I’ve been rereading Marshall McLuhan lately. Always challenging. Always a delight.
Media, according to McLuhan, is an extension — any technology a person or society uses to expand the range of the human body or mind in a new way. Telegraph, radio, movies, TV, the Internet, e-mail, and IM are all extensions, because they are — or were at one time — new technologies that expand how we communicate.
Extensions bring about amputations — technologies that are lost because of the adoption of a newer technology. The telegraph, for example, is an amputation caused by the telephone.
McLuhan noted — and was concerned by the fact — that most people are excited about extensions while ignoring amputations. We are, in simpler terms, excited about what we gain by a new technology, a new medium, without giving much thought to what we lose.
PowerPoint is a case in point.
It is clearly an extension, a new technology for presenting information. It makes many things possible: the relatively easy creation, display, and dissemination of visual elements (words, graphs, charts, diagrams, etc.).
It also creates amputations — lost technologies, lost media, lost ways of communicating. Presenters almost never use a chalkboard or (thankfully) an overhead projector any more. Few people (sadly) use flip charts. Almost no one creates handouts. (I don’t consider a printed version of your PowerPoint presentation a handout.) And fewer and fewer people (tragically) are writing research papers or white papers.
We are, I think, quick to celebrate the benefits of PowerPoint and slow to acknowledge the losses. What do you think?
Photo courtesy of Medipedia.