A New Medium
In 1964, Canadian academic Marshall McLuhan coined the aphorism “the medium is the message,” in his book Understanding Media: The Extension of Man. Herein, McLuhan was concerned with how the medium in which a message was carried affected society rather than the content of that message. McLuhan pioneered what would become known as “media theory,” and conversations containing statistical analyses and various metric analysis have accelerated in the current day that explore the relationship between audiences and whether what they heard or how they heard it is more impactful.
Ridgeview, always a promoter of conversation, would prefer to resort to something like what is known in Great Books circles as “shared inquiry.” This bit of jargon means simply this: people from a variety of backgrounds come together to read a text and explore the ideas, meaning, and information they find therein. This is the type of intellectual exchange we try to create in our classrooms and in our parent book groups, but it is difficult to rely upon entirely because the way in which other information is being transmitted, and the competition for our audience’s time, make both reading and discussion time and attention intensive. This is to say, the medium of the written word, especially when delivered on paper, is unlikely to gain the widest audience or hold its attention the most firmly.
In order to compete, we broadcast Ridgeview’s happenings on the website and the various social media platforms available to us. Given the nature of the medium, these are dominated by dramatic images – photographs or videos of events that have occurred that can be quickly ‘consumed’ by an audience and voted up or down. What Ridgeview posts is but a small fraction of what any single consumer will consume. Consequently, we go to considerable lengths to ensure that it will be noticed, even if all this noticing does not generally yield a greater or deeper understanding of our mission or philosophy. The point is not to inform, let alone form anyone’s mind, but for our organization to stay vaguely relevant as people go about their day.
In addition to competition in a world conspicuous in its paucity of words, we know that a video will hold the average individual’s attention the longest, followed by a picture, and in a distant third place, an essay or letter such as the one you are now reading. The New York Times, basing their reporting on a Canadian study from 2016, reported than the average person’s attention span was around eight seconds. The titillating takeaway was that this was less than that of a goldfish. Meanwhile, the Independent reported that the average attention span of a British person was fourteen minutes while watching television. After fourteen minutes, the average person usually took up their mobile device. There is a considerable difference between these two studies, but the attention span of any individual, regardless of nationality, does seem to be diminishing. With this diminishment have come a number of new challenges, which relevantly for us, include explaining the method and madness of Ridgeview’s various endeavors, most notably, its desire to transmit a classical education to its students.
In addition to social media, one of the platforms that has enjoyed the greatest attention from contemporary audiences is the podcast. It is a medium more convenient than a radio show because one can listen at their convenience, and less obnoxious, because they are generally void of commercial interruptions and silly jingles. The podcast is portable, time-shifted, and can serve as a secondary activity (e.g. one can drive, garden, or work in the garage while listening). Listeners also report that they appreciate the “intimacy of audio” in a way they do not with video, and as a result of this, are more likely to take recommendations from podcasts than they would with other mediums.
For all of the above reasons, Ridgeview chose to begin its own podcast channel known as Hoplite Radio. We have published seven episodes over the last six months exploring everything from Ridgeview’s history to the way we teach history. We have tried to capture the impressions of our faculty, students, and parents. We hope that you will consider listening in, which you can do through iTunes, SoundCloud, and our website. Unlike McLuhan, we regard the message as so essential that we are determined to find the medium through which it can be best received by every member of our community.