New interactive environments

Task 12: Tool or Medium

09.12.2010 22:21 by Katri Lindau
For me, digital technology is a tool which can be used on creating the medium. Or isn't it?

Marshall McLuhan has said "the medium is the message". He means that the technology what is used to deliver the media has at least the same importance as the message itself. If not more. We are living in times where the medium can be carrying even more message than the message itself.

So it is quite blurry now.

Georg Rückriem tries to find the answer through different existing theories.. and finds no definite answer - he says that computer technology is tool and medium. Rückriem states that the answer depends of the question of approaching. "But we have to be aware of the fact that this change of view is a methodological potentiality of activity theory only when reading it from the point of view of system theory," says Georg Rückriem.

Andrew Feenberg tries to give some historical background - as I understood at first technology was a tool, then the process takes place and changes and at the end states that in critical theory technologies are not seen as tools but as frameworks for ways of life. To me it seems that according to critical theory digital technology is a medium.

It seems that the "old" theories aren't reliable to define the digital technology as we know (and/or use) it nowadays. It seems that the "old" theories should be developed according to the situation we have now.

Looking this tool or a medium question in Activity Theory it seems that most probably years ago technology was definitely a tool. As the use and meaning of technology as changed for now it is clear that technology can be both the tool and the medium. As McLuhan said. And as it isn't only the tool and the instrument, it can't be neutral, it is clear that the tool itself carries also the message and influences it.

Rückriem, G. Tool or Medium? The Meaning of Information and Telecommunication Technology  to Human Practice. A Quest for Systemic Understanding of Activity Theory. Helsinki, 2. 12. 2003. Available here.
Feenberg, A. What is Philosophy of Technology? Lecture for the Komaba undergraduates. June 2003. Available here.
McLuhan, M. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. 1964


Heresiarch to Katri Lindau

26.12.2010 20:57
I rescued from cassette this talk that Marshall McLuhan gave at Johns Hopkins University in the mid 1970s. I have not found an audio file of this talk anywhere online. So far as I know it's an original contribution to the archive of McLuhan audio. Enjoy. Rare McLuhan Audio
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