The text-message isn't the message

The distant chuckle you can hear through the crackle on your cellphone is the deathly-clever laughter of Marshall McLuhan, that medium-is-the-message dude, who is chuckling from the grave about Barack Obama's decision to text his VP decision to the world.

In 08', the old McLuhanite truism that the medium is the message has, supposedly, been digitalized into the text is the message. Cellphones, we are told by McLuhanite hipsters like Garret M. Graff, represent the technology of revolt. First the people texted in Philippines in '01, then Spain in '04, most recently in Myanmar and now Obama is texting-the-revolution in '08. If only the Bolsheviks had all owned iPhones in October 1917, Graff's implies, then the revolution would have probably turned out okay. According to him, cell-phones are the most "intimate form of communications today" for young people and a group he calls "registered minority voters":

These days, Mr. Obama texts when he has a new speech to promote, an important TV appearance or a major rally. If he’s going to be campaigning nearby, he’ll let you know. John McCain, by contrast, doesn’t seem interested or engaged in technology. David All, a 29-year-old Republican strategist, lamented last month that Mr. McCain’s campaign had never sent him a text message.

But Barack Obama's obsession with text-messaging actually proves that McLuhan was wrong. Obama's text-message isn't the message and, rather than radical, his use of the latest digital technology is staged, symbolic and strategic. I don't know whether Obama will text the news tomorrow or Saturday about his VP choice. Nor do I know exactly who he'll choose. What I am sure about, however, is that he's using this supposedly radical new technological platform to send a conservative message. Kaine, Bayh and especially Biden are all reactive, defensive choices that speak against real legislative change in America. The only really radical decision Obama could make would be to ask Hillary to be his VP. But Obama has become too mired in his message of change to really change. So Hillary will be overlooked and we'll get a non-entity like Bayh or a windbag like Biden.

Oddly enough, it's likely to be John McCain, the techno-fossil who doesn't even know how to text-message, that is likely to announce a radical VP choice. It wouldn't surprise me if he went for Lieberman, a decision that will undermine Obama's change mantra. And McCain will send this radical message traditionally -- the words coming out his mouth rather than text-messaged from his cellphone.