In a moment of foreshadowing, McLuhan wrote the following:
Electric circuitry is recreating in us the multi-dimensional space orientation of the “primitive.”
Multiple things recently have led me to the conclusion that social media, far from being an innovative thing of the future, is simply the natural result of human evolution and the closest we have ever been to human pre-history. Social media appeals to more basic human needs than any other medium of communication.
In The Medium is the Massage, Marshall McLuhan talks about how “all media are extension of some human faculty – psychic or physical.” While he uses examples such as radio – an extension of your ears – and TV – and extension of your sight – social media makes his point even more poignant. While facebook might be easy to mock and while incorporating “retweet” into an everyday conversation might still feel weird, these mediums just represent things that humans have been doing for centuries — but magnified to their maximum potential and broadcast across the web.
Marketers across the board should be glad to hear that what this scary ‘social media’ business really is, when broken down, is just ‘word of mouth’ magnified.
In his book, Socialnomics, Eric Qualman talks about how ‘word of mouth’ is now ‘world of mouth’ and how information passed around verbally through webs of people is now passed directly from one person to the hundreds of people in their network. But it’s still the same thing that has been driving ideas for centuries – word of mouth.
I really liked how Rick Sanchez, at the Gravity Summit a few weeks ago, talked about how what social media was actually doing was bringing us back to our roots. He introduced the idea of a “cyber-porch,” and explained that social platforms are really just giving us the chance, in our busy schedules and modern lives, to do what our grandparents, and their parents, and their parents before them did so much of: chatting on the front porch.
It goes deeper than that though– social media pulls on some of our deepest human needs and desires. Qualman explains that we “have the dichotomous psychological need to be an individual, yet feel connected to and accepted by a much larger social set,” a contradiction in terms that can’t be answered by television, print, or anything on the internet before, say, 2002. I remember the first time I was asked by a site to set up a ‘profile’ when I was in middle school. I couldn’t figure out why they wanted a photo, a bio, my favorite music, my favorite movies, my favorite quote and where I lived – but I loved filling out all the details and I loved even more the idea that my profile would be viewed and connected to others. It’s the perfect match to fulfill our basic needs.
So how, exactly, does social media take us back all the way to prehistory? That concept revolves not only around social media, but around the entire 21st century digital saturation that we’ve come to expect from almost every experience we have. We live in a 360, 3-D, interactive, real-time world – and while that sounds like the stuff of the future, Marshall McLuhan leads me to believe that what we’re really doing is stripping away the limitations on our perspective that came hand-in-hand with the dawn of civilization.
This applies to our interactions with the digital world especially — augmented reality, 3-D movies, advances in video gaming, responsive web design and social media are how the world SHOULD be seen. McLuhan points out that when, in the Renaissance, humans discovered The Vanishing Point and learned to paint perspective they created the detached observer. You were no longer a part of the painting, and the painting no longer depicted more than exactly what you saw. “The instantaneous world of electric informational media,” however “involves all of us, all at once. No detachment of frame is possible.” In other words, humans are back in the picture.
McLuhan goes on to describe the limitations that the alphabet put on this species that had previously lived in a primarily olfactory environment – pre-historic people perceived space differently, and therefore depicted it much differently. Time and space were integrated together, and both were boundless and horizonless in nature. In their art, pre-historic people put in everything they knew – not according to visual logic, but according to the full experience, so that they fully explained everything they wished to represent.
Isn’t that sort of what we do now?