Pandmic V: The Medium is The Message

Published: 2020-09-05
Tagged: thoughts pandemic

Since March, everyone around me has been in agreement about this at least: the pandemic is confusing. Even now, half year into it, there remains a lack of clarity about everything from what the right thing to do is to what's even happening at this moment. Are things getting better or worse? Is it as bad as we thought it would be? Are there long-term problems after getting sick? There's a lot of guesswork.

During a global pandemic, scepticism is elevated to a survival trait–the situation is new and calls for unusual amounts of caution and curiosity. I would imagine lots of meetings and long discussions to be happening now, but most of what I'm seeing is people shouting into the void. What the hell?

Marshall McLuhan once remarked that "the medium is the message". In 2020, a lot of discourse happens through social media or television. How are tweets, facebook posts, and quick-take news videos shaping public discourse? If our messages are constrained to 20 second video cuts, incisive memes, or 280 characters, is it possible to convey the nuance of the situation facing 7.8 billion people? How much do ranking algorithms distort the debate? If we were playing a game about building a civilization and our virtual people were facing a global catastrophe, would social media be the tool to help them?

Perhaps there is nothing surprising about our confusion. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with us or our ability to reason about the world. Perhaps we are confused because our most widely used tools for information distribution are making it harder for us to have detailed discussions and to think deeply.



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