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  1. Jun 2020
    1. We’re presently living through what feels like a remarkably turbulent time. In fact, we might be tempted to think that ours is a uniquely chaotic moment. Of course, most of us know that human beings have lived through more chaotic, violent, and calamitous times than ours. What is novel in our experience isn’t the depth of the health crisis or the scale of the protests, the economic volatility, or the political instability. What is novel is the information ecosystem in which all of this and more is unfolding. Most of us now have far greater access to information about the world, and we are—arguably, I grant—exposed to a far wider array of competing narratives attempting, without notable success, to make sense of it all. In short, it would appear that our basic sense-making technology, the narrative, is a bit glitchy, both failing to operate as we might expect and causing some issues of its own. You won’t be surprised to learn that I think Marshall McLuhan can be helpful here. While many have found McLuhan’s aphorism “the medium is the message” confounding, McLuhan actually offered a rather straightforward explanation. “The ‘message’ of any medium or technology,” McLuhan wrote, “is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.” “The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts,” McLuhan added, “but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance.”Digital media introduced a new scale, pace, and pattern to human communication, and, in this way, altered how the world is perceived. With regards to scale, we encounter an unprecedented amount of information about the world at large through digital media. With regards to pace, we encounter this information with previously unknown and unrelenting immediacy. And, with regards to pattern, we encounter it both in novel social contexts and in a form that bears greater resemblance to a database than a story.

      L. M. Sacasas providing a very brief summary of McLuhan's "medium is the message" quote applied to the Coronavirus pandemic in June 2020.