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The Medium is the Message: Why the Department of Medicine Published Our Annual Report as an iBook

AR Cover

It’s not what you say that matters; it’s the medium through which you say it. That’s a poor paraphrase of Marshall McLuhan’s touchstone phrase, “the medium is the message.”Medium

McLuhan predicted that in the future, as seen from the1960s, print culture would give way to an electronic interdependence in which electronic media, then comprised of telephones, televisions and radios, would lead to a collective identity or so-called global village.

McLuhan was a Canadian icon, born in Edmonton Alberta on July 21, 1911 (he died on December 31, 1980) and came to influence our understanding of communications and media in a manner that remains relevant half a century later. Dr. McLuhan was a Professor of English at the University of Toronto, and he and his message were controversial. To borrow phrases he applied to media: television was hot; radio was cool, Dr. McLuhan was ‘hot’ in the 1960s, ‘cool’ in the 1970s and somewhat overlooked until the1990s when the Internet provided an unassailable example of how the medium truly was the message. In his 1964 text, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man McLuhan stated, “we live mythically and integrally … but continue to think in the old, fragmented space and time patterns of the pre-electric age.”

I was looking for the right medium with which to create an Annual Report. Our Department is rapidly modernizing its educational techniques, implementing new technologies to provide less invasive treatments for disease, and advancing fundamental and translational research. What medium would be best to engage a diverse audience of physicians, administrators, trainees and the public?


Normally Heads of Medicine brag about their Department’s achievements in dusty tomes called Annual Reports. I wager that in the ancient medical schools of Alexandria one could find a tablet, which said words to the effect, “Alexandria has the best Department of Medicine in all Egypt.” The medium was likely papyrus graced with hieroglyphs not unlike the Edwin Smith Papyrus, a surgical text from Egypt circa 1600 BC.

When it comes to inspiring the readership, annual reports, academic or corporate, often fall short of the mark. Innovation is buried in lengthy text and the report is often shelved, unread. Is the flaw the author or the medium?

I wanted a message in a medium that would inspire a trainee to choose our training program, a patient to receive health care at our hospitals, or a donor to support our mission. In short, I wanted an Annual Report that would convey the spirit and values of our Department and carry the vision and achievements of our faculty, trainees and staff throughout the University and beyond. I was inspired by McLuhan’s ideology to choose the iBook to relay our message using a medium that is interactive and impactful. The message we are sending is clear: “the times they are a changing,” to borrow from another master of the powerful phrase, Bob Dylan.

This interactive iBook, published in the iTunes Store, tells the story of our patients and gets up close and personal with our faculty.
fig 4I want to thank Ms. Jen Valberg who is the creative force behind the iBook. Also, my thanks to Ms. Jennifer Andersen & Ms. Nancy Koen for their keen editorial eyes, and to the Division Chairs and other faculty leaders who provided the content.

And now I am pleased to present you with our 2013 Department of Medicine Annual Report. Click here to download your copy, or search ‘Queen’s University Department of Medicine’ in the iTunes Store.

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In order to read an iBook, you must have an apple computer that has OS 10.9 (Mavericks), or an Apple device that has iOS 7.0 or later.

While it has reduced capabilities, the PDF version of the Annual Report can be viewed from all computers. 

Step One: Download Apple iBooks
Click here to download the latest version of iBooks. Note the compatability requirements listed above.

Step Two: Download the iBook
Click here to go to the download page. Click the ‘View in iBooks’ button to start downloading.

An Apple ID is required to download apps and books, which you can create when prompted. Alternatively, you can use:
Username:  Password: medicine123G

iBooks Tutorial
If this is your first time reading an Apple iBook, here is a tutorial that will give you an orientation to the app.

We tip our digital Derby to Dr. McLuhan. 
I look forward to your feedback.

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4 Responses to The Medium is the Message: Why the Department of Medicine Published Our Annual Report as an iBook

  1. Fred Laflamme says:

    Good day Stephen! I’m sitting in a nail salon in San Diego waiting for Mary and just read your intro. The actual report will have to wait until later today when I’m more comfortably ensconced in front of my Mac but thought in the meantime I’d offer this brief comment. Thirty eight years in the consumer magazine and newspaper publishing business taught me one lesson over and over again. The medium wasn’t as crucial as the audience and what was said never seemed to be as important as how it was said. Newspapers were supposed to herald the end of clothes line chatter, Radio was supposed to signal the doom of newspapers, TV was going to destroy radio and internet was to end the reign of TV. While it’s true we don’t sit around the big old radio on Saturday nights listening to foster Hewitt like we once did, radio reinvented itself with the rise of the automobile and radio has never had larger audiences thanks in part to better signals, electronics and most of all variety, accompanied by breadth and depth. In other words content presented in an engaging manner. Newspapers are having to reinvent themselves much like radio but they are first and foremost content providers and once they find ways to profitably deliver that message through the appropriate medium they too will enjoy a resurgence provided the content and how it is presented resonates with their intended audiences. As an editor of some merit once advised a young publisher about to write his first column, “remember the first rule of writing; never ever bore your audience”
    If the annual report proves to be as entertaining, engrossing and informative as all your blogs, the medium won’t matter in the final analysis but what you have to say and how you said it will. Make it great and your audience will read it on painted rocks if necessary! I’m looking forward to reading! Hope all’s we’ll and hugs to Kathie and Anya!

    • Stephen Archer says:

      Hi Fred and Mary: Greetings from snow covered Kingston (where Anya and I just pushed a car out of a snow drift as it failed to round the corner heading off Treasure Island). You are of course correct-there is that little matter of content! I hope the report will be interesting (although Annual Reports even re-envisioned are not going to compete with Alice Munroe). The art of writing will never be secondary to the medium of conveyance BUT this new connectivity, which rapidly connects friends in the Limestone City and San Diego, carries a subliminal message that would not be as easily or fully capture on a piece of paper…beneath the words the medium is telling a story about people, progress, change, and innovation. That said, I won’t give up my day job!

  2. Anne Ellis says:

    I guess I will have to break down and buy an iPad so I can read our Annual report in detail – any DOM subsidies for the same 🙂 (Just kidding – unless you want to take me up on it 🙂 AKE

    • Stephen Archer says:

      I am renting my iPad out (1 skim latte/hour). We are posting a pdf on the web so the report is available to all…that said we wanted to push the envelope and have fun telling the story of people in the Department and this just seemed like a cool way to do it. I will challenge you by saying I know a senior nephrologist who has made the leap to the iPad and has already downloaded the iBook#RossMorton

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Dr. Archer, Dept. Head
Dr. Archer, Dept. Head