It is a compliment to Marshall McLuhan that the German writer Frank Schirrmacher applied McLuhan’s formula The Medium is the Message to Apple’s new iPad. He did so last week in an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of which he is co-publisher. McLuhan’s formula is in the field of communications what Einstein’s E=mc2 is in physics.
“We need to understand,” Schirrmacher writes, “that almost all technological innovations in the digital sector have led to cognitive changes. They have resulted in boundless creativity as long as the systems were open and everyone could participate in their evolution. But the democratization of the computer now shows that most people want things to be simpler and don’t want to drown in the flood of data and commands. So convenience, transparency, and freedom from viruses come first….
“Steve Jobs’ iPad signals the transition from the revolutionary phase in computer technology to a restoration period…. Whatever becomes of the gadget the Apple founder has presented, it tells us nothing other than that the hardware changes the content. The tool changes our way of thinking.”
It was a common pastime in McLuhan’s lifetime – he died in 1980 – to decry many of his imaginative and unverifiable findings. But today few would doubt that his basic insights have been vindicated by events.
Schirrmacher’s observation that the iPad signals a change in the digital world from the revolutionary period to a restoration marked by simplicity of design and transparency which will have an impact on the content of the messages to be delivered by it has all the earmarks of McLuhanism.
Will it ever be possible to demonstrate that Schirrmacher was right?