Friday, March 12, 2010

Medium is the Message

To help me understand how good teachers connect with students and therefore more successfully educate, inspire, and instill etc, I set up for myself an ongoing series of observing teachers in the classroom. Yesterday, I observed Donna David in her Visual Process class at FIT. She gave a lecture in communication theory and semiotics. I found the lecture fascinating (and I don't mean "fascinating" in the sense that "I'm angry but don't want to be negative so I'll use 'fascinating'"). It was a rich few hours.

I was struck by many things about the class (more observations to come—including the fact that movement and comfort are forms of semiotics), but what I want to mention here is a student's reaction to a radioactive hazard symbol and a site that Donna showed to expand her discussion of the radioactive symbol. The message was urgent, but a student commented, "Who wrote this site? I can't even take it seriously because of the way it looks."

The comment made me think of your student, whose enjoyment of the movie "Avatar" was ruined by the sub-titles in Papyrus. The sub-titles didn't bother me (hack? blown away by those 3-D seeds?) possibly because "Avatar" is really a Papyrus-kind-of-a-movie to me. In the case of the nuclear waste, the reaction is more arresting and troubling. The medium is the message (and massage). Form is the new content (I stole the afore-written phrase).

In a way, form is not news. The medium became the message when Marshall McLuhan and designer Quentin Fiore wrote The Medium is the Massage in 1967, using McLuhan's catchphrase. Now, it's a faster message—and massage.

A side note: oddly, my online search for "Nuclear Waste Fields" in an attempt to find the url for the site the student found so ugly also calls up sidebars for Albuquerque B&Bs.

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