John Patrick Presents: The message is the medium

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The message is the medium

Meeting Review — December 1998: With IBM’s John Patrick The message is the medium
dacs.doc electric
With IBM’s John Patrick

By Jack Corcoran


The 1960’s. Everything went non-linear. Every boundary was pushed and many ruptured some never to recover.

Many good things happened; there were major breakthroughs in biology and electronics, fabulous accomplishments in space, and momentous social advances. The computer era began and moved into main stream business and technology. But there were also protests and defiance never seen before. Indulgences and excesses we had only read about came to everyday life. Even Elvis was all shook up.

And then, out of this maelstrom of change came startling and prophetic words from a professor at the University of Toronto. Marshall McLuhan told us the Medium is the Message. We desperately wanted some kind of explanation of what we were seeing all around us, but what in the hell did that mean?

McLuhan tried to tell us. A new medium comes along (the printing press, machinery, TV, whatever), but the medium can’t and doesn’t do anything by itself. The content of society and culture (our values, customs, behavior, etc.) are changed, however, by this new medium, and now they look different to us . The message is the new look of that content and how it generates a new environment in which we live. The importance is in the changed content, not the form of the medium.

But that didn’t help very much. Most didn’t get it and kept looking for the content that was no more. Some did get it, particularly some politicians, and did very well.

The 60’s cooled into the 70’s and 80’s. The excesses went away, kind of. Computers and the electronic media flourished beyond anyone’s expectation, but the major impact of the electronic media on societal content was yet to come.

Now we fast-forward to the December 1, 1998, DACS General Meeting, with John Patrick at the lectern. Vice President of Internet Technology at IBM Corporation, John’s role is company strategist, visionary, chief dreamer, and Internet Evangelist. He is telling us about the cutting edge of Net technology, but even more so about the content of our society changing as it rides the crest of the new medium. He is fundamentally saying, “Marshall McLuhan, we are here”.

We at DACS are in technology driven careers, and our survival depends on our understanding of the technology. But our actual success depends more on how we involve ourselves with the content that our computers are processing.

John delivered the most important and meaningful insight into what is going on out there that we could possibly get anywhere. Anyone who was not at the meeting can go to his Web page here and follow the “presentation” tab. It’s all there, but they won’t get the sense of excitement and opportunity that John generated as he talked to us.

Everyone who was at the meeting has a personal responsibility to go to John’s page to experience again what he told us and to lock-in the insight he makes available.

Let’s list some of the highlights of his presentation and their relevance.

  • The Net is evolving to be always ON and to be the parent medium, subsuming all the other media. The implications here are mind boggling
  • The limitless information on the Web is power which will transfer to the people. The interaction and responses of the people will direct the format and protocol of the Web. This is exactly what McLuhan describes in detail as he writes about the evolution of other media throughout history.
  • Successful companies must design for the Web, not try to adapt existing content to it. Successful computer people will be the ones who practice that.
  • E-business is where it is all going. All of it? John is saying, “Yes, all of it”.
  • There will be many portals. Yahoo! et. al. are not necessarily forever. Opportunity here.
  • The Web will not eliminate culture. McLuhan got it right.
  • The Buddy-list will replace e-mail as the vehicle of choice for personal communication, real-time collaboration, and interaction. This is a short-term development opportunity. Perhaps some obscure graduate student at the University of Illinois will get on it.
  • Active strips on a Page will replace transferring to another Web site for commercial click-on windows. An immediate, high impact opportunity, with lots of money out there begging.
  • 20% of Net users are over 50 and half of them have bought something or invested from their PCs. Seniors have the time, motivation, and money to be active players. This is a tremendous potential market, but it will only respond if handled with understanding.
  • The Net can expand indefinitely, as new methods and technology develop. For the short term Internet2 and MP3 are hot items. For the long term, read up on chaos theory. Somewhere out there, processes have started.
  • Computers will become less necessary for Net access, possibly only 20% in the near future. This leads to John’s intriguing description of an all encompassing Net of people, machines, devices, and sensors-everything connected and interactive.

At the end of his presentation, John fielded more than a dozen questions from the audience. About half of them were techie, stuff which John returned like Pete Sampras.

The other half of the questions brought up the grungy side of the Net, pornography, pirating, preying on children, swindles and others. Here John could provide no more hope than anyone else has. His answers were basically parental responsibility and hardware gimmicks, which, unfortunately, are unrealistic and easily circumvented.

John Patrick has become a friend to DACS, not just a presenter. This was his seventh visit to us. His meeting is always the highlight of our year. He delivered his message about the message. It is up to us to get it.

From his vantage point on the top of the mountain he can see what’s going on out there. We are at the bottom of the foggy valley. We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to him. We are grateful that he has the charter and the willingness to share his perspectives with us.

Thanks, John.

Video Highlight – John Patrick talks about Internet Censorship

— mp4/webm — Running Time: 0:50 — approx. 1,500K


Jack Corcoran is an old, retired computer programmer who missed a plateau or two along the way. Wally David contributed key insight to this review.