Space Available. I’ll cut right to the spoiler:

Let’s say an average tree produces 50 350-page books and that on each of those pages there are between 250 and 300 words. That gives us about 100,000 words per book or five million words per tree. I tested how many KB were used for saving 100,000 words in a couple of formats and got an average of 500 KB. Let’s throw some images and tables into the mix and bring the size up to 1 MB, which would mean that an average tree stores about 50 MB of data.

A zettabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000‬ MB or one quadrillion MB. If a zettabyte was printed out in 100,000-word books, with a few images thrown in, then we would have one quadrillion books. It would take 20,000,000,000,000 (twenty trillion) trees’ worth of paper to print these books. It is estimated that there are currently three trillion trees on the planet. To print a zettabyte of data would thus require almost seven times the number of trees that currently exist to be cut down and turned into paper.

It is estimated that by 2035 there will be 2,000 zettabytes of data in the world.

There’s been several articles published recently discussing the environmental impacts of large-scale data storage and/or ‘cloud’ based storage. Over at Mic, the article The Environmental Impact of Data Storage is More Than You Think has some interesting stats as well as links to other studies/articles:

As the number of data centers skyrocket, so does their impact on the environment. The Independent reported in 2016 that data centers will consume three times as much energy as they are currently using over the course of the next decade — and they already account for more terawatt hours of electricity used than all of the United Kingdom. A 2015 report found that data centers and their massive energy consumption are responsible for about 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, putting them on par with the aviation industry.

AJ Dellinger, Mic.com

I have been reading more ebooks lately, partly due to convenience, but also because, I guess, somewhere in the back of my mind I thought it made more sense environmentally and sustainably. Unfortunately, it would seem the decision isn’t as clean cut as one would hope and we may be in for a reckoning of sorts at some point. Whether it be physical or virtual – it would seem that the notion of ‘less is more’ still seems most prudent.

The Light Phone Experiment That Wasn’t

So if you’ve been paying attention to my posts at all, you’ll know that I was planning on running an experiment based around using a Light Phone 2 provided by a buddy of mine with the intention of seeing what it was like to be ‘smartphoneless’ for some given period of time. Well, that idea has crashed and burned or perhaps more accurately, fizzled.

First off, it was taking awhile for the Light Phone folks to ship their product – a not-unexpected occurrence – given that this was an Indiegogo thing and these things take time. Not an un-ironic comment on how our everything-immediately-on-demand world has influenced our expectations and perceptions of time. Still, the length of time it was taking started to sap interest in the desire to play around with the device. Steve – the guy who was going to loan me his version of the phone – and I remarked on this a few times in our correspondence. Still, I remained committed to giving it a shot and he still felt I was a good candidate to put it through its paces.

When the phone finally shipped to Steve, once he received it, decided he wanted to give it a temporary spin so set about trying to get it up and running with his cellular service provider. He hit some snags though, and then decided to try using the Light Phone’s own SIM plan and ordered up a card – only to have issues with getting the SIM to be recognized once it arrived. Last we spoke, he still didn’t have the thing up and running.

In the meantime, I had my own circumstances change in that I agreed at the last minute to coach my kids’ hockey team this winter. Based on my previous experiences coaching, the prospect of trying to run the team as well as coordinate with parents and league staff all without a ‘smart’ phone (one with a calendar and access to a web browser and email) seemed like an exercise in futility and one that would only make life miserable. Due to the time it was taking to get the Light Phone into my hands, my interest in the experiment as it was initially formulated had waned. Being faced with this new organizational challenge – I told Steve I wasn’t really interested in it any longer – at least not at this point.

I will say this though, that the whole idea wasn’t without it’s upsides. Through the process of thinking about the phone and preparing to use it, I went through several phases of evaluating and thinking about what apps I have on my current phone and how I use them. That process has led to a major cull in both apps on the phone as well as phone usage/screen time in a way that has been overwhelmingly positive. Probably the largest single change has been the elimination of email from my phone. While I did, initially re-install it after agreeing to coach, I uninstalled it after only a short while realizing that the several months prior of having no access to it on the phone had taught me I don’t need it and I was able to pretty much manage things by sticking to the routine I’d established of basically checking email once a day, intentionally, at a regular time.

One screen to rule them all. Still.

In closing, I’m still glad that I went through the whole process, even though things fell apart at the end. The result is I’m still using a phone that’s about as ‘light’ as I can get, and the apps that are on it I’ve given a lot of thought about whether I want to give my time and attention to and if they’re of real value in my day-to-day. This idea of considering how we use the technology we have very intentionally is something Cal Newport talks about at length in his book Digital Minimalism: Choosing A Focused Life in a Noisy World . Although I’ve actually only just started reading this, I had inadvertently already begun what Mr. Newport calls the ‘Digital Declutter’ without even knowing it. When I wanted to reevaluate my relationship with the technology in my day-to-day life, it just seemed to be the sensible way to do it. That said, the book is great so far and I highly recommend it if it sounds like something you’re interested in or are considering.

For those interested/playing along – I’ve stuck to my initial plan of keeping my phone to ‘one-screen’ of apps. Each one has had to ‘earn’ its real-estate there (exception being the un-installable apps, some of which I wish I could nuke). I also didn’t cheat by putting apps I can’t remove in a folder to give me more space on the ‘one-screen’, so I really had to think hard about it. Interesting note – I’m up for an upgrade of my iPhone SE and I notice that even the smallest of the newer iPhones is larger than this one. While I’m not excited about that – I like a small phone – I think it does mean more screen real-estate for apps, I guess I’ll have to see how that goes.