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Tozer on Medium and Message

It is probably impossible to think without words, but if we permit ourselves to think with the wrong words, we shall soon be entertaining erroneous thoughts; for words, which are given us for the expression of thought, have a habit of going beyond their proper bounds and determining the content of thought. “As nothing is more easy than to think,” says Thomas Traherne, “so nothing is more difficult than to think well.” If we ever think well it should be when we think of God.

from chapter 3 of The Knowledge of the Holy

When we hear the word “media” there are probably several (television, radio, blog, and etc) that spring to mind, yet often overlooked is that medium which is foundational to so many others–language itself. As Tozer points out here, our understanding of virtually everything is mediated to us by words. Or, as an acquaintance of mine put it, words are metaphors, stand-ins for the real thing.

This is basic stuff for those who have read thinkers like McLuhan and Postman, but it is also intuitive. What teenaged boy asking his father for persmission to use the car on Saturday does not, in doing so, chose the precise words he believes will secure him his objective? Said young man attempts to use precisely selected symbols common to them both to bring his father into agreement with him.

Tozer’s idea of words having power beyond the complete control of their speaker is also familiar to common experience. Everyone has at some point or other mistakenly used a word that affected her hearers (perhaps producing laughter or an embarrassed cringe) differently than she intended.

Thus Tozer’s addendum to Traherne’s warning. And while Scott explores this concern here, another question implicit in these notions is whether non-verbal media are prone to function, or perhaps to malfunction, in this same way. Is this the reason that, given the bouncy tune underlying the familiar text more than one person has given in to the temptation to jest, “I was sinking deep in sin, having a wonderful time . . .”?

This question, given the gravity of that which we hope to express, deserves more than a summary dismissal.

About David Oestreich

David Oestreich lives in northwest Ohio with his wife and three children. He is a maker of poems, photographs, fishing flies, and Saturday afternoon semi-haute cuisine. His poetry has appeared in various venues, both print and online.