Environment to Anti-Environment – McLuhan

“From the development of phonetic script until the invention of the electric telegraph human technology had tended strongly toward the furtherance of detachment and objectivity, detribalization and individuality. Electric circuitry has quite the contrary effect. It involves in depth. It merges the individual and mass environment” (112).

I did not take too much from this essay for my own study. However, this one quote did get me thinking on our perceived and intended purposes of current communication media. Is our intent to use it to bring us closer together or to make us individuals, and regardless of intent, what is the actual effect?

Communication in our current age, that is to say communication conducted largely via the internet, does offer the opportunity for participants to be deeply involved and to merge with the larger mass environment. This point is evidenced by the success and ubiquity of social media, although the depth of involvement with this example is arguable. However, in many ways, one can see it still creating a situation in which one may become increasingly detached and individual. On one hand, we have all these options and opportunities for people to meet, interact, and communicate online, thus allowing people to be social at far greater distances than ever before. This creates amazing situations to socialize, collaborate, meet, work, etc. together. However, in participating in this way, people are largely sitting in front of a computer screen, alone, and essentially simulating interactions that would normally occur in a FtF setting.

The OVC, like many online communication strategies, strives (or at least creates the opportunity) to create a rich, multimodal communication setting for those for whom a FtF setting is not possible or at least not convenient, such as in the asynchronous online classroom. In this way, it brings people closer together, yet it cannot deny the distance aspect that is part of its definition. That it allows people to communicate at a time and from a location that is convenient for each individual is partially what defines this communication method and one of its greatest benefits. But, also in this definition is the fact that this “benefit” is partially due to people not having to be in a room together, which raises of the question of whether it is really a benefit. In other words, should we be concerned that we are touting a situation that keeps people from having live human interaction? While this could be an understandable concern, I find it is should not be such.

Presumably, similar concerns arose with the advent of the telephone and any other communication technology. However, I do not see this as a tool or communication method to replace FtF communication, but rather one to enhance communication that is already occurring at a distance. There are reasons why we find it impossible or inconvenient to meet with people in person; therefore, we seek alternate, albeit perhaps inferior, methods of communication. The distance education student has reasons for taking an online class, such as convenience of location and timing. We should be able to acknowledge and validate those reasons and take steps to enhance that experience. The OVC perhaps is one method for that. If one were to figure how much money is spent in an average one-hour workplace meeting involving 6-10 people it is amazing. Figuring in salaries, meeting space, lost productivity, and the fact that (from my experience) rare is the case that everyone in the room really needs to be there, the figures are generally $1000 – $2000 per hour or more. Clearly, there is room to discuss alternate interaction options for such meetings. The OVC perhaps is one method for that. Again, I do not see this as presenting any threat to FtF communication, but rather finding the best method of communication for a given need and setting.

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