Lab / Fieldbook 1
Reflection of McLuhan and Liu on Markdown
Marshall McLuhan, in his essay, Understanding Media, argues that the medium is the message. He gives several examples to explain what he means by this. One example is the electric light. On page 8, he says,
“The electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message, as it were, unless it is used to spell out some verbal ad or name. This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the “content” of any medium is always another medium.”
I thought this tied in splendidly to our prompt. McLuhan would argue that Markdown, just like Microsoft Word, or Pages, or Notes, or any other text application, itself is a medium. And, because Markdown itself is a medium, McLuhan would also say that Markdown is “the message.”
However, it’s important to note what exactly about Markdown is the medium and the message. Going back to the example of electric light, electric light and Markdown are quite similar. Like McLuhan said, light by itself doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just information, and doesn’t have a message by itself. Similarly, text and letters by themselves don’t mean anything. After all, letters and words are just literally ink on a page or squiggly and pointy shapes on an electronic interface. When I look at the lines of text on this Markdown editor, a lot of it looks like gibberish to me. It’s practically just information– unprocessed information. McLuhan would have called the text on here a medium without a message. However, as electric light is transformed into a new medium with a message when it is used to spell out some verbal ad or name, so the text on Markdown becomes a message when it is processed and transformed into what I see on the right half of the screen. Thus, the content (or feature) of Markdown that is another medium and thus message would be how it analyzes and then transforms the lines of text and code to something more visually appealing.
Similarly, Liu, in his essay “Imagining the New Media Encounter,” analyzed the intersection of old and new media, and how their relationship allow us to imagine. He compares and equates old forms and new forms of media as follows.
- Writing : Encoding
- Reading : Browsing
- Publishing : Transmitting
- Preservation : Migration
- Absorption : Immersion
- Mimesis : Modeling
- Imagination : Simulation
I particularly like the comparison Liu makes between writing and encoding. It adds onto what McLuhan could have argued about Markdown, that the transformation aspect of it is another medium with a message, because the writing I am doing on the left hand is literally being encoded spontaneously to show something else on the right side of the screen. Perhaps Liu wasn’t thinking quite so literally, but in this case, writing is very much encoding, and encoding is very much writing.
I really am excited to be working with Markdown throughout this semester. Two of my friends in this class, Alex and Kira, are also in my group for my co-op class, and we all already have put down Markdown in the skills section on our resumes. We all know employers are going to be surprised that English majors can code and not just know how to write well. Working in Markdown also helped me understand how writing is a form of encoding, and how encoding is also a form of writing, as I mentioned in regards to Liu (see above). I now know that writing comes in many, many different forms, not just genres like prose vs poetry, and that those different forms of writing are mediums in and of themselves. Finally, I really like Markdown because the file sizes are really small and because Macdown doesn’t completely drain my battery such as Microsoft Word or Apple Pages, but it is going to take some time to get used to not having so much instant control over how text appears. I’m looking forward to being able to tell all my computer science friends that I’m not as incompetent as they make me out to be. They won’t be laughing when I am familiar with more mediums than they are.