The Medium Morphs the Messenger: How Social Media Has Changed Us, and Why It Matters

By Jason Scott Jones Published on June 11, 2024

“The medium is the message,” wrote Marshall McLuhan. The vehicle you use to communicate a message has an enormous influence on the message itself, he argued, so you should always carefully consider what medium you choose to communicate before you sound off.

“The medium is the message” means that your message does not stand on its own in a vacuum, totally unaffected by whether it appears in a newspaper column, a television ad, a full-length book, or a personal, handwritten letter. McLuhan’s ingenious point has rightly become a universally accepted maxim, and today we all know “the medium is the message” so well that it rolls off the tongue.

But after nearly two decades of the proliferation of social media platforms like X and Facebook, I propose we build on McLuhan’s insight by acknowledging this further reality: The medium changes the messenger.

It’s becoming more obvious by the year: As we become a people of social media, we simultaneously become an antisocial people. And so by definition, we are in fact rapidly losing our status as “a people” altogether.

The change is especially unmistakable because it is taking place in the liberal West – home of a humane and world-transforming culture with profound respect for the dignity of each human person at its heart.

Symptoms of Change

In 2024, we should all know better than to throw ourselves wholesale into the soul-disfiguring atmosphere of social media. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably done it yourself and may even show signs of it.

Those signs have now broken out in virtually all of our communities like symptoms of a deadly disease:

  • a warped sense of your own importance;
  • a bad habit of viewing your neighbors with undue suspicion or condescension;
  • a trigger-happy temper; and of course
  • a dopamine addiction that isolates you, devastates your self-respect, and makes you defensive and altogether less pleasant to those around you than you once were.

Don’t worry, I’m not pointing fingers. Or if I am, I’ll point to myself first. In fact, the only reason I’ve stayed mostly off platforms like X is because it seems to bring out in those who use it the vices that always came most naturally to me even before the rise of social media.

From my childhood on, I was always quick to pick a needless fight, to disrespect my neighbors, to provoke, to jeer, and to boast of things I had no business taking any credit for.

After my conversion to Christianity and a few professional successes, I still felt my self-control was shaky enough to warrant a self-imposed “no-Twitter” rule. It was only at the suggestion of publishers and marketing advisors that I ever opened any social media accounts at all.

But once there, I saw more and more men and women I’d respected and known to be sociable and well-adjusted post comments, videos, memes, and captions that amounted to declarations of satanic war against The Other.

Pandemonium vs. Western Society

Each online “social medium” has encoded into its essence an invitation to a self-vaunting isolation – a perch from which each of us can fire mortars on all others.

Oh, at first the allure seems wholesome. You think it’s an invitation to camaraderie, a chance to belong to a cause or a tribe. But I’ve seen progressives brutalize their own after the slightest expression of dissent, and conservatives work to destroy lifelong friends for standing in solidarity with the wrong people at the wrong time.

Tribal loyalties are fleeting in a war of all against all, and to any reasonable onlooker, X in particular looks like just that: a war of all against all.

But another word besides “war” comes to mind as well: the atmosphere on this social medium is pandemonium.

The great English poet John Milton invented that word by cobbling together root words for “place of all demons.” It means chaos, confusion, uproar, unrestrained noise – and Milton chose it as the name of Satan’s lair, the capital of Hell. As Milton’s Satan boasts:

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n

That’s how Satan describes his chosen place of Pandemonium in “Paradise Lost.” But “What matter where, if I be still the same,” he adds: “…better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”

The Father of Lies is, of course, not telling the truth here. But he is revealing his way of thinking, and it’s a way of thinking that social media fosters among users. “What matter where, if I be still the same?” they ask. And so they abandon family, neighbor, nation, and even Church. They are their own, masters of their own private hells, and no longer servants of the other.

Will the West Go to Hell?

That trajectory is the opposite of everything my apostolate, the Vulnerable People Project, stands for. VPP exists to promote the incomparable worth and dignity of every human being – each of whom is made in the image and likeness of God.

But more importantly, I believe VPP’s mission aligns with the common good of this country, with the highest ambitions of its founders, and with the whole trajectory of the Western cultural tradition.

As I’ve written elsewhere:

It’s only by twisting Western political philosophy that anyone can make it illiberal or hateful. It’s the system of ideas that gave us the Magna Carta, the United States Constitution, and later the abolition of slavery in both Britain and the U.S.

This same tradition of thought gave us the U.N. Charter of Human Rights, and the assertions of human dignity against the illiberal and exclusionary hate of the Nazi regime at Nuremberg.

All of these documents stem from the same liberating and humane political philosophy that has always stood against any faction that threatened to pit man against man.

And in that political philosophy we also hear echoes of the blessings of true and tolerant religion. As Thomas Jefferson famously put it, “all men are created equal,” and “they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights. …”

Today, few things threaten that heritage more than our unexamined and careless use of social media.

Again, I propose we adopt and internalize this saying: The medium changes the messenger.

Please Support The Stream: Equipping Christians to Think Clearly About the Political, Economic, and Moral Issues of Our Day.

It’s a warning, an admission of collective guilt, and by now ought to be an indisputable truism. But more than that, it’s an assertion that breaks through the honeytrap of wonkish policy debates that so often prove fruitless.

Because it’s not enough to make the case that social media harms our mental health. Those numbers are in, and they’re no longer even controversial.

No, it’s time we fully recognize how social media has changed our spirit and our immaterial character – a change more menacing than any other, not least of all because it’s unquantifiable on paper.

 

Jason Jones is a film producer, author, activist, popular podcast host, and human rights worker. He is president of the Human-Rights Education and Relief Organization (H.E.R.O.), known for its two main programs, the Vulnerable People Project and Movie to Movement. He was the first recipient of the East Turkistan Order of Friend- ship Medal for his advocacy of the Uyghur people. Jones was an executive producer of Bella and an associate producer of The Stoning of Soraya M. His humanitarian efforts have aided millions in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and the Ukraine, as well as pregnancy centers and women’s shelters throughout North America. Jones is a senior contributor to The Stream and the host of The Jason Jones Show. He is also the author of three books, The Race to Save Our Century, The World Is on Fire, and his latest book The Great Campaign Against the Great Reset. His latest film, Divided Hearts of America, is available on Amazon Prime.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Like the article? Share it with your friends! And use our social media pages to join or start the conversation! Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MeWe and Gab.

Inspiration
Military Photo of the Day: Rocket Launch
Tom Sileo
More from The Stream
Connect with Us