Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage expresses some sentiments about human interaction with media that are illustrated in some of the online activism campaigns we have examined. McLuhan claims that “all media are extensions of some human faculty—psychic or physical” (McLuhan, 26). People’s engagement with activism online is an extension of their own psyches, as they publicly express their beliefs by supporting causes they have deemed important. Instead of solely acting in the ‘real world’ to support certain movements, the internet can act as an extension of people’s thoughts, beliefs, art, stories, etc., that can reach countless people. Jason Russell, the director of the KONY 2012 video that went viral used the internet as an extension of himself which revealed his beliefs regarding the way in which the public should view notorious warlords and murderers. Russell believed that the public, regardless of various political beliefs, could be united under common anger at Josephy Kony. He also expressed his belief that notorious criminals should be given attention in order to encourage political leaders to seek justice. With the KONY campaign, Russell was able to extend himself past physical human existence and instantly disseminate information about the guerrilla army leader. McLuhan’s theory that the media is an extension of ourselves is illustrated in movements like the KONY campaign in which people are able to create a distinct type of change that transcends our physical extensions of the self at work, with friends and at home.
McLuhan also views media as a “world of total involvement in which everybody is so profoundly involved with everybody else” (61). Online activist movements are dependent on the intense involvement of internet viewers in a variety of causes. What might have been one person’s life work for a particular movement against warlords, or unequal wealth distribution, or bullying has now become available to any and all who want to participate. Further, users can determine the level of their involvement, from signing an online pledge to picketing. McLuhan acknowledges the way in which media cultivates the constant dissemination of information; “as soon as information is acquired, it is very rapidly replaced by still newer information” (63). This vast and unending overflow of information makes the internet an environment in which attention to certain social causes changes quite frequently, which can in part explain many peoples’ short attention spans and involvement in causes online. McLuhan reveals the way in which people who have used media have had to “shift [their] stress of attention from action to reaction” (63). As people are inundated with information—various causes pull for their attention and they are informed on the complexities of certain injustices—action is second to reaction. McLuhan conveys the way in which huge amounts of constantly updated information can be paralyzing, which perhaps can explain why clicktivism is appealing to so many people who are unsure on how to engage with certain injustices.