A small thought experiment: The video above was made on May 18, 1960 and features Marshall McLuhan. The subject is ‘literary man’ and ‘electronic man.’ It’s a description of the transition from the solitary world of the book to the tribal world of electronic media. Watch the video above and substitute the words “RSS” for “Book” and “Tw*tter” for “Electronic Media.” Think about the message in the characteristics of these two kinds of media.
Of course any reference to McLuhan’s work in public is a risk.
What are we doing when we use RSS? Are we solitary or social? Can we share using the electronic method– by hyperlink? Or do we share like we do with a book, by making a copy, or loaning the book itself. While the RSS feed has a location in the Network’s name space, the item we’d like to share must be xeroxed, put in an envelope and mailed.
When McLuhan talks about his idea that the ‘Medium is the Message‘ he immediately refers to the qualities of space as they relate to our senses. Think about how RSS and Tw*tter manifest in the space of the Network. If the value of a node in a Network is its capacity for connection to other nodes, then what is the value of RSS in light of the social web? In what sense can RSS be said to take advantage of a network effect?
It must have been a strange experience to be Marshall McLuhan in 1960. The world was compelled to listen, held rapt, but unable to grasp his meaning. They knew there was something there, but it seemed continually just over the horizon.