The Medium and the Message

November 27, 2008 at 12:39 am Leave a comment

I’ve been lying awake at night thinking again. ( insert groan here)  I have a habit of getting up during the night and I click the radio on as I go back to bed and drift back to sleep. It’s during these blank minded drifting periods that thoughts appear on the smooth glass of my mind, like a fly landing on a windowpane. This particular night, the fly was buzzing about the future of radio.

There has been a fair bit of talk about how the newspaper business is fading fast. Print media companies are hustling to stay relevant by adding Internet versions of their publications to their venture hoping that as readers drift from their hard editions, they will end up with the soft e-version. This may be happening, but my view is that the numbers and attending ad revenue cannot be anywhere near what is required to support the infrastructure of their print empires. I wonder; would Marshall McLuhan consider the Internet as a hotter or cooler medium than print? I say cooler because of the added interactive angle, but ice cube cold from the financial angle. If people are like me, they quickly scan Internet homepages and news sites and cherry pick the few stories that may snag their interest. Ads are treated as annoyances and are easily avoided. The bottom line is, the print news business is dying and will probably be all but gone within years.

Radio is a medium that folks of my age take for granted. It has the earmarks of disappearing; low interaction and irrelevance. Dozing in bed that night, I thought of the different radio station genres on the air and wondered what stations my youngest son listens to. It struck me that he doesn’t listen to any! Radio is becoming irrelevant as the computer overtakes broadcasting too. My son loads hours of his favourite (yuk) tunes onto his i-Pod and Blackberry and enjoys commercial free, personal preference music playing (blasting actually) right into his ears 24/7. The radio in his car is used simply to amplify his i-Pod or Blackberry. As traditional radio listeners literally die off, so will the radio music business. The generations coming behind the boomers don’t need things like announcers, news, weather, sports or commercials. Earbuds and i-Pods are preventing the youngest generations from interacting with society when they go out into the world. Their only interaction occurs electronically within their cocoon, and then only between a limited circle of friends (or Faces).

The trend of people getting only what they want from the electronic media makes me wonder how that will affect that ancient institution of religion/spirituality. Religion’s current state is frantic confusion as it tries to make itself relevant to the e-generation. Ah yes, irrelevance; one of the hallmarks of decline. Religion tries to be attractive by congregating in contemporary buildings; playing contemporary sounding music; making childcare available and saying it’s OK to sip coffee during the service. But the message is what’s irrelevant, so they are experiencing resistance from the cocooning generations. Young people are just not showing up for public gatherings in significant numbers. The e-generation is, if they even think of it at all, most likely to cherry pick spirituality/ theology from some drop down menu and not feel a need for any fellowship. This will grease the skids to send ‘good ol’ tyme religion’ down the way of the print and broadcast media.

About 500 years ago, after the invention of moveable type, Johann Carolus is credited with being the first person to exploit print by creating a newspaper in Strasbourg. Many others have furthered that exploitation over the centuries. About 100 years ago, Reginald  Fessenden was the first to exploit the power of the audio radio broadcast with a short broadcast on Christmas Eve in 1906. Again, in the ensuing years many people furthered his exploitation. Now both media have reached advanced maturity and are in decline.

Religion has exploited and adapted to the various media over the millennia. Jesus was obviously an engaging and moving speaker/ teacher, exploiting the art of rhetoric in the age of personal oral/aural communication. When the printing press facilitated the visual mass dissemination of ideas, Martin Luther was there to exploit this new medium. As Fessenden’s aural (then aural/visual television) broadcasting brainchild took hold, Billy Graham came along to exploit those media. As those media spread over the world, their influence on society grew. Now the Internet is poised to take communication to the next, more powerful, level. It is aural/ visual and highly interactive. What the spiritual e-movement awaits is an exploiter.

Sooner or later a great exploiter of this medium will come along. That day will usher in the new, universal spirituality/theology that we know in our guts is out there. I wonder whose name will be attached to this next, great, exploitation. Good night.  



Entry filed under: Wrestling With God.

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