"Medium is the Message"

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“The medium is the message” is a phrase created by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. The aphorism has become a frequently cited phrase in the study of digital humanities, as well as in pop culture.


[edit] Meaning

Though expanded upon throughout the book, the phrase “the medium is the message” means that content and medium are intertwined, so the central message or effect of something is not in the content it carries, but in the way it is presented. McLuhan applies the statement to a number of technologies, mediums, and social and historical contexts. For example, in the book Understanding Media: Extensions of Man, he relates the concept to electric light, calling it “pure information”. [1] Throughout his source text, McLuhan states that the message of the medium is the “change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs”. [1]The actual content of a piece of technology is not what proves what it means, but the technology is defined by the way it interacts with society as a whole. For example, the landmark advancement of the creation of written word is not defined by the words written, but how the technology changed the cultures it was introduced into. Advancements in technology of communication, he states, are the driving force behind societal change - not what is being communicated. [1]

         McLuhan clarified and expanded upon his text, including "the medium is the message" in a lengthy 1969 ""Playboy"" article [2]: “A ‘hot’ medium excludes and a ‘cool’ medium includes.” A photograph would be an example of a hot medium, because it provides a high definition description of what it is conveying. A cartoon would be a cool medium, because it requires the viewer to supplement the rough sketch with their own perception and information.   

[edit] Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan was born in Edmonton, Canada in 1911. He studied at University of Manitoba and Cambridge.[3] McLuhan has published a number of books most notably The Gutenberg Galaxy, Understanding Media: Extensions of Man, and 'The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. He served as a professor at St. Michael’s College, and was a noted lecturer at multiple other academic institutions. As his popularity as a media scholar rose, McLuhan began being brought in to give talks to top executives at major corporations.[4]

[edit] Impact

"The medium is the message" has been cited by a number of digital humanities scholars as being influential in their writing and work. Murray, Janet references McLuhan and his theory multiple times in her book ""Hamlet on the Holodeck"".[5] It is also cited by Bolter and Grusin in their work on remediation. In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of ""Understanding Media""'s publication, the ""Journal of Visual Culture"" published a themed issue dedicated to McLuhan and his work [6] The success of McLuhan's public persona and medium theories propelled him to a "pop culture priesthood" [7], including a brief cameo in the Woody Allen film "Annie Hall" [8] and the now-famous phrase from ""Laugh-In"" [9], "McLuhan, whatcha doing?"

[edit] Critical Response

“The medium is the message” - as well as other ideas of McLuhan’s have been met with many critical responses, both positive and negative. Dwight McDonald is cited as one of the most vocal detractors of McLuhan’s work, calling it "impure nonsense, nonsense adulterated by sense" and filled with “contradictions, non-sequiturs, facts that are distorted and facts that are not facts, exaggerations, and chronic rhetorical vagueness”. [10] Other responses to McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” and other ideas put forth by the surrounding text by saying McLuhan too loosely defines “medium”, and confusing various channels of communication that are on differing levels of technology.

[edit] See Also

[edit] References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 McLuhan, Marshall. "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man." 1964
  2. [edit] Notable Examples

    Another notable example that McLuhan presents in the text is the electric light, a medium he claims has no direct content within itself, but has a message and dramatic cultural impact in the effects it had on society. With the invention of electric light, hours of darkness became instantly more usable, therefore changing to societal landscape. It is within this change that the message of electric light comes.<ref></ref> McLuhan frequently defines medium as “hot” and “cool”. A “hot” mediums are highly detailed and thorough, and able to stand alone. “Cool” mediums require audience participation to be fully realized. As McLuhan clarified in the Playboy article<ref>http://www.nextnature.net/2009/12/the-playboy-interview-marshall-mcluhan/</li> <li id="cite_note-2">[[#cite_ref-2|↑]] ttp://proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=funk&AN=MA008100&site=eds-live</li> <li id="cite_note-3">[[#cite_ref-3|↑]] RICHARD KOSTELANETZ "Understanding McLuhan (In Part)" https://www.nytimes.com/books/97/11/02/home/mcluhan-magazine.html</li> <li id="cite_note-4">[[#cite_ref-4|↑]] Janet Murray ""Hamlet on the Holodeck"" Simon and Schuster 1997</li> <li id="cite_note-5">[[#cite_ref-5|↑]] http://vcu.sagepub.com/content/13/1.toc</li> <li id="cite_note-6">[[#cite_ref-6|↑]] http://www.psmag.com/nature-and-technology/medium-message-50-years-later-91552</li> <li id="cite_note-7">[[#cite_ref-7|↑]] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXJ8tKRlW3E</li> <li id="cite_note-8">[[#cite_ref-8|↑]] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rowan_%26_Martin%27s_Laugh-In</li>

    <li id="cite_note-critic_1-9">[[#cite_ref-critic_1_9-0|↑]] http://www.jstor.org.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/stable/40061070</li></ol></ref>
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