Is Twitter hot or cool?

Marshall McLuhan distinguished in his seminal work on Understanding Media between hot and cool media.

Hot media are high definition and have the propensity to lull the recipient. Their messages seem complete, so the recipient fells no need to fill in any blanks. Examples for hot media are the radio, print, photographs, movies and lectures.

Cool media on the other hand are always incomplete. The recipient is not a mere recipient, but feels involved in finding and supplying the missing parts, the blanks of the message. Cool media mean invovement in something instead of just looking at something. Examples given by McLuhan are the telephone, speech, cartoons, television and the seminar.

Taking this dinstinction as a starting point, I’m asking: Are Social Media hot or cool? Is Twitter a hot or a cool medium? On the one hand, Twitter is cool. Very cool. I guess everybody had the feeling when first trying out this new service, that s/he only gets half of the messages. Conversations by the people you follow seemed at first as incomplete as listening to a stranger talking into his mobile. You also had to follow the people your friends were talking to in order to get the whole message. But then again, they also talked to people you did not follow … At some point in time some kind of switch occured: It became clear that this incompleteness is a central feature of Twitter. It’s what makes Twitter so cool.

On the other hand it is also the reason, why Twitter is so hot. If you can never get the whole story of Twitter anyway, it becomes possible to just drop in, listen and talk for a few messages, and then drop out again. You can watch all those tweets flowing by half-noticed without feeling that you are missing something. This is typical for hot media like the radio or a lecture at university that can to some extent run in the background.

So, I’m not sure, where to put Twitter. It definitely has cool aspects, but can also be quite hot at other times. Maybe this undecidedness is what makes this service so beautiful. What do you think?

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Comments (3)

  1. Till wrote::

    Isn’t the real question if McLuhans distinction between hot and cold media is useful anymore?

    Saturday, July 26, 2008 at 3:19 pm #
  2. Benedikt wrote::

    @Till: Generally this distinction is about the involvement different kinds of media produce. Recent research on brain activity, so I have heard, seem to support this. But the more important question is: What does this tell us about Twitter and Social Media?

    Saturday, August 2, 2008 at 12:38 am #
  3. luke wrote::

    The Hot and cool scale was supposed to be just that, a sliding scale not polarized extremes … all media fit somewhere on this scale not at one end or another. For what it’s worth i’d go along with the article and say it was somewhere closer to cool.

    Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 6:06 pm #