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Summer Reading for Better Understanding Media… and the Metaverse

Dave Morgan
Dave Morgan  |  Executive Chairman
Published: Jun. 10, 2021

Sometimes, you need to go slower to go faster. In times of great change, developing a perspective can be much more valuable than just taking lots of actions for the sake of being active.

That’s certainly true today for folks who work in the world of marketing, media and advertising. The acceleration of digitally born trends in retail, gaming and social media is changing our world much faster than any could have anticipated before the pandemic.

E-commerce as a percentage of retail sales grew more over the past year than it had during any previous year. Video gaming is up by more than double digits in that time, both in the number of gamers and the time they spend. Social media has catalyzed an intensity and polarization of passions and beliefs among those who post, read and share at frightening levels, and is fast becoming a primary channel of social and political discourse.

Simply put, the digital future we've long imagined is hurtling toward us, much faster than most are prepared for. The reshaping of society by these new forms of social, digital and networked communications has upended many of the principles that guided our expectations about news, opinion and its distribution.

The same for sports. We’re now seeing live sports events with virtual fans. We’re seeing esports with both real players and virtual players. And we have massive, multiplayer video gaming in virtual environments where gamers spend time between playing watching movies.

So much, so fast. How can you get a better handle on this? My suggestion is some essential summer reading. Now is the time to read — or re-read — both the Metaverse and McLuhan. I did, and they’ve given me a lot to think about.

Published in 1992, Snow Crash is the extraordinarily prescient science fiction novel by Neal Stephenson that anticipated so much of what we know today, from virtual reality and cybersecurity to smart phone technology and converged media experiences, much of it manifest in what Stephenson calls “the Metaverse.”

And for an updated twist on Stephenson’s vision, read venture capitalist Matthew Ball’s excellent take on the Metaverse from last year.

But don’t read them alone. Never have media and its societal impact mattered more, and no book does a better job addressing how the media form shapes the message than Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media. I’ve read it several times over the past few decades, but it never hit home with me as much as it did when I reread it most recently. In tackling how television and those who understood how to exploit it were changing its viewers, McLuhan foresaw the unique power of today’s social media platforms.

Stressed about the future? Need some perspective? Want to get smarter? Time to (re)read Snow Crash and Understanding Media.

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An earlier version of this blog was originally published by MediaPost.