If I understand McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message” correctly, then I understand that an external object (defining object loosely), whatever it may be, carries an inherent message that we too often ignore (consciously or not), but are affected by. No matter what we say or desire, the object, regardless of what content that object carries, can alter our minds. McLuhan uses media examples, but I think of teachers.
Many of us can remember a good teacher, one that has had great influence in our lives, and not remember much of the content that the teacher taught. The teacher was a medium for information, but it was the teacher that made all the difference. The teacher, in that instance, was the message that altered our minds.
That was just one potential example. There are so many instances that show how objects affect us, whether we care to admit it or not. In Super Freakonomics or Freakonomics (I cannot recall which one, so read both- I highly recommend it), the authors discovered that simply having books in the home is correlated with test score success of a child. Not reading the books- simply having the books. This does not mean that buying a room full of books and putting a child in the middle of it will create a high test-scoring child. The authors make sure to theorize that having books in the home is likely reflective of the parents’ opinions on education or the general intelligence of the parents and thus the general intelligence of the child. I’m sure those aforementioned factors are the primary ones. However, I still do not want to ignore the power of the book itself. When students go to libraries to study, I think, for most, being surrounded by books gives the students some “message” that empowers them. It’s one of the same reasons so many people want to study in coffee shops. Or the reason people worry so much about their home, car, or clothes. In viewing the coffee shop or library or the objects within those places as a medium, those objects can carry an inherent message that affects us.
Perhaps we should question our strength of mind.
This brings me to Viktor Frankl. Whenever it comes to strength of mind (and the power of the mind), Dr. Frankl is always invoked. Surviving three years in the concentration camps, Dr. Frankl wrote that-
“If a prisoner felt that he could no longer endure the realities of camp life, he found a way out in his mental life- an invaluable opportunity to dwell in the spiritual domain, the one that the SS were unable to destroy. Spiritual life strengthen the prisoner, helped him adapt, and thereby improved his chances of survival.”
This was published in “Man’s Search for Meaning.” This book is interpreted in many different ways for many different purposes, but one of the main interpretations that come from this book is that anyone can have the power to determine how circumstances affect them- and that if one has the strength of mind, one may potentially be impenetrable to external objects. Of course, I doubt Dr. Frankl would agree with that (as do I), but we, as humans, love our silver bullets and thus created one with Dr. Frankl’s observations. Think of the phrases “your attitude determines your altitude” or “what we think, we become.” These sound great and empowering, and most definitely hold some power, but I know no one that has ever been able to “fully” accomplish this.
Is it because that we live in a world where objects carry their own messages? That they invoke emotions, actions, decisions that we cannot initially control or understand. If we live in a world where the medium is a message that “alter(s) sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance,” then where is our strength of mind? What role does it play? Are we aware of it? McLuhan wrote that only “serious artists” are aware of these effects. Dr. Frankl was too and possessed the strength of mind to moderate those effects. I think of McLuhan’s reference to Nietzsche’s observation that understanding stops action. Perhaps the parallel between serious artists and Dr. Frankl was one of understanding. And that the first step moderating those effects is understanding.
Enough rambling for now…