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October 22nd, 2000

Hot and Cold Media

I just finished work on a large-scale project that involved, amongst other things, two hours of live webcasts. I watched two of the webcasts as they were being recorded and streamed… and it was interesting to say the least. One involved author Sandra Jackson-Opuku reading excerpts from her forthcoming book. Her stories about coming to grips with racism and society’s interpreations of it were terribly interesting; as an added bonus, she is a fantastic storyteller.

The interesting facet is that there was no physical audience. While there were three of us there in the theater, all of the audience members were elsewhere: either a few blocks away at the installation, or watching at home. This means that there was no real feedback for our speaker. No nodding heads in the audience, no eyes to lock on to, no bodies to see – just the unblinking eye of the camera.

This plays heavily into Marshall McLuhan’s theories of hot and cold media. Hot media, as defined, is pretty much ready-made. Like television. No real interaction: you’ve got a full story, start to finish, without any intervention from you. Cool and cold media are the opposite. You interact fully with very little of a predefined notion involved.

Where does that leave webcasts? The web medium, by definition, is cool. Yet the broadcast’s content was hot. There’s got to be a middle ground somewhere… or some way to get feedback on the web. The closest thing right now is probably a webcast simultaneous with a live chat, but it’s no substitute for the "real thing". The above link, by the way, touches on other theories which might be more appropriate… but the McLuhan one is the most widely known.

I tend to think that broadband access will help things a bit. The web has been limited in that, since commercialization, it’s been trying to duplicate other mediums. Think about it. Television? Got streaming. Print? Got articles. Movies? Got streaming. Even if the applications aren’t there yet because of technology, they will be, soon. The thing is, the web can really do more. It might be the thing that defines the "lukewarm" medium. I don’t think the idea nor the technology are in place as of yet. But when they are, the end result is going to change the way we communicate. -pm

Posted in Technology

Joanna November 1, 2008, 12:37 am

Make that 8 years. (Damn, you show up high in Google organic results when you’ve been around for 8 years!)

So, you’ve said that TV is hot and radio is cool. I understand that McLuhan suggested the opposite: Radio is hot and TV is cool. There’s that whole [infamous] Kennedy-Nixon debate where Nixon performed well on radio, a hot medium, and Kennedy performed well on TV, a cool medium. Kennedy was cool, so he worked on TV; Nixon was hot, so his voice worked well on radio. (A very simplified way of looking at it.)

But, who cares? McLuhan, for all the interesting points he makes, doesn’t really make a point. I mean, big deal. So what if a medium is hot or cool? Like, when you figure out if text messaging is hot or cool, then what? Do you win a prize? Do you get a year-long membership in the McLuhan Club?

~jw

(PS: Wow! That “Zip Zap Rap!” button on your blog is so 2000. What would Jakob Nielsen say?!)

gits December 8, 2008, 4:00 pm

big deal.. for students that have to give examples of hot n cold media(while their lecture cant really explained this theory and its examples).

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