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The 2010s: When the Media Lost Their Gatekeepers

Media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s work best explains how the world changed in the 2010s—and what we can expect in the decade ahead.

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What did the 2010s add up to?

I spent the decade at Reason creating videos about the democratization of everything and the declining power of society’s gatekeepers.

“Everything that we prize in our Western world, in matters of individualism, separatism, private point of view… all of those things are highly favored by the printed word,” said media theorist Marshall McLuhan in a 1965 BBC interview. 

McLuhan, who coined the axiom “the medium is the message,” argued that history’s prime mover isn’t the Great Leader or the Great Thinker but ever-changing communications technologies. 

As societies moved from oral traditions to written ones, McLuhan argued, there was a  bottom-up cultural shift. Tribal groups who relied on face-to-face communication and mythology morphed into more complex, less homogeneous societies thanks to the written word. And when the printing press standardized communications, the distribution of literature created the very concept of “a public” bound together by common languages and texts. This set the stage for the rise of modern nation-states and the Enlightenment. 

In the 1960s, McLuhan identified our current epoch as the “Electric Age,” in which circuit-based media gave rise to what he termed “the global village.” For the first time in history, the entire world could follow a single event.

McLuhan predicted that this electric “global village” would undo both the national homogeneity and personal individuality engendered by print, reviving our more fractured and tribal past.

“Involuntarily, we’re getting rid of individualism,” McLuhan said, identifying the shift away from print towards “electric” media like radio and television as the main causal factor. “We’re more concerned with what the group knows, of feeling as it does, of acting ‘with it.'”

And as the electric age evolved into the digital age with its cheap, limitless replicability, this retribalization accelerated in the 2010s. This is why the past decade has both created opportunities and dangers for the libertarian worldview.

But if McLuhan is right, there’s no going back.

His technological determinism will seem bleak to some, but it also offers a path to personal agency and self-awareness. 

Produced and written by Zach Weissmueller. Opening and closing graphics by Lex Villena.

Photo credits: Xinhua News Agency/Newcom, Roger L. Wollenberg/UPI/Newscom, Anthony Nowack/Photoshot/Newscom, Henrique Casinhas/ZUMA Press/Newscom, Ron Sachs/SIPA/Newscom.

“Machinery” by Kai Engel licensed under a Creative Commons License.

“Where Are My Clothes,” “Red Dead Masque,” “Sink Whole Dream,” “I Can’t Remember I Can’t Recall,” and “Sunburned Salvation” by the 129ers licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Referenced Reason TV videos:

“Reality Show President: Inside the White House PR Machine”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WrZKgTNE0g

“An AR-15 in Every Home: 3D Gun Printer Cody Wilson on Resistance, Trump, the Media, & More”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xa87kudAVFs

“The $140 Mail-Order CRISPR Kit: Is Unregulated Biohacking the Future of Science?”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odE8dNcklks

“Glenn Greenwald’s Plan to Poke, Prod, and Piss Off the Powerful”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20mQQzcDzhI

“Dilbert Creator Scott Adams on Donald Trump’s ‘Linguistic Kill Shots'”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55NxKENplG4

“How Europe Censors What Americans Say Online”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPZvic7e4I0

“The Decentralized Web Is Coming”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1ccwyP6fjc

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Written by ReasonTV

Comments

  1. This video makes no sense. What privacy are you talking about? What tribalism? People are just exposed to more information. There are more sources of information now and people tend to only cherry pick those that say what they already believe. It's up to people to choose what to watch. 20 years ago there weren't that many sources of information and people were generally less informed, now people are more informed, and that naturally leads to people forming groups. People are collectivist and conformist by nature. Being exposed to more information allows people to re-examine some of their narratives and stereotypes or misconceptions and learn more about other people, thus becoming less prejudiced of others. The very narrative that there is a thing as ''western world'' and that people there are individualist as oppose to the collectivist ''east'' is a vicious narrative itself created by the media. England and European countries in general are extremely group-oriented, but you won't see that from the media. The easier it is to spread information, the better for everybody.

  2. Trump won because he spoke the ideas that many working class folks felt: the elites don't care about you, the news is leftist propaganda, and the deep state (aka military industrial complex) dictates when America should go to war.

  3. The internet has allowed for unique individuals to find others who share their particular views. It’s not a one way street. I disagree that modern media is make us all alike.

  4. I agree with the assessment of the 2010's. Thankfully in what we call the culture war people are realizing what is happening more and more. This is especially true in pop culture like movies and video games where younger and less interested in the topic people are starting to get involved.
    Social media was new and we undisciplined in this new technology and all it brought good and bad, but now we have had time to digest it. As you stated the question is where will that bring us by 2030.

  5. Actually POTUS states what many or thinking and saying behind closed doors. To ignore this fact is to close out reality as it exist. All sides exhibits passion for what they believe. The real question is what motives do they fight. The mind is infinite. The heart not so much.

  6. The media is no longer capable of telling the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, truth and lies. They have totally given themselves over to the communist leftist philosophy, and if the public doesnt wise up to what has taken place in this country, our freedom is at stake for good. Never to return again without the shedding of blood.

  7. Interesting premise, but using Obama as an example seems completely off base. Claiming he was a long shot candidate? That he used new media? Not really to either of those.

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