[1911 – 1980] Canadian media theorist, originally trained in English Literature. Considered one of the cornerstones of media theory. Coined numerous popular terms, include "the medium is the message" and "global village". Often rhetoricized as the "father" of media studies.
His position on rapid shifts in media technology was ultimately progressive and humanist, believing new technologies could fulfill man's potential to live in a cosmically balanced global media utopia.
Understanding Media Edit
Understanding Media is an expansion of the theoretical trajectory begun in The Gutenberg Galaxy. Now dealing fully with the electric/audio-tactile mode (rather than the mechanical/print/visual mode), McLuhan strives to articulate a fuller contrast between the two perceptual constructs, and the sense ratios they beget. The books opens with several priming or introductory chapters (including important chapters on "Hot and Cold Media" and "Narcissus as Narcosis"), and is then comprised of about 250 pages of object readings--essentially reading his theory of audio-tactile man into the historical and technological context of a diverse array of media, including clocks, television, automobiles and fashion.
The new dawn of man is such: whereas the mechanical expands and explodes out into the world, the electrical implodes and contracts by projecting the central nervous system outward, abolishing time and space as all sensation is brought close to hand [no longer do we act without reacting, like in a print mode] (3). Mechanical replicates the center/margin, whereas electric allows any position to be the center (recalling language of both cybernetics and the decentralized network in Alexander Galloway's Protocol) (35). In the transition from print to electric, we move from the sequence to the simultaneous. Electric moves us toward the final phase of extension [of man], when “process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole human society” (global village!) (3-4). If the mechanical age was marked by specialism and alienation, the electric age reverses such dynamics (5). With the electric age, McLuhan argues we can now aspire to a time of wholeness, empathy, and depth of awareness (5).
The Medium is the MessageEdit
And this is how we arise at “the medium is the message”, since “the message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs” (7-8) [also defined as “the pattern of interdependence among peoples” (90)]. Media are not determined by the goodness or badness of their use, a rejection of a human-centered argument about technological ethics. McLuhan is concerned about the numbness that media seems to provoke, but argues this is the mental breakdown resulting from the uprooting and inundation with new information. McLuhan defines media as either hot (extending a single sense in high definition, filled with data) or cold (low definition for multiple senses, with little data and much must be brought by the viewer/listener).
Narcissus as NarcosisEdit
Chapter 4, "Narcissus as Narcosis", takes up the phenomenon of numbness. Emphasis on a single sense will create numbness in the nervous system to cancel out any specialized irritations. When we expand our capacity, we must first have a period of human numbness as our sensory data receives more stimulation than we can process. This is why the age of anxiety with electric media is also the age of unconsciousness and apathy. But to turn our bodies over the these media, to behold or use them is to embrace them, to take them into our personal space and relate ourselves to them as servomechanisms. We thus serve these objects, and man is the sex organ of the machine world.
McLuhan and TelevisionEdit
Television, for McLuhan, is the great medium. It is a cold medium, and it's power is in its fuzziness, its lack of clarity as it ask us to fill it in. [re-read McLuhan chapter on TV].
For Your ConsiderationEdit
A question—if content is pointless, then how do we find value or reason to discuss the politics of representation?