How are financial instruments such as mortgage-related investment packages an extension of our senses or ourselves? How are they reorganizing our world? And are they an indication of what McLuhan and Kenneth Boulding call a “break boundary?” (the full question is here – scroll to the end of the text)
I would say yes, these financial instruments/systems have undergone a ‘break boundary” – they have emerged as entities or mediums in themselves.
The week before last I read Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy, and in it he makes the strong case that marketizing something (a product, a service, an activity…anything) changes what that things is. It corrupts it. In other words: The Medium is the Message.
His book is powerful because he’s not exactly anti-markets, he thinks we need to look at individual situations closer, finding the decision points about where markets suit and where they do not. One of the most memorable lines in the book is something like Western Society has gone from having a market culture, to being a market culture.
To continue with Sandel’s example in a McLuhan light, when culture is put wholly through the medium of market we become numb to any cultural goals except for accumulating money (perhaps with a nice side order of justification). It becomes a closed system that tends not to consider any outside suggestion about what to do with our lives, imploding on itself as all activities start to fit this ultimate goal. It reminds me of the Super Mario video game where Mario is supposed to be saving Princess Toadstool, but it’s really just an excuse for him to go around jumping after gold coins. Why couldn’t they have been stars, hearts, unicorns or just plain circles, even?
With a market systems at our disposal (having them as opposed to being them), we can suspend judgment for a time, reflect and decide if it is suitable for that particular activity. We can better asses what the corruptions of that system might be (ie: what the message will be) closer to present time, rather than looking at it in the past. Emergent media comes at us faster than previous, thus we need this separation. In this case, we would be better able to select when we want to use a medium and when we want to experience it.
Throughout my daily routine, I come across numerous other similar examples of medium being the message. When education at the junior or high school level becomes the memorization of dates, names and phrases; When academia becomes not much more than a series of handshakes and a collection of citations; And at any given time when I look around my commuter train and note three-fourths of the riders staring at a smartphone…I feel no surprise that even video game characters can’t escape the numb pursuit of money.