Delivering the Mass-age

I find it appropriately intriguing that the readings for Monday and the readings for Wednesday both cited Marshall McCluhan as a source when discussing writing in the digital age. For those of you who are not familiar with his work, McCluhan was very influential in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the midst of the youth movement. His most influential piece is called The Medium is the Massage (pronounced “mass-idge,” as a sort of beatnik pun combining the words “mass” and “message”). The book is a very short and easy read filled with pictures that communicate just as much as the words. It details the ways in which our thought processes have changed and continue to change due to the evolution of mass media. If I remember correctly, McLuhan talks about the printing press and how increased literacy turned Western culture into linear thinkers because the written word is a linear form. He moves to today and notes that because we are surrounded by media, we are learning to think in all new ways. We are immersed in media. We wear our messages in ways that we never did before. The book is definitely worth the read, and the images are beautiful. I highly recommend it not only as a supplement to this lesson but also for pure enjoyment and self-edification.

As far as the article goes, Trimbur made me think a lot about the issues of teaching pure writing in this era. We are now taught through social media, casual text messages, and emails to create short and concise messages that combine text with images, emojis (which function more like iconography than like photographs), videos, sounds, and other media that help us to express our points in clearer ways. Although I believe that the immediate nature of this multimedia experience can help communication become clearer, the trending change also makes me question the value of classical rhetoric in the classroom. While traditional methods have historical relevance, they are now becoming antiquated as a means of teaching students relevant life skills. As a result of the change in communication strategies, students often struggle to meet page-length requirements, and those who do manage to meet them often deliberately or accidentally fill their pages with fluff. I think that we should learn to adjust our page length expectations and the nature of our assignments to better accommodate the current student population. I think that assignments that integrate the use of photographs, icons, infographics, and other visual elements combined with shorter commentary on the relevance of these images to the point of the “essay” can function as one solution to the problems we face. I also like some of the assignments that we’ve looked at in class such as making infographics and analyzing differences between social networks and the ways in which profiles work. These kinds of assignments work with skills that students either have already or will need in the workplace and in personal life. They also increase student awareness of the ways in which the current world functions. This awareness ultimately will help the students to become better members of the global community by aiding in their interaction.

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One thought on “Delivering the Mass-age

  1. Absolutely–times, they are a changin’….said a wise songwriter. We can be flexible in terms of what we think of as texts to engage our students. Nice work!

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