Carr Thesis 1: Medium Complexity

Nick Carr has a thesis on the complexity of mediums. I have an opinion about that thesis.

Nick Carr recently penned a series of twitter-sized theses on media and expression. I find them fascinating and infuriating. So of course I intend to write up my thoughts on each thesis individually. As one does. Here's the first:

The complexity of the medium is inversely proportional to the eloquence of the message.


I might rephrase it as “The more complex the medium is, the less eloquent the message is that the medium conveys.”

Most of the definitions of eloquence I've dug up refer to it as powerful or persuasive speaking or writing. In its adjective form, it is closer to clarity than anything else. So, the more complex the medium, the less forceful, persuasive, or clear the message is that the medium is trying to convey.

Of course, Carr is referencing Marshal McLuhan's quote “the medium is the message”. It is widely accepted wisdom that the medium fundamentally affects the message in ways that might not be readily apparent. Carr here is asserting that the complexity of a medium introduces clutter that dilutes the content.

Carr Comments, Clarifies

After some slight disputations on the comment section of his theses, Carr clarifies this particular thesis thusly:

The medium that has inspired the greatest human expressiveness and creativity is the blank sheet of paper, which is a medium almost completely devoid of complication. I can predict, with more confidence than I can predict pretty much anything else, that the blank sheet will never be surpassed as a creative medium.

With this clarification, Carr more clearly claims clarity as his concern, rather than forcefulness or persuasiveness.

But. But.

While Carr holds up paper (or vellum or canvas or etc.) as the pinnacle of unobtrusive creative mediums, his interlocutor in the comment section had a good point. Taken to its logical extreme, this thesis provides that a bongo is as eloquent a conveyor of messages as paper, assuming that their simplicity is equal. Since I have yet to read McLuhan, I am at this time forced to conclude that the simplicity of a medium is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of the clarity of message it conveys.


I generally agree with this thesis. The more complex a medium, the more complexities it introduces in a message. That said, simplicity does not seem to be the only sufficient condition of the expressiveness of a medium.