Memosphere2009.03.31 09:56
 It's been nearly ten years since I started writing in cyberspace. There are people who like what I write and there are those who are less satisfied. There are lots of people who have asked how they could write like I do. In fact, a certain publishing house asked me to write a book on writing for working people. Having given it thought, I answered that this issue wasn't simply of writing, but one of communication.

I don't think I have much talent other than conveying my thoughts through text, but in fact, my area of interest is all places of communication. Of the countless means of communication that exist in this world, be it in cyberspace or "real" space, I chose writing, and even within that sphere, I chose cyberspace, which agreed with me.

To follow an adage by Marshall McLuhan, whom I admire as my spiritual teacher, "the medium is the message." No matter what I write, or what message I produce, I can't escape from the cyberspace medium I have chosen.

Not so long ago, a certain daily paper offered to run my column. After considering it, I turned the paper down. This was because it would have been entirely inappropriate to adjust my writing style, which had become accustomed to cyberspace, to the demands made by the printed page. It's like one of my favorite phrases, "You are what you read." The medium you chose defines your existential identity.

Besides writing, another medium I've grown accustomed to is "PowerPoint." There are scholars who point out the harmful effects of PowerPoint, but the latest version of PowerPoint allows for colorful forms of expression that surpass Flash animation.

If I were to choose PowerPoint, of the countless words I would like to use, I would work hard to choose only those messages that are appropriate to the PowerPoint medium.

The main point of what I'd like to convey to you today is medium. I'll have to start writing to know, but in fact, this doesn't look like something I could convey in a day. It might require dozens of installments, or perhaps just a few pieces. Because my writing method, or to go even further, that which has exerted a tremendous influence on forming the point of view I use to look at the world is media theory, and I have waited a long time for the chance to share my thoughts with readers.

My first reason for bringing up this topic out of countless topics of conversation in this world is that I'm confident in this area, and the second one is the phenomenon of media as a core topic in understanding the 21st century global village, and the Internet Age in particular. In the last Korean presidential election, we witnessed just how dramatic a result could be called by the two candidates' choices of media.

Moreover, it would be too narrow a viewpoint to reduce "media" to newspapers, broadcasts and the Internet. Computer operating systems, mobile phone screens, department store windows, the electronic advertising screen at Gwanghwamun (in Seoul), movie advertisements in the subway stations, the signs on the bathrooms doors reading "men" and "women," traffic signs, ATM screens, university classrooms... media encompasses all spaces where meaning and communication takes place. In my column, I once called this space where meaning is exchanged "media space." I shall get another chance to explain about this media space.

Well, perhaps I should begin this article; one I don't know when I'll complete.

Part I - The Medium is the Message

Let's first try to remember the following inequality

Book > font > type > letter > language > thought > meme > ?

The book is the most familiar medium to modern man, regardless of age or gender. Of the countless forms of communication, a book is a dignified one that even if the Internet were to swallow the world whole, it would stubbornly resist, having withstood the test of thousands of years. This is the story of the book.

The book is an expression of thought. The book is also a medium. If one closely examines just one simple volume, you can see it's a complex medium that contains layer after layer of other media, much like an onion. A book contains type, which has been decorated by font. Type is the medium that contains letters. Letters are the medium that contains language. Language is the medium that contains the brain's thoughts. Thought is the medium that contain memes. Are you with me?

How about we put it this way -- memes are the content of the medium known as thought. Language is the medium of the content called thought. Letters are the medium containing the content known as language. Type and font are the media containing the content known as letters. Books are the medium containing the contents known as type and font. Oh my! Perhaps I've confused you more.

Let's try to think of a couple examples. People who have written on the Internet and agonized over which font to use would understand. With 11-point text, should I use this font or that font... it's the same piece of writing, but you must have had a different feeling depending on which font it was written in. 

For a love letter, unless you're an unfeeling stone, you'll probably avoid using Gothic type. You can see that within the medium of font, there are already particular intentions; to wit, messages contained inside. Purely through the varicolored choice of font, one can convey countless messages.

The medium I have chosen to convey media theory to you is text. I could draw comics, use Flash animation or PowerPoint, or I could even call you together and directly lecture you on the subject, but I have chosen text. This is because for the message I would like to convey, I judged the medium of text as the most appropriate. Of course, my judgments could also be wrong.

In Marshall McLuhan's book The Gutenberg Galaxy, a great vice of print culture was pointed out. That would be the lamentable way in which printing type has drastically condensed man's freedom of thought. McLuhan pointed out that despite the fact that expressions of thought could use innumerous and diverse media like pictures, music and dance, man has almost grown addicted to print culture, drawn by the bait of efficiency and productivity.

Like McLuhan pointed out, if we accepted the thesis that the medium is the message, the moment we chose the medium of print, we became shut off from the possibility of countless other messages.

If we rethink the problem from this point of view, we can conclude that things we take as common sense -- like campaigns to purify the Korean language, criticism of the jargon used on the Internet, and complaints made by adults about today's children who don't read books and are absorbed in online chatting and computer games -- are nothing more than the groundless ravings of a generation that has grown addicted to printed culture.

This is because the Internet generation -- compared to an older generation that has lived slave to print and books and hence were limited in scope of thought right from the start -- are experimenting with many more possibilities of expression.

Umberto Eco once compared Protestantism to MS-DOS and Catholicism to the Macintosh. In the age when printing technology was humble and bibles were the exclusive property of the clergy, the methods employed by the Catholic Church to convey its teachings to its believers were the sacred images that filled up the walls of churches -- icons -- and holy paintings. Splendid Catholic cathedrals were the best-suited medium of an age without printing technology.

On the other hand, the invention of printing technology was decisive in the birth of Protestantism. Martin Luther tried to awaken believers by propagating the Bible, and the fact that to this day, Protestants place more importance on Bible study than do Catholics is evidence revealing how Protestantism is a by-product of print culture. If one looks at the Reformation from a different angle, one could see it as the confrontation between the medium of sacred images or icons versus the medium of the printed letter.

I should probably end here for today.

Posted by PSB

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