Search results for “laws of media”

Learning the Laws of Media

There has been much discussion of Thomas Friedman’s recent book The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century. Will Richardson connects this flatness to education:

Like him or not, I have to say that I’ve been getting a bit of an education from Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, and I’m finding more and more connections between the global leveling he describes and the classroom.

We edubloggers talk and write about this a lot, this idea that the tools of the Read/Write Web necessarily change the relationships and construction of the classroom. When audience moves from one teacher to many readers, when assessment moves measuring correctness to measuring usefulness, when we ask for long lasting contribution of ideas instead of short-lived answers to narrow questions, it requires us to rethink our roles as teachers and to redefine our curricula. Remember, we don’t own the content any longer. Our students teach us the tools. They are already connecting and collaborating. To hold on to the vertical classroom is to risk irrelevance…soon.

A common adage amongst learning professionals is that, "it’s not about the technology, it’s about learning". While we may hope that this is true, we live in societies based on technologies, and Marshall McLuhan is consistently proven correct with his Laws of Media:

every new medium:

1. extends a human property (the car extends the foot);

2. obsolesces the previous medium by turning it into a sport or an form of art (the automobile turns horses and carriages into sports);

3. retrieves a much older medium that was obsolesced before (the automobile brings back the shining armour of the chevalier);

4. flips or reverses its properties into the opposite effect when pushed to its limits (the automobile, when there are too many of them, create traffic jams, that is total paralysis)

Every new technology has these four effects on all of us, including learning technologies. This means that much of our work is about technology. If you don’t understand the effects of the technologies that we use, how can you understand their pedagogical implications? Take the learning management system, which has been with us for about a decade. The LMS:

  1. extends the instructor’s voice beyond the walls of the institution;
  2. obsolesces the classroom (but small, face-to-face executive classes are on the rise);
  3. the LMS retrieves the correspondence model;
  4. it has flipped into a costly administrative tool that does not meet the needs of inter-connected learners using other more effective technologies to communicate.

In looking at the newer social networking technologies (blogs, wikis, eportfolios) we could say that they:

  1. extend the learner’s voice;
  2. obsolesce the course as the unit of education
  3. retrieve the Oxford-Cambridge collegial education model
  4. could reverse into a meaningless "echo-chamber" (Wikepedia definition of "echo chamber: Metaphorically, the term echo chamber can refer to any situation in which information or ideas are amplified by transmission inside an enclosed space.)

Like it or not, technology is changing the learning landscape. We cannot adopt one technology and ignore another, or we risk becoming irrelevant. Learning professionals have to understand the technologies that drive our media. The best way to understand these technologies is to use them and watch how others use them. For instance, don’t discount the use of Instant Messaging for education just because all the kids are using it for non-educational purposes. Try to tap into it instead.

We live in a time when new information and communication technologies are constantly being developed. My advice is to get used to it, and remember that "The medium is the message".

Blogs and the Laws of Media

According to McLuhan’s Laws of Media, every technology (in the broad sense of the word) that we use has precisely four effects on us – to extend, to retrieve, to obsolesce and to reverse. According to Federman and deKerckhove, the retrieves quadrant can be the most revealling. It can provide us with some insight on possible effect of new technologies. John Husband makes this observation about what weblogs retrieve:

Much in the same way that email revived the lost art of letter writing, Blogs are reviving the lost art of civilized civic dialogue – of argument, of well reasoned thought and response.

As Federman and deKerckhove state in their book, "McLuhan for Managers":

For a manager who is considering how the next innovation will affect his or her staff or target market, studying the precedent can be particularly revealing. The RETRIEVES quadrant directly furnishes the lessons and experiences of history.

McLuhan’s laws of media can be used as a lens that can help us to make business and organisational decisions regarding new technologies.


power, sex, laws, and empathy

Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds. “Leadership is a serious meddling in the lives of others. Managers/leaders with poor self-awareness and not knowing how their behaviour affects staff do not get the best out of their teams.” —@shauncoffey Was humanity simply… Read more »

socially mediated

Social media extend emotion, obsolesce the linearity and logic of print, retrieve orality, and when pushed to their extreme result in constant outrage. A socially networked society could reverse into a popularity contest, where our value is only measured in our mediated reputation, such as numbers of Twitter followers or LinkedIn connections. Our tribal leaders… Read more »

mediated relatedness

I gave a presentation on ‘Understanding Media for Learner Engagement’ to the UNL Extension network yesterday. It was based on McLuhan’s laws of media which I have discussed many times here since 2004 (communication in evolution) and more recently (taking back our society). One effect of the network era, and its pervasive digital connections, is… Read more »

the new electric media

“Of course we can live without a bodily identity, but the body confers a particular kind of identity. Aquinas pointed out that the principle of individuation consists in the intersection of matter and spirit. Without the body, then, individual identity is not possible. Discarnate man is mass man; individuality is simply not possible because there… Read more »

Power Laws

The real power is in making others powerful … is attributed to Ben Zander, author of The Art of Possibility, found on Presentation Zen [an excellent resource on presentation design and worth a check before your next PowerPoint presentation]. Garr then says this about teaching: In presenting – and certainly in teaching – we need… Read more »

Obsolescing the Middle Men

Ross Mayfield’s recent article on the rise of the Commons-based peer production business model came with a quote that about 50% of US GDP consists of transaction costs. These are the costs of getting a product or service from the seller to the purchaser. The contention is that the commons model, used by open source software developers as well as others, reduces these transaction costs.
There appears to be a huge opportunity for nimble small companies (without huge marketing & sales overhead) to significantly reduce transaction costs and pass these on to purchasers. This is what Mancomm Performance did on our last project by using open source software and underbidding a Fortune 500 company by ~$2M.
Looking at this situation through McLuhan’s tetrad for the laws of media, here is how this could be explained.
Commons-based peer production:

  • Extends each individual’s reach worldwide
  • Obsolesces the middle men (accountants, lawyers, traders, brokers)
  • Retrieves the barter system or the bazaar – (I can set my own rules for buying & selling)
  • and Flips, when extended to its limits, the Commons into a whuffie economy

Theory & Practice for Innovation

In reading Christensen, Anthony & Roth (2004) Seeing What’s Next, I found patterns linking three strategic innovation approaches.

First, in McLuhan for Managers, the authors synthesize much of Marshall McLuhan’s work, and provide a lens for managers and owners to make business decisions. The important piece of this book is how to use McLuhan’s laws of media to understand the changes that are possible with a medium. The authors suggest that it is in the retrieves quadrant of the
probes " … we may be able to glean valuable clues as to the effects of the new medium from more easily observed effects of the old." Understanding retrieval can give a clearer vision of signal versus noise.

Johansson, in The Medici Effect says that new businesses should look for reversals in order to find possibilities, especially at the intersection of fields or disciplines. These can result in order of magnitude business opportunities.

Christensen, also the author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution, gives new business entrants and incumbents a theory-based set of tools to understand and use disruptive innovations. One of the strategies for new businesses is to target non-core customers of the incumbents. These come in three categories (overshot, undershot and non-customers) and by targeting these customers entrants can avoid direct confrontation, while developing skills and expertise (swords) in areas outside the core business of the incumbents. Once the entrants have grown "under the radar", they can grow to directly confront the incumbents.

This is an over-simplification of these three excellent books, but my intent is to grab your interest, as I see patterns in each book that reinforce each other, and I believe can be beneficial to your business, existing or new. Finally, Seeing What’s Next includes chapters on the healthcare and education industries, two fields of my own practice. The chapter on education was worth the price of the book for me.

Here is my first attempt at summarizing some of these concepts in a graphical form.

The Medici Effect

In reading Frans Johansson’s book, The Medici Effect, I was able to take away a lot of practical ways of increasing innovation especially by looking for the intersections between fields of practice. Kind of like my tag line 😉

Johansson tells you to look for reversals which may give you insights into new ways of doing things. He uses a restaurant as an example, saying that the assumption is that restaurants have menus, but the reversal would be a restaurant without a menu. This would be one where, "The chef informs each customer what he bought that day … the diner selects the desired food items and the chef creates a dish from them, specifically for each customer."

Looking for reversals is the same strategy that Federmann & deKerkhove advise in McLuhan for Managers; based on McLuhan’s Laws of Media. You might want to read these two books in tandem.

Johansson states that those with lots of good ideas are also those with lots of bad ideas. The important thing is to generate many ideas, and follow through on those that show promise. Innovation is the following through part. As Guy Kawasaki says, "Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard."

Johansson suggests that the way to be creative is to start early and let the idea develop over time. Don’t wait till the last minute:

… we should start by working hard and in a focused manner on a problem or idea and develop it as far as possible. Then we should wait, move on to something else, and forget about the problem for a while. [and repeat]

The Medici Effect is a quick read and I really enjoyed it. I would recommend this book as a window on some new possibilities.