Mediums are the message. They contain within them a shift that forms a new consciousness.
For instance, pre-language society was an aural, interwoven experience not dependent on the specialization of the eye. Then one night some thinker sat in a cave and thought the thought that some things can represent other things. From this imagery emerged. So too did language and the written word, which became an extension of this idea of representation. This shifted us from an aural people to a visual people.
From the written word many things followed very quickly. Things like civilization.
Much later, Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and movable type would shift our consciousness once more, accelerating our shift to a visual society, and encouraging literacy. From movable type so too did nationalism (seeing the vernacular) and the industrial revolution (books as a repeatable commodity) evolve.
The Telegraph began yet another shift, towards a new electronic age of increasing paradoxical connection. The communication technologies of the 20th century — TV and phones, in particular — expanded this closeness, while also distancing us physically. Marshall McLuhan predicted in the 1960s that we would turn into a technology-enabled global village, restoring our sensory balance by once again becoming all-inclusive.
The Internet is this global village, which has once again become the medium that is the message that has shifted our consciousness. With the introduction of the hyperlink, we have a whole new way of thinking, a generation of internet natives growing up on the notion that consciousness, knowledge, everything is a web of interconnected things, but not necessarily dependent on the physical world of things you can touch and move and smell. In a way, this recalls pre-language society, only in a different realm.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this hyperlink consciousness, and what it means for the future of art. Maria Popova of Brainpickings writes in a way that is everything at once, her blog connecting every thinker to another thinker, and her book Figuring jumping from thinker to idea to everything to idea. It’s a style of writing informed by the Internet’s shift in thinking.