Marshall McLuhan, a philosopher of media theory, predicted our attachments to electric means of communication before the like button on Facebook existed. Actually, he predicted it even before the birth of Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg. Although the subject warrants a much greater detailing, I will briefly highlight a couple significant points that McLuhan makes in regards to the human attachment to all forms of media. The first being that of retribalization. This is the process of getting rid of individualism by receiving digital information as a cognizant, collective group (McLuhan, 1960). This emphasizes the social identity and intergroup relation theories of social psychologists Leon Festinger (1954) and Henri Tajfel (1982) who’s theories in tandem show that individual esteem is drawn from group memberships. Within these social affiliations, I will then point to McLuhan’s (2001) mantra – the medium is the message. We learn more about ourselves through the means with which we extract information, as opposed to the message itself (McLuhan, 2001). I close with where this puts me as a future media psychologist. The subject is such an interdisciplinary field, that to properly address it in academia, a respect must be made to McLuhan for his contributions and early predictions of living in a digital society.
In an interview with CBC TV in 1960, McLuhan draws a similarity between new media and a tribal drum. Advancements in media and the immediacy of broadcasting information is comparable to the cultural signal because it is a single unit, an act that allows everyone to get the message at the same time (McLuhan, 1960). Just like a clock tower striking noon letting everyone know the time, people knew that Philip Seymour Hoffman died from a drug overdose within hours.
This is apart of retribalization. Not the drugs so much. Well, actually maybe the drugs. But instead of heroin, its media that we’re addicted to. McLuhan believes that the tribal man is our new media man, working to get rid of individualism and replace self-definitions with group meaning (McLuhan, 1960).
Society’s dependence on technology is explained by McLuhan’s mantra, the medium is the message (or massage). People are now best explained by the means with which they receive their information, rather than the information itself that they actually want to seek. We are social creatures by nature, living comparatively with each other. To distinguish ourselves and display our individuality, we all use units of our personality to ironically find others with similar traits and gain esteem from those group memberships (Festinger, 1954; Tajfel, 1982). I find it even more ironic because finding and aligning yourself with likeminded people can arguably do the opposite of making you an individual. I do believe that people are allowed to have multiple identities (I for one have about 19 that I can account for). And I believe that McLuhan would agree because affiliation with a group (or multiple groups) falls in line with his notion of retribalization. This is because when in a group, you act in accordance and work with it as a medium.
Digital languages were constructed to make it that much easier to cater to our social memberships and news filters. As McLuhan states, “any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments” (p.26). These environments are no longer just the water cooler, the barbershop, porch steps, or even the newspaper. It is now followed with a .com or @ or # symbol, or accessible via game console controllers. For me as a sports consumer, I live through digital languages. God forbid I miss a Clippers game for example, all I do is go on twitter and search by #Clippers (hasthtags), or go to the accounts of my NBA comrades who I know “live tweet” during games. In doing this, I can literally visualize the pick & roll and hear the commentary of announcers Ralph Lawler and Mike Smith. I would not be able to do this in any other era than the digital one.
Media advances today have only made it easier to search for intergroup members and information, making it conceivably more vital than the media itself. Would these groups even matter if it wasn’t for the platforms that help us connect? I guess the answer of that is next to the answer of, “if a tree falls in a forest– does anyone hear it?”
Media psychology is a phrase that every time I say it to someone unfamiliar, it is immediately followed by a “Hmph” combo sound of intrigue and confusion. But McLuhan’s messages were so ahead of his time. CBC host Alan Millar even stated before his interview with McLuhan (1960), “Everywhere is now our own neighborhood. We know what it’s like to go on safari in Kenya, or to have an audience with the pope, or to order cognac at a paris café. But not only is the world getting smaller, it’s becoming more available and more familiar to our minds and our emotions.” I think this is a big part of media psychology. Communication, semiotics, social psychology, cognition, digital citizenship…to be able to articulate the intersection between all of these fields in relation to humanity make up media psychology.
As new developments emerge in media technology, so does the disappearance of individuality. Through this process of retribalization, McLuhan (1960) believes that group thinking minimizes individual thought, which is only escalated by our addiction to technology’s appeal. The world is no longer intimidating when every inch of it is accessible by an application like Google Earth. In this sense, the medium is not only the message, but also the point where we offer human extension to digital platforms (McLuhan, 2001). Identity theory and social psychology are certainly embedded in this conversation, and that is the exciting part of studying media psychology. The intersection of multiple disciplines and subject matters shows just how complex humanity is, at both the individual and collective level. I see no way to escape some unit of media today. And therefore I believe that it is best to study it because as McLuhan (2001) stated, “it is impossible to understand social and cultural changes without a knowledge of the workings of media” (p.8).
Festinger, L. (1954). A Theory Of Social Comparison Processes. Human Relations, 7(2), 117-140
McLuhan, M. (1960, May 18). Marshall McLuhan – The World is a Global Village (CBC TV) [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeDnPP6ntic
McLuhan, M., Fiore, Q., & Agel, J. (2001). The medium is the massage: An inventory of effects. Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press.
Tajfel, H. (1982). Social identity and intergroup relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press