How “Medium Theory” explains the Evolution of Society – By Carla Cornejo

A big part of society’s evolution has come through the different forms of media and technology that have been created. Many, if not all, of these technologies have been designed for the benefit of society, to simplify the lives of many individuals, and to connect the world even more. Joshua Meyrowitz explains his focus on how different forms of technology and their characteristics have impacted society in “Medium Theory”.

evolution of communications

Meyrowitz explains that “Medium theory focuses on the particular characteristics of each individual medium or of each particular type of media.” A simple question that is asked to analyze the medium theory is “What are the relatively fixed features of each means of communicating and how do these features make the medium physically, psychologically, and socially different from other media and from face-to-face interaction?” (Meyrowitz). One level (the micro level) examines individual mediums and compared them to other while the other level (the macro level) examines how all media affects the society as a whole.

In “Medium Theory”, Meyrowitz believes the first medium was oral tradition. This mainly focused on memory and was mostly seen as “rhythmic poetry and easily remembered mythic narrative” (Meyrowitz). A concern that is discussed in the essay is the fact that oral traditions tend to only relate to those who physically have lived them. Oral tradition also has a tendency to focus on the symbolic nature of an account. “the first oral tradition is not an attempt to remember exactly what happened, but is rather a return into the symbols of the tradition that could explain an event” and because of this, “the move into a formulated tradition that looks as if it was a description of the actual historical events is actually the end result of such a development.”

The world was also greatly impacted when individuals began writing instead of passing down works orally, which eventually led to the printing culture. Writing enabled people to record longer ideas because they did not have to only rely on their memory. A problem with this, however, was that it required people to be educated in reading and writing, which is not always accessible to many. In the beginning, the only literate people were from upper classes, so “that means that while the historical period is exponentially better understood than the experiences of humans before writing was invented, written accounts are largely about the experiences of the upper classes.” This caused a rift and promoted the importance of education throughout history.

Now, it is evident that we are in an electronic world, where things like the internet and social media prevail. According to Meyrowitz, this brings us back to an oral society and “sensory experience again becomes a prime form of communicating.” Works created on electronic media can be accessed from all different places and all different kinds of people. Social networking sites are a great example of this evolution of media. “Social networking sites”, explains Janey Lee, “explores social media as a primary avenue for gathering news and political information and for formulating perceptions.” This means that what was supposed to be used to connect people on a personal level, now connects us to the greater world and makes us aware of what is happening around us. The evolution of these different mediums and the creation of other mediums in the future will have an even greater impact on how people form opinions and interact.

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“Medium Theory” by Joshua Meyrowitz

(links included in text)

Evolution of Communications Picture:


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