First Essay on Rational Media
I recently mentioned my new and improved „rational media“ concept… – now I want to begin to try to unpack that idea. Of course, it’s complicated.
Let me start off with something simple: media (in general). What makes something „media“ (or a „medium“) is not the medium itself, but rather the way people use it. For example: A bottle is just a bottle and not yet a medium. If your concept of „bottle“ presupposes that it’s a medium (for transporting liquids), then you could also just call it an object. The object is not the medium.
When one person uses the object to deliver something to someone (whether a liquid or a message or whatever), then that object becomes a medium. Why does this matter?
It matters because that is what the common notion of a „website“ is. When most people talk about websites, they are not actually referring to web sites, but rather the HTML code, the software running on the server, the database, even the wires and cables, the computer being used to display what the user sees, and a lot of other stuff. In the end, they mean what they see when they enter the website’s address (i.e., the web site) into the browser’s location bar. Many people don’t even know what a web browser is, let alone a location bar. Ask 10 people at Times Square what a location bar is, and I bet the majority will look at you kind of funny.
Long story short: A website is no more a medium than some random object made out of glass. Only when people visit a web site (i.e., a location on the web) with the appropriate technology (e.g. a smartphone, laptop, computer, etc. with some sort of „web browser“ software installed) does a website become a medium.
So what is „rational media“? Media are rational if/when there is some kind of rational thought process involved when the user decides to visit a certain web site (i.e., location). Here’s a simple example: A user wants to know what the weather will be like today or tomorrow, and therefore they visit weather.com. Or they want to know what people are twittering about, and therefore they visit twitter.com. When they give such instructions to a web browser, then that results in them seeing something on their screen, and they usually call whatever they see „the website“.
It is important to note that the way I use „rational“ is different than the way the term has often been used in the past. The way the term has been used for many millennia, people often think it has to do with a particular kind of logic – or that there is such a thing as being irrational. The way I use the term, there is no such thing as being irrational – instead: every kind of thinking is rational in its own way.
Sometimes people say something like „I wasn’t thinking“. This is probably false. What probably happens in such cases, is that people think without being aware of what they are thinking. In the tradition of Freud, psychologists often refer to this as „unconscious“ thinking. Indeed: suggestions which appeal to such thinking are commonly used in advertising.
Is acting upon enticing or seductive suggestions irrational? I feel it is no more irrational than smiling or hugging or kissing someone. Many such behaviors are also ways of thinking which are sort of „hard coded“ into our mental apparatus. We may not feel we are thinking or behaving rationally, but I think it is more straightforward to consider such motivations to be simply a different kind of rationality… – perhaps nature‘s rationality?
Does this mean that all media are rational media – sort of like all of nature is natural? Maybe it does – I am not sure yet. At the moment, I feel it is sufficient to say that there are different kinds of rationality. I do feel that in order to be rational, there has to be (at the very least) some sort of decision involved (and perhaps even that such decisions must be made by humans, animals or similar „living“ and/or „cognizant“ beings). I can also imagine a situation in which a nit-picker might be inclined to segment this sort of rationality from that sort of rationality with a fine-toothed comb, and thereby come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a ridiculous thought.
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