The Tweet is the Message: A McLuhan Twitter

Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message” – very simply put – concerns not the content of what we consume, instead it concerns the form, or the medium itself as what most influences us. While McLuhan did not solely focus on media, in postmodern society media is arguably what influences society and the individual themselves most. McLuhan was focused on “the medium and the cultural matrix within which the particular medium operates,” and also what he believed were “the psychic and social effects of media.”

Today, Twitter is a medium that has significantly altered “the scale of previous human functions” by taking the words of an individual and broadcasting them to the world. It is a medium that has had too many psychic and social effects on those who use it, many of them likely negative. There are two major reasons why I believe this is the case. First, part of Twitter’s whole concept is the short, concise thought being tweeted out – even now at the 280 limit it still remains brief compared to other social media platforms. However, instead of making the majority of users reflect, edit their thoughts, it’s just another spout for misinformed and uneducated views through a relatively unfiltered medium.
Worse than that, the average user’s attention span winds up shortened. Last year, a study conducted by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute determined around fifty-nine percent of links shared on social media have not actually been clicked by the user sharing them. While not as damning, in 2012 on Twitter, Dan Zarrella of the software company Hubspot examined more than 2.7 million tweets containing links finding that 1 out of every 5 of those generated a significant amount more retweets than clicks; meaning, again, people are often sharing links without ever having read them.
Secondly, Twitter, and most social media in general, has done a grave psychic injustice to every single user of the medium, due to the fact it gives rise to the idea that every little thought that enters our brain is worth being spread across the internet for billions to see, forever out in the public sphere. There are personally tweets I’ve sent out that I wouldn’t bother forming into words and actually speaking to somebody. In this way, the psychic effects McLuhan wrote about are changes in our own identities, perhaps our egos, more specifically. All that without even considering the concept we all live one life in reality, then another online; a subject for another time.

It’s entirely possible Twitter is not the primary catalyst for these effects, but there is no doubt in my mind one of the various straws that broke the camel’s back is, indeed, Twitter. While the content itself varies, some of it is indeed influential and plenty of it is genuinely positive, offsetting some of the negatives. Nevertheless, the form and the medium of Twitter itself have shaped public discourse online to such a significant extent that those intellectually-aimed threads are buried under the itchy trigger finger of millions of uninformed tweets, equally as marred by the shortened attention spans of those same users. This, unfortunately, is the overwhelmingly negative message of the tweet medium.

Works Cited

Dewey, Caitlin. “6 in 10 of you will share this link without reading it, a new, depressing study says.” The Washington Post; 16 June 2016. Web.

Loker, Kevin. “Retweeting Without Reading? Yeah, It’s Happening – and It Affects Journalism Strategy on Twitter.” Adweek; 12 November 2012. Web.

McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium is the Message.” Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw Hill, 1964. Print.


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