Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980)


By putting our physical bodies inside our extended nervous systems, by means of electric media, we set up a dynamic by which all previous technologies that are mere extensions of hands and feet and teeth, will be translated into information systems. Electromagnetic technology requires utter human docility and quiescence of meditation such as befits an organism that now wears its brain outside its skull and its nerves outside its hide. We must serve our electric technology with the same servo-mechanistic fidelity with which we once served our coracle, our canoe, our typography, and all other extensions of our physical organs. But, there is a difference here. Those previous technologies were partial and fragmentary. The electric is total and inclusive. An external consensus or conscience is now as necessary as private consciousness. With the new media, however, it is now possible to store and to translate everything; and as for speed, that is no problem. No further acceleration is possible this side of the light barrier.


Marshall McLuhan was born to Elsie and Herbert in Edmonton, Alberta Canada of Scottish-Irish heritage. A conservative Catholic Canadian academic who was one of the founders of critical media studies (see below). He became a pop culture figure in the 1960’s with the publication of Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (McGraw-Hill, 1964) and The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (with designer Quentin Fiore, Random House, 1967). Famous for coining the phrases “The medium is the message” and “the global village,” McLuhan was one of the early purveyors of the sound bite. He asserted that each different medium affects the individual and society in distinct and pervasive ways, further classifying some media as “hot”–media which engaged one’s senses in a high intensity, exclusive way, such as typography, radio, and film–and “cool”–media which were of lower resolution or intensity, and therefore required more interaction from the viewer, such as the telephone and the television. While many of his pronouncements and theories were impenetrable, if not absurd, McLuhan’s central message that to understand today’s world, one must actively study the effects of media, remains ever more true in the Electronic Age. McLuhan died December 31, 1980 of a cerebral stroke which plagued the last year of his life.

Media Studies

A Communication science which studies the nature and effects of media upon individuals and society. A cross-disciplinary field, media studies uses techniques from psychology, art theory, sociology, information theory, and economics. The development of multimedia and performance art has been greatly influenced by media studies. Critical media theory looks at how the corporate ownership of media production and distribution affects society, and provides a common ground to social conservatives concerned by the effects of media on the traditional family and liberals and socialists concerned by the corporatization of social discourse. The study of the effects and techniques of advertising is a cornerstone of media studies. Media studies pioneers include Marshall McLuhan, Denis McQuail, Harold Innis, and Walter Ong. The socialist and media critic Robert McChesney is a major figure. And Grasso talks about political media and socialization. [The material above is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Marshall McLuhan.] >


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