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<nettime> Re: The User Is The Content
Felix Stalder on Sat, 27 Sep 1997 23:40:57 +0200 (MET DST)


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<nettime> Re: The User Is The Content


It is always a bit disappointing to see how deeply WIRED magazine
influences the discussion, even among its many opponents. The point I am
referring to is the discussion about the famous 'the user is the
content' quote. 

WIRED puts forward a very specific reading of McLuhan, one that indeed
stands completely in the line the "Californian Ideology.” However, it is
well worth trying to dig a little deeper than the hype snippets and
examine what the 'medium is the message and the user is the content'
really means. First of all it does not mean that the only important
thing is the technology which will empower the user to make the content.
However, this is the standard Californian take on it; the user making
the content seems also the underlying the hope of Luis Soares.

McLuhan used to start with the assumption that "media are neither good,
nor bad, nor neutral" and was subsequently primarily concerned with the
'not neutral' part of his own assumption. The lack of the addressing the
'good or bad' question was rooted in a deep disinterest in 'political
economy' of media which is one of the main shortcomings of his work.

For McLuhan, the medium is an environment. Environment here is not a
container that simply holds things and actions; it is rather a set of
processes that work and rework everything that happens within that
environment. Probing into these processes  was at the heart of his
project. He investigated their specific effects in different media. The
printing press, for example, produced the reader as social prototype.
Books and journals, the media produced with the printing press, to
shortcut the well-kown argument, effected the specific reshaping to the
user's senses, turning him/her into a reader. A "reader" is not simply
mean someone who reads, but someone who reads books and papers, and in
the course of doing this, develops a particular attitude towards the
world: individual, objective, analytical. Again there is normative
quality attached to this, objective does not imply  'right'; it means
using a specific method. It is an attitude which assumes/creates a
(reflexive) distance between the subject and the object (Jacques Ellul,
writing at the same time, called it a 'technique').

The fact that ALL books, independent from their content, favour such a
distanced hence objectifying attitude (even the most radical post-modern
ones) is based on its quality as a medium. The creation of a particular
psychological set-up ('tuning the ratio of the senses') is the single
most important, and most difficult to understand, effect of media.
Therefore, the medium is the message. This does not imply that it
doesn't matter what is in a book whether it is good or bad. However,
regardless of its content it shapes the user, it is not neutral.

If these processes of reworking the senses of the user is the message of
the medium, the only point where is message can be expressed, where the
'meta-message' becomes a concrete form is the user, the place where the
action is. To prevent any misunderstandings, it is not the user who
_makes_ the content, it is the user who, consciously or unconsciously,
_is_ the content. The content of the medium book is the individual, the
content of the electronic medium is the group, or how McLuhan called it,
the tribe; the re-tribalization of the society on a global scale. The
physical manifestation of the tribe, especially in McLuhan's somewhat
clichéed ethnographic thinking, is the village. Hence the global
village. Whether one group is dominating another group, the focus of
John Horvath, is a completely different question. The assumption of a
village as a necessarily peaceful place reveals nothing than our own
projection of a somehow better past.




Felix

-- 
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