Masthead CMC Magazine / February 1, 1996
  Shaping and Being Shaped, by Daniel Chandler

Transformation by Media

An awareness of this phenomenon of transformation by media has often led media theorists to argue deterministically that our technical means and systems always and inevitably become "ends in themselves" (a common interpretation of McLuhan"s aphorism, "the medium is the message"), and has even led some to present media as wholly autonomous entities with "purposes" (as opposed to functions) of their own. However, one need not adopt such extreme stances in acknowledging the transformations involved in processes of mediation. When we use a medium for any purpose, its use becomes part of that purpose. Traveling is an unavoidable part of getting somewhere; it may even become a primary goal. Traveling by one particular method of transport rather than another is part of the experience. So too with writing rather than speaking, using a word processor rather than a pen or a telephone instead of a letter.

In using any medium, to some extent we serve the purposes which are frozen within it as functions as well as it serving ours. When we engage with media we both act and are acted upon, use and are used. Where a medium has a variety of functions it may be impossible to choose to use it for only one of these functions in isolation. Who has not experienced unanticipated shifts of purpose in using the Web or in watching television? The making of meanings with media and technologies must at least sometimes involve some degree of compromise. Complete identity between any specific purpose and the functionality of a medium is likely to be rare, although the degree of match may on most occasions be accepted as adequate.

The significance of this transformation depends on --resonances.

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