When McLuhan wrote that the media was the message, he meant that media tools were extensions of humans (1967 p15). Communications technology tools are extensions of understanding. The question is: can these newer media take on a life of their own independent of their users?
We have been using tools for a long time. Hominids used the earliest handtools in Oldowan, Ethiopia 2.4 million years ago. By contrast, communication tools appeared in very recent times. The first of three major revolutions in this domain was the development of speech 100,000 years ago which gave us shared experience. The second was the development of written language 6,000 years ago which gave us organisational complexity (Fidler 1997 pp 56-71).
The third is a metamorphosis in progress: the revolution from the heuristic measures of analog to the binary precision of digital. Virtual Reality is the holy grail of this numbers game. But, as Gibson and Dibbell warn in their techno-dystopias, life in the city of bits has ambiguous and corruptible ethics. The real-life person relinquishes control and plays second fiddle to the whims of AI. In 1993 Vernor Vinge described this vision of ‘The Singularity’: ‘Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.’
Crackpot theory or Moore’s Law?
Dibbell, Julian, 1998, A rape in cyberspace
Fidler, Roger, 1997, Mediamorphosis, Pine Forge Press, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Gibson, William, 1995, Burning chrome, Voyager, London
Handprint.com, 1999, Hominid tools
McLuhan, Marshall, 1967, Understanding media: extensions of man, Sphere Books Ltd, London
Mitchell, William, 1995, The city of bits
Vinge, Vernor, 1993, Vernor Vinge on the Singularity
Wikipedia, 2005, Moore’s Law
WorldHistorySite.com, 2003, Some dates in the history of cultural technologies