The medium is the message


Bishop Nigel's recent article in the Courier, a widely read Scottish daily newspaper published in Dundee.

Fifty years ago the philosopher of communications theory Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase ‘the medium is the message’, suggesting that the medium of communication is as powerful as the message itself. Over the years it has been much quoted and adapted.

The Scottish Episcopal Church has recently launched a new website ( and although I’m not much of a techie I have been aware of some of the design issues around who the site is for and how easy it is to use. The intention is that our website should be equally effective for enquirers with little or no knowledge about the Church as well as people in the Church.  

There’s a view nowadays that in a world where social media, tablets and android phones are commonplace, interactive and live elements on a website achieve particular impact. So for the first time a number of short videos can be seen on our new church site at the click of the mouse.

It will be interesting to get feedback on the videos which include an introduction to the Scottish Episcopal Church and topical ones on the life of a priest and on personal prayer, social justice and rural life. I recorded one about regeneration in which I talk about civic pride, the riverside projects in Dundee and the challenge to revitalise ordinary people’s lives.

A Christian website is not of course quite God on-line but is an invitation to get to know what a church believes and is saying and doing. The most frequently visited sections tend to be find-a-church and latest news. And there are quick links to diocesan and local church websites, how to arrange a wedding or funeral and who the clergy are and so forth. Colour images and photographs add to the ease of receiving the message. A website has to look smart.

However I sometimes wonder if we maybe suffer from too much easy information and not enough reflection and wisdom. Students sometimes get caught out by tutors for regurgitating large amounts of material from the internet for their assignments without really understanding what they are writing.

Many of us still like information in hard copy so although Kindle and laptops are widely used, newsprint and books still have a place. Ultimately all the benefits of the information revolution witnessed by our generation cannot quite match sharing information, opinions and insights face to face. Indeed personal contact still counts for a great deal.

Technology has almost fixed this too. My grandson enjoyed getting his birthday cards recently but Facetime by iPhone with granny and grandpa is what he really likes. It’s instant and so simple to use that the hundreds of miles that separate us seem to shrink. The smiling human encounter rather proves McLuhan correct – the person is the story.

This article appeared in the Courier on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 under "Easy access to information - too easy maybe?"

Categories: BishopPublicationsReflections