Let’s Blog off! This week’s topic: Does Social Media like Facebook connect the world or isolate people? Go to Letsblogoff.com for a complete list of bloggers writing this week!

Marshall McLuhan

One of the most influential writers and personalities I studied at the University of Arizona was Marshall McLuhan. (1911-1980) At the time, and it was after his death and before he became well read all over again as the advent of the internet took place, one of his many books, “The Medium is the Message” fascinated a young and impressionable Communications student. I loved just the way the book looked with the bold, short and colorful phrases designed to “communicate” a message in and of itself.  (that and much easier to read than Camus or Sartre)

To me, communication is the 6th sense. I think the ability to communicate is almost as vital to life as air and water. In some ways, I think losing this “sense” would be more profound than losing hearing or eyesight. You can still communicate with the loss of either of these senses but to be unable to communicate in any way, would be unbearable. Read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for a moving look at the power of communication and the human need for it.

I have found over the years many reasons to marvel at McLuhan’s prescient and progressive insight into redefining media  and the relevance of the medium vs the message in communication. McLuhan claimed society would move beyond individualism towards a collective identity and a “tribal base” (facebook friends). He called this the “global village”.

And are we not globalized with twitter, facebook, You Tube and the myriad of other social media outlets? Have we not learned of disasters seconds after they occur due to social sites? Have others in marginalized societies been able to reach out to let the world know of their oppression via social media? McLuhan talked of the “new media” ( tv and radio in it’s infancy) giving us a voice and being able to reach masses. I  would be in the company of many who think McLuhan was well before his time. Eerily so. As a side note, McLuhan wanted people to think and stimulate their own ideas based on big picture concepts.  He felt sorry for those who “did not get him”.

I may be wrong, but I’m never in doubt.”…Marshall McLuhan

( my favorite quote)

McLuhan understood that ultimately it was up to each audience member to control their intake of any media, and to contextualize it in a way that made sense to them. So when people criticize Social Media as being about “nothing” or a lack of content, well, they really don’t get it and Marshall would shake his head in disgruntled dismay.

For the most part, I think people who utilize social media as a way of communicating do not isolate from neighbors, friends, coworkers etc.  Indeed, I think it allows families spread to the far ends of the country stay in touch and connect in ways ten years ago would have been impossible.  I know this is true for my own family and really has given my family more of a picture of “my life” than I could ever explain to them in person. Or would care to. I know my far flung family thrills to my magazine articles and seeing how others interact with me. This gives them another “dimension” of insight into my persona, by seeing my communication on a different level than just one on one conversation.

I have benefitted from social media by enlarging my circle of friends and colleagues. People who I would otherwise not meet or get  to “know” in any way. And the connection to far flung high school and college friends is kind of fun! I live in a small town as well and the ability to stay connected is valuable to me personally as well as professionally. I think the playing field has leveled to some degree. I can “socialize” with people of vastly different backgrounds. People who would probably not live in the deep south! In turn, this allows me to access “big city” ideas and thoughts and a more diverse population than I may meet sitting on my front porch! This contributes to the interdependence of the “tribe” as well.

Let’s “face” it: Facebook and Twitter are mostly fun and often business related interaction: you can ignore it when you want ( if you have the willpower!): you can utilize it as a knowledge base when you need it: and you can keep up with friends and family on a personal level that enhances, not supplants face to face time and visits.

But the power of communication and the human need for it is the “message”. Social media just makes the “medium” all the more fascinating.

And the truth shall set you free

Epitaph on McLuhan’s grave