The Medium is The Message: Marshal McLuhan Misunderstood

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Marshall McLuhan (official site), was one of the founders of the study of media ecology and is today an honorary guru amongst technophiles, and is often qouted in emerging church circles. One of his most famous dictums that I hear regularly is 'the medium is the message'.

Usually this is used by people wanting to argue that we need to change the mediums of church, for our changing culture, and that in doing so we change the message appropriately.

But this dictum, that the medium is the message, has become a misunderstood paradigm about how individuals connect with the church. McLuhan’s assertion was made in the context of demonstrating how the user of media is the content. McLuhan did not mean that the content of messages is unchanging, but that the way individuals communicate them reveals the message to the user.

In other words, McLuhan’s dictum suggests that changing the medium of communication does not change the message communicated! The methods of communication are found lacking by users of the medium if the methods are projected as relevant, but essentially unchanged.

What does this mean for church? That no amount of changing mediums, and repackaging for relevancy will make any difference. The receivers of our communication will still see/hear the same message.

McLuhan reminds us that we need to look at who we are, and what we are communicating, as well as changing our mediums.