Multimedia, Ultramedia, Convergence, ...are we having a semantics war? No, we're just trying to define a shift in our reality brought about by media shock. Well, here's how I make sense of it. I have adopted Marshall McLuhan's term, "MetaMedia", to explain how I understand today's media issues.
First, I want to clarity the terms. Media is anything serving as a means of transmission of communication. As you know, media refers not just to broadcast, cable television, and home video. The term, media, includes the more traditional means of transmission such as newspapers, books, magazines; the more modern electronic media such as telephone, radio, television, and computer networks. Today, the Information Super-highway means that fiber-optic data transmission and satellite transmission have become part of the larger meaning of media.
The prefix "Meta." has to do with a perspective that transcends or rises above, beyond, over, or after a given context, as in metamorphosis, metaphor, etc. For example, metaphysics is a term used quite loosely. The original definition means "beyond the known physical laws" and was coined at the end of the Middle Ages. At that time, the term was used to refer to religion, cosmology, ontology, psychology, and other philosophical issues that were beyond physicists' grasp. Because they couldn't capture it, bring it into the laboratory, dissect it, and measure it, because it didn't fit into Newtonian Physics, it was beyond reality, rather, outside of their perspective.
However, in today's Post-Einsteinium world of quantum physics, scientists are exploring black holes, negative matter, sub-atomic processes, and paradigm shifts. Physicists are dealing with process, rather than "things." But in our everyday world, these issues are still "unreal" because we have not yet expanded our perspective to include process.
Now, here's the stretch and where our corner of the universe comes into focus:
MetaMedia is about the processes we use to communicate, not just the things of media like wires. For some people, the process of computer programming is high-tech magic. But artificial intelligence is not about bytes and pixels, it's about understanding the process of human conceptualization. Even people employed by multinational corporations may not grasp the extent that video, data systems, and satellite transmission are changing their lives. When the President talks about infrastructure, some people still visualize railroads, highways, and waterways. When we hear and see news about telephone companies merging with video and movie companies, we may not grasp the full significance of video through our telephones or data transmission through our TV sets. The Information Super Highway is more than things. It is systems, processes, procedures, protocols, and regulations, generally known as information systems.
MetaMedia is a challenge to all of us to expand our awareness beyond conventional understanding of transmission. MetaMedia asks us to include the present day high-technology and to keep expanding awareness to grasp process and meaning. Technology is moving faster than the ability of the "mass consciousness" to shift its "paradigm of reality." And what's a paradigm? It is about how we understand, and how we relate to it. And what is our understanding of reality today? Will that change? And what will those changes bring?
Here are a few MetaMedia issues that challenge our awareness today:
So you see, the real shift in our reality requires an expanded perspective. We need to go from just thinking about the "things" of our technology to an awareness of and responsibility for the social, economic, and political context of media. And that is MetaMedia.
Originally published in January of 1994 in a newsletter, Opening Possibilities, and again in the Houston Chapter MCA-I Newsletter, the Script, March 1994.