The Medium is the Message Or... Talking with your girlfriend on the phone
... (the telephone
Gary (picks up the phone)
: It's me again.
: Oh, hi baby
. Everything OK?
: Super! Martha just called and guess what!
: mmm, what?...
: She told me that she bought this wonderful skirt I have
been telling you about!
: Oh, the red one? Nice...
: She is coming tomorrow to the college wearing it!
: ...I'm thrilled. Tell me, do we have Physics at 9:00am ?
: Nope. At 8:00am.
: Hate it. I'm a corpse. Think I should get some sleep...
: OK baby! See you tomorrow!
: G'night baby...
So, let's have a first glimpse on what is meant by
the phrase "The medium is the message". Look at the first three lines
of the above typical phone conversation. Gary picks up the phone and
is wondering who is on the line. Linda says "It's me again". "It's me"...
Now, is this a proper answer? Saddam Hussein could have called, and he
still could say "It's me"! Any person could say "It's me", because of
course everybody is he himself!
So, the paradox here is that although the message ("It's me") is
totally meaningless and useless, Gary gets his answer as to who is
calling him. He responds with "Oh, hi baby". He understood that it was
not Saddam, it was Linda, his girlfriend (BTW, Linda makes Gary
terribly bored during the last few months, and he thinks that their
relationship has probably come to an end. (we will need this later)).
But what the heck happened here? Linda gave no hint as to who she was
by answering "It's me", but Gary nevertheless understood that it was
Linda. Let's think. If "It's me" was the message, what was the medium
that carried this message? Linda's voice...
This is an example of a case where the content of the message is
completely irrelevant, and the only thing that counts is the medium,
i.e. the voice of the caller. In fact, Linda could also answer with a
message of a wrong/misleading content like "It's me, Saddam!". Gary,
now wondering only about her sense of humour, would still understand
that it is Linda. It is the same case with your mama returning home,
she hears a noise from your bedroom and asks "Is anybody home?".
Whether you respond with "Me", "Yes", "No", "The Martians" etc, she
will get the answer she was looking for.
Now, it depends on which layer you analyse something, in order to say
which is the medium and which is the message. The above example made
sense and was therefore analysed at the Physical Layer (the
carrier, in which case it was the voice which carries the words). (Time
to remember the OSI model ;-). But the above example of the whole
conversation can be analysed at higher layers, where the words
carry meanings, the meanings carry information, and information
carries human communication (like the OSI Application Layer).
So, the above conversation, as most of Gary's conversations with his
girlfriend Linda during the last months had a very low S/N ratio
(signal to noise). Gary was not interested in the least about the
things that Linda told him, and was during most of the conversation
contributing only with acknowledgements to Linda's words. At last he
was so bored, that he invented a typical way to tear up the connection:
He asked about the Physics class next morning. He already knew that it
was on 8:00am, but the question was a way to make Linda tell him that
it was on 8:00am, so that he could exclaim that he should get some
sleep in order to be able to get up so early.
So, the only part of the conversation that seemed to carry some real
information, was actually noise. The real problem behind all that, is
the typical assumption/need that if two people have a relation (not any
relation, a girlfriend-boyfriend relation), they should have a daily
communication. Whether they have something to tell each other or not,
they should communicate daily. Sometimes they even say it clearly: "I
just called to hear your voice! ;-)". Caution, I do not suggest that
this is wrong, or that I do not do it, I just want to point out some
issues about it. So, when the actual goal of the calling is to just
hear your other half's voice, it is the carrier that you are interested
in, not the message.
Actually, talking on the phone with your girlfriend imitates the
act of being physically together with her. So, to imitate the physical
proximity using the phone, you need a constant flow of something
of your girlfriend that suggests this proximity. This is the voice. But
to get the voice, you have to get it through something that is
being said, and there you have all these 45min conversations that feed
your local Telcos, in which you say everything and at the same time,
nothing. This jabbering is done of course with a great pleasure when
you are in a fresh relation, but as you get to know each other, as one
gets used to the other, this meaningless jabbering which only exists to
verify that the communication channel of the two is still open, gets
Gary and Linda broke up next evening.