The Multimedia is the Message?

Some of you may be familiar with Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message” argument. Others might not. This post does not focus on McLuhan’s argument, but it is informed by it so I just wanted to provide a bit of context. In his 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, McLuhan argued that the medium, not the content, of a story or narrative (defined very broadly) is far more important in shaping what type of story a person tells.* The particular benefits and drawbacks influence your message or final product much more than the content of your story. For example, a movie, because of its ordered sequencing of events distorts story into a series of linear connections and order. Therefore, it is the abilities and restrictions of the medium that shapes the narrative, or message, of you movie far more than the content of the movie itself.

But when talking about multimedia projects such as Pine Point, Snow Fall, and Invisible Australians I cannot help but wonder what this does to the McLuhan’s idea of “message.” If the Multi-Media is the message then what does this mean? What do we look at to see this message? Do we look at the story as a whole? We could break down each individual “medium” in the multimedia story and search for individual messages. Maybe by finding the messages of each part of the story, we can gain a better understanding of the whole. But then do we not run the risk of missing out on the big picture of the story? We could also list out the multiple types of media used and see which one predominates the presentation, but then I think we sometimes miss out of the multi- part of the multimedia. What separates these multi- and new media stories from a monograph or movie is the various mediums utilized to tell the story. Consequently, although the various forms of media are vital in shaping the message of a new media story, I think the content in these stories are equally important as the forms of media in shaping the message. In order to understand the overall messages of Pine Point, Snow Fall, or the Invisible Australians one has to consider all these questions with an equal attention to the content. These multimedia stories are profoundly shaped by the individual types of media in them and the overall effect of these different forms of media. But they are also shaped by the connection that brings all these forms of media together, the content. Because there are so many different mediums at work, we must consult the content in order to better understand the message of multimedia.

Let’s take a look at Pine Point and attempt to uncover the “message.” Pine Point, is an exercise in memory, particularly the fleeting memory of a short-lived mining town. It focuses on images, short videos clips, audio clips, and short pieces of text to describe Pine Point. But it is not trying to form a cohesive story. It is a selection of experiences and memories of Pine Point. It does not follow a set chronological order, but instead jumps between the past and the present. The knowledge that this town does not exist any more is always present, even in the recollections. With the content in mind, we can better understand the organization and orientation of the new media story. Everything returns the eventual closing of Pine Point. Therefore, these clips, snapshots, digitized artifacts, and short text or audio blurbs, provide us with a scrapbooking effect. This presentation is a collection and display of memory much after events occurred, but it is also an account of the present. Like our own memories, this story serves as a necessarily imperfect recall of fleeting experiences. We cannot remember everything exactly as it occurred and our memories are constantly shaped by current knowledge and experience. And this multimedia presentation embraces that imperfect structure of memories, simultaneously highlighting important experiences and related them to the future fate of Pine Point and the current experiences of former Pine Point residents. And I think this is the message of the story, informed by both the elements (or mediums) that comprise it and the content of the narrative itself.

I will end this post with that look into Pine Point, but I think the same can be done for the Invisible Australians and the Snow Fall multimedia stories. Hopefully we can discuss this post in relation to them in class. I also wanted to direct you all to two similar “new media stories” that I have recently come across. The first is a Guardian piece, very similar to The New York Times’ Snow Fall story, on the NSA wiretapping scandal. The other is a Scalar project and a “born-digital multimodal article incorporating film, video, and audio clips that are integrated in, and central to, the argument” (Text taken from site) by Erin B. Mee, entitled “Hearing the Music of the Hemispheres.” Both are beautifully put together pieces that bring up many of the same issues brought up by our assigned projects/stories and the concepts I have brought up in this blog post.


*I am not saying that McLuhan’s argument is right or even generally accepted. I bring it up because I think it causes us to consider the effects of using different forms of media and makes us rethink how arguments, stories, and “messages” are constructed.

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