April 20, 2009
Susan Boyle (Courtesy The Associated Press)

Susan Boyle (Courtesy The Associated Press)

From Marshall McLuhan to Susan Boyle

Ten days ago, Susan Boyle was a household name only to neighbors in her small village of Blackburn, Scotland. Today, thanks to the power of the Internet and the World Wide Web, Boyle is an overnight sensation, a rising star in the global village.

For those who somehow missed Boyle’s fairy-tale story, she’s the unemployed, middle-aged, never-married singer who stunned cynical talent-show judges and a jeering crowd with her beautiful rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" from the musical "Les Misérables."

At last count, her performance in a seven-minute video has logged more than 30 million views on YouTube. Factor in the other Boyle-related videos that have been Twittered, bookmarked, shared on MySpace, Facebook, cell phones and other social networks and devices, and the views jump to an unprecedented 85 million — and counting.

As media theorist Marshall McLuhan would say, the medium is indeed the message.

When McLuhan coined that phrase, as well as "global village," in the 1960s, he was referring to the inevitable power of the electronic media and most notably, the cultural impact of television. Back then, it took nearly two months for a mop-haired group called the Beatles to become a TV sensation in the United States. Today, Boyle already has an entry in Wikipedia.

Nearly 45 years after McLuhan’s observation, the convergence of television, the Internet, the Web, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and Google have helped turn Boyle into an instant international media star, and for now, the most famous villager on the planet.

Learn more about the history of the Internet and changing technology in the Newseum’s Bloomberg Internet, TV and Radio Gallery.

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