In the article titled “Culture and Media: A dynamic constitution” Prof. Slunecko and Hengl (2006) argue that McLuhan’s media theory needs to studied and applied by social scientists as there are features of culture that cannot be studied using normal reductionist methods of science. McLuhan’s media theory is radically different from current de facto theories in social psychology as it doesn’t differentiate between the medium and the message, since the medium itself contains part of the message.
The medium of writing for example, has a psychological impact that is different from how speaking to others can psychologically impact individuals. When we write something, the ideas contained within it get frozen in time and space and those ideas become accessible for self reflection. What was written was a part of oneself at one point in time and that self can later used as a way to measure how much the current self has changed, if at all. This is much different from talking to someone, or even talking to oneself. Talking is always dynamic, constantly reflecting the continuous changes that the individual is going through. The medium of communication makes a difference.
How the medium of communication can effect one’s psychology can also be seen when one compares ideographic (signs represent images) languages like Chinese to more abstract languages like English where signs stand for phonemes. Words become autonomous in more abstract languages and meaning becomes embedded within a piece of text. Reading and writing in an abstract language like English can become a private activity, and self absorption and solipsism becomes a possibility.
The effect of language can be seen in how the science perceives itself to be. A scientist is seen as someone who is separate from the world that can make objective judgments based upon experimentation. But this idea of objectivity is a result of speaking a particular language. The idea of breaking a phenomenon into smaller and smaller components in order to explain the said phenomenon is borrowed from the formal structure of vocalic alphabet. Reductionist method in science is then a product of the structure of language that we speak.
Media theory thus asserts that even western scientific methodology is susceptible to how we communicate with each other. For media theory, understanding the medium of communication is the key to understanding all other human endeavors and even consciousness.
Slunecko, T., & Hengl, S. (2006). Culture and media: A dynamic constitution. Culture & Psychology, 12, 69-85.