WRT 205: An Inventory of Effects

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WRT 205
Spring 2005

Unit Readings: Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects

We are, to varying degrees, steeped in an information-heavy, mediated culture. Messages surround us: from street signs and radio jingles to the yellowed pages of a long-shelved codex manuscript and the white noise blaring through the television. Popular, widely distributed forms of such messages mix with the minutia of lesser-known, even insignificant tidbits. These conditions present us with something like a massage, McLuhan contends, at least in the sense that "all media work us over completely" (26).

Each of us is independently influenced by a mix of media effects. Over time, we generate unique predilections for particular media forms--for entertainment, for vital information, for guidance and direction. As preferences shift, as informational priorities evolve, and as new media forms become available to us, these habits are overhauled and re-mediated.

At the end of The Medium is the Massage, McLuhan connects his articulation of media effects with identity when he gives us the questioning caterpillar in Alice's wonderland: "...and who are you?" With this question in mind, you should begin to develop a way of accounting for the confluence of media effects bearing on you--defining you.

Writing Assignment
Begin by keeping an inventory (a series of briefly listed records) registering your media environment--the precise means by which you take information in each day, constituted by both form and content. While accounting for your media environment, you should be tuned in to both mundane or everyday forms and media-specific forms (the venues ordinarily framed as media). Next, you should begin to develop an understanding of the media encounters that make up more than an environment; might they shape identity itself? Use any of the following questions to generate possibilities for developing your essay:

  • How varied are the specific media forms influencing your environment(s)?
  • What do specific media forms say about you?
  • Who or what controls the specific media forms you have identified? How is such control exercised? Are controls visible and explicit?
  • What are the effects of a particular media form? What might it mean to experience too much or too little of the medium?
  • How has the media form been framed through other kinds of media? What are specific examples of this framing? What impact does such framing have on you?
  • What sort of information flows through the particular media? To what extent is it predictable or stable? How is it filtered?
  • Who gets to make or produce the media form? How might you replicate the media as a way of speaking back to it?
  • How does the media make it possible to speak back to it? To critique it?
  • What patterns can you identify in the particular media? What patterns can you identify across varied media forms?
  • What from McLuhan's project seems dated or inapplicable in a contemporary context?
  • What surprises you about your own inventory of effects?

Your essay may employ methods similar to those at work in McLuhan's text, where description and critique of various manifestations of media work amongst specific design features--images, icons, and so on. If you have ideas for integrating various media into your essay, you should proceed knowing that I will support your efforts as much as possible, but that working with multimedia may require more time on your part.

You will invent ideas for your essay - that is, you will make observations, write descriptions, tell stories, look for patterns, and draw conclusions - by doing a number exercises in class, as homework, and as entries on the course weblog. Feel free to arrange a visit to the Writing Center (HBC) to discuss your ideas with a consultant, or for response, feedback, and advice on a draft.

Proceed with your development of the essay and submit it on February 10. Plan to share your project (in its near-finished form) in class on Tuesday, February 8. Other details: 5-7 pages, typed and double-spaced. Set margins to one inch and use a standard font such as Times New Roman 12 or Courier New 10; follow MLA style for all in-text citations and the works cited at the end of the essay.

WRT 205: Grading Cues Essay #1 (An Inventory of Effects)
[1] How well does the title provocatively and productively focused the reader's attention?
[2] Does the writer organize the essay effectively, with a focusing idea, thesis, or umbrella claim, and with appropriate transitions between sections?
[3] Did the writer provide rich, detailed, well-developed accounts of various media effects as they extend to a particular sense of identity?
[4] Did the writer account for both the effects of particular media forms in the past and projections of those media as methods or devices for invention or future action?
[5] Did the writer develop claims about the effects of the custom inventory?
[6] Did the writer make connections between theory and observation by referring directly, through proper textual citation, to McLuhan?
[7] Did the writer make things explicit (e.g., details, not generalizations; claims, not clichés)?
[8] Did the writer edit for grammar, style, and usage effectively?