Social Existence
Blind Leading the Blind

The Medium isn't the Message

So, with a flurry of excited chirrups, pings and liveblogging, the iNet has heralded the launch of the iPad [and iBooks and everything] with equal amounts of awe, confusion and ridicule - ever the attitudinal breakdown of the geeky [especially when it comes to the name - it seems feminine hygiene products still elicit a titter on twitter].

Recently, partially due to tablets [digital not prescription] and partially due to conversations with @KathySierra over twitter and various people in the book industry IRL, I've been thinking a lot about content and media and that.

[OK, so I think about that kind of thing a lot anyway, but more so.]

For a long time now I've been talking about the medium NOT being the message. 

With all due to respect to McLuhan of course - because it's never entirely clear what he means - but he was I think suggesting that the characteristics of the medium both delineate the nature of the content [but that we tend to not see the medium's delineating effect because we focus on the content] and that the cultural effect of the medium is distinct and larger than the the effect of the content.

All of which makes sense. I think.

Think about what we call advertising.

Its primary form is essentially an historical accident - the nature of what we call advertisements was delineated by the nature and relative scarcity of the transmission vectors.

To whit: we put films on television, and airtime costs money, so we buy it in 30 seconds chunks, and call those advertisements.

[But, as Jim Carrol from BBH has endlessly pointed out, advertising comes from advetere: to draw attention to [literally to turn towards] - so advertising should really be considered to be anything which draws attention to a company. We have tended to conflate the expressions with the intention. Possibly.]

Up until recently however, what we called media were themselves assemblages of a number of different things.

[McLuhan had an extended definition of medium - he included light bulbs - but the point will hold for the primary 'media']

So 'television' isn't actually a clearly defined thing as such - it's a socio-cultural construct of at least two things: content and a distribution platform - the medium.

Books, magazines, radio all work the same way. A 'book' is a bunch of words printed on paper, with a certain set of culturally defined ideas that float around it.

Up until digitalness, you couldn't separate the content from the distribution platform. 

But digital 'content' can be unbundled from its distribution platform.

And the iPad made me realise that it's not just distribution and content - there is a third piece: the consumption platform.

When IBM started talking about the brave new 'world of platform agnostic content and the fluid mobility of media experiences' in 2006, we weren't really there yet. 

Language, as usual, helps us see where changes are occuring.

When you are watching 30Rock on Netflix via your Xbox360, or on Hulu, on a laptop, or screen, or projector, or iPad - are you watching television?

If so - why? If not - why not?

When you are reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on your Kindle [or iPad] - are you reading a book?

If so - why? If not - why not?

What about books like Pride and Prejudice? Because they are no longer under copyright, they are free on the Kindle. Previously you would pay for the consumption vehicle, now you don't need to. 

A Kindle is clearly not a book, and yet it is all books, kind of.

The words don't quite fit properly anymore - because they are bundled constructs.

You have the distribution platform - in pre-digital media these were closed networks: book distributors, magazine distributors, cables, satellites, mobile phone networks.

With digitalness you just need an IP network that you can access anywhere.

Then you have content.

Digital content can take any form: text, audio, video, experience, game and so on.

Then you have consumption platforms: screens basically. Lots of different kinds of screens, that are good in different contexts.

Previously you had 'computers' that were bundled devices for content consumption and creation [and communication and spreadsheets and stuff] - but the iPad seems like it is focused primarily on being a content consumption device for the time being.

[Although the touchscreen only iPad Keynote does sound interesting, from a very personal point of view]

And you have emerging economic ecosystems that plug these things together: things like iTunes and iBooks and app stores and that.

[And yes they are walled gardens, just like when phone networks started doing content for mobiles, because that's how you make the most money from new platforms, manufacturing scarcity and exclusivity - but they will hopefully all become more webby eventually, assuming Google gets its way.]

Returning for a second to the iPad - it's been much discussed as the saviour of PRINT [although of course that word doesn't make sense in a digital context].

But how is an enewspaper any different from a news website, on an iPad? In fact, what do these distinctions even mean in an unbundled media world?

You have text, sounds, images, moving images, interactive experiences, and blends of all these.

What constitutes an unbundled newsPAPER, magazine, tv channel?

Content> distribtution> consumption - the new 'unbundled' mediascape is emerging.