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Marshall McLuhan : Why he still matters

 

Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian media theorist who’s early work on understanding the mediums of information transfer, particular the old electronic mediums like radio & tv , was important in really understanding the message itself. Part of the reason he had the insights he had was because he was a literary critic & philosopher interested in & passionate about language.   

The then new medium of the 50’s & 1960’s was tv. It changed everything in information transfer and it went global in a very short space of time. McLuhan saw that what was developing was what he termed the first GLOBAL VILLAGE, an early incarnation of a world wide information net. He didn’t live to see the Internet but what he did include in his studies was the importance of an emerging electronic culture, which as we now know is the basis of DIGITAL SOCIAL MEDIA. 

The reason why i think he is still relevant today is that he reminds us that any new medium we invent like the internet, or any new device we use like the ipad, is going to distort, subvert, transform any message in subtle ways. Culture is external medium of exchange for this to happen, but it begs the question: are we the (message) content of machines? We think we produce content but to a machine we are content. Leaving aside the Matrix trilogy at this stage of our techno cultural evolution, none of us know the implication of this .

Heres a great clip from an old Australian TV program

from the wiki

Global Village is a term closely associated with Marshall McLuhan,[1] popularized in his books The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) and Understanding Media (1964). McLuhan described how the globe has been contracted into a village by electric technology[2] and the instantaneous movement of information from every quarter to every point at the same time.[3] In bringing all social and political functions together in a sudden implosion, electric speed heightened human awareness of responsibility to an intense degree.[4]

Marshall McLuhan predicted the internet as an “extension of consciousness” in The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man thirty years before its invention.

The next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.[5]

Today, the term “Global Village” is mostly used as a metaphor to describe the Internet and World Wide Web.[citation needed] On the Internet, physical distance is even less of a hindrance to the real-time communicative activities of people, and therefore social spheres are greatly expanded by the openness of the web and the ease at which people can search for online communities and interact with others that share the same interests and concerns. Therefore, this technology fosters the idea of a conglomerate yet unified global community.[6] Due to the enhanced speed of communication online and the ability of people to read about, spread, and react to global news very rapidly, McLuhan says this forces us to become more involved with one another from countries around the world and be more aware of our global responsibilities.[7] Similarly, web-connected computers enable people to link their web sites together. This new reality has implications for forming new sociological structures within the context of culture.

Herbert Marshall McLuhanCC (July 21, 1911 – December 31, 1980) was a Canadian educatorphilosopher, and scholar—a professor of English literature, a literary critic, a rhetorician, and a communication theorist. McLuhan’s work is viewed as one of the cornerstones of the study of media theory, as well as having practical applications in the advertising and television industries.[1][2]

McLuhan is known for coining the expressions “the medium is the message” and “the global village” and predicted the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented.[3] Although he was a fixture in media discourse in the late 1960s, his influence started to wane in the early seventies.[4] In the years after his death, he would continue to be a controversial figure in academic circles.[5] With the arrival of the internet, however, there was renewed interest in his work and perspective.[

What  McLuhan is still remembered for today, and this is why i think he is still relevant is his statement that THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE – up until he began to comment on media nobody had really factored in the power of any medium on a consumer – it was always about the content of the message, but as we all now know the experience of watching tv or engaging your computer is 2 different processes. 

from the wiki

Origin of the title

The title is a play on McLuhan’s oft-quoted saying “The medium is the message“. The book was initiated by Quentin Fiore.[1] McLuhan adopted the term “massage” to denote the effect each medium has on the human sensorium, taking inventory of the “effects” of numerous media in terms of how they “massage” the sensorium.

According to McLuhan biographer W. Terrence Gordon, “by the time it appeared in 1967, McLuhan no doubt recognized that his original saying had become a cliché and welcomed the opportunity to throw it back on the compost heap of language to recycle and revitalize it. But the new title is more than McLuhan indulging his insatiable taste for puns, more than a clever fusion of self-mockery and self-rescue — the subtitle is ‘An Inventory of Effects,’ underscoring the lesson compressed into the original saying.” (Gordon, p. 175.)

However, the FAQ section on the website maintained by McLuhan’s estate says that this interpretation is incomplete and makes its own leap of logic as to why McLuhan left it as is:[2]

“Why is the title of the book The Medium is the Massage and not The Medium is the Message? Actually, the title was a mistake. When the book came back from the typesetter’s, it had on the cover ‘Massage’ as it still does. The title was supposed to have read The Medium is the Message but the typesetter had made an error. When McLuhan saw the typo he exclaimed, ‘Leave it alone! It’s great, and right on target!’ Now there are possible four readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: Message and Mess AgeMassage and Mass Age.”

Marshall McLuhan argues that technologies — from clothing to the wheel to the book, and beyond — are the messages themselves, not the content of the medium. In essence,The Medium is the Massage is a graphical and creative representation of his “medium is the message” thesis seen in Understanding Media.

By playing on words and utilizing the term “massage,” McLuhan is suggesting that modern audiences have found current media to be soothing, enjoyable, and relaxing; however, the pleasure we find in new media is deceiving, as the changes between society and technology are incongruent and are perpetuating an Age of Anxiety.

All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. (p. 26)

The Medium is the Massage demonstrates how modern media are extensions of human senses; they ground us in physicality, but expand our ability to perceive our world to an extent that would be impossible without the media. These extensions of perception contribute to McLuhan’s theory of the Global Village, which would bring humanity full circle to an industrial analogue of tribal mentality.

Finally, McLuhan described key points of change in how man has viewed the world and how these views were changed by the adoption of new media. “The technique of invention was the discovery of the nineteenth [century]”, brought on by the adoption of fixed points of view and perspective by typography, while “[t]he technique of the suspended judgment is the discovery of the twentieth century”, brought on by the bard abilities of radio, movies and television.[3]

Fiore, at the time a prominent graphic designer and communications consultant, set about composing the visual illustration of these effects which were compiled by Jerome Agel. Near the beginning of the book, Fiore adopted a pattern in which an image demonstrating a media effect was presented with a textual synopsis on the facing page. The reader experiences a repeated shifting of analytic registers—from “reading” typographic print to “scanning” photographic facsimiles—reinforcing McLuhan’s overarching argument in this book: namely, that each medium produces a different “massage” or “effect” on the human sensorium.

Here’s a great link to memorable McLuhan sound bites

 

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