Museum für Kommunikation Frankfurt

Watch the above video which is 1.5 hours in duration

Q&A Online Video Session (in English) with – ANDREW McLUHAN
and – BARUCH GOTTLIEB (curator “Global Warning”, lecturer, media artist)

Andrew McLuhan is Director of The McLuhan Institute – an organization to preserve and promote McLuhan studies. He, recently emerging as a media scholar in his own right, has been working through the libraries of his grandfather Marshall and his father Eric for many years, examining their references, their reading habits and the role books and publication played in their media theory practice .   

On this special occasion Andrew McLuhan will help us explore this vital relation between textual and digital data, between book and screen through a presentation of Marshall McLuhan’s books and the way he interacted with them as part of his process of understanding media.

The discussion will be introduced and moderated by curator of the exhibition Baruch Gottlieb and streamed on the Museum for Communication Frankfurt’s channel at as well as at The McLuhan Institute’s YouTube Channel


The above Q & A session is part of –
Special exhibition from October 6, 2020 to January 31, 2021

The exhibition #Feedback 5: Global Warning! is dedicated to an icon of pop culture: Marshall McLuhan. The Canadian technical scientist and literary historian predicted the “global village” back in 1962. From 1964 onwards, public discussion revolved around his famous statement, “The medium is the message.” He was the first to ask the question about the effect of the new media on people and thus achieved a broad response.

After the Second World War, scientists such as Norbert Wiener and Claude Shannon, he is considered the founder of IT and made the computer possible, into a future shaped by technical control. It even seemed possible to automate thinking. What has been realized and how do we experience the digitalization and globalization of our present?

The exhibition #Feedback 5: Global Warning! takes a curatorial selection of predictions by Marshall McLuhan as an opportunity for a confrontation with contemporary art. Darsha Hewitt, Christof Migone, Stephanie Syjuco and Mogens Jacobsen – they all work with new media and penetrate their influence on society with their works of art. The artists reflect on technology experiences, changes in perception and the understanding of our world through media. Is contemporary art an early warning system for society?

With expertise and creativity, McLuhan reached a large audience. He designed his texts artistically in magazines, published newsletters that were sent by letter and, above all, used television to address his media-critical messages. McLuhan has deliberately used its celebrity status to experiment in real time with a nationwide audience. Never before or since has communication science played such a public role in our understanding of technological change.

Marshall McLuhan noted the end of the rational tradition of Enlightenment humanism through the electronic information of simultaneous mass communication around the world. The new age of satellite and television meant the networking of the world into a global village. He saw people trapped in it and, with visionary power, predicted the development of new social and artistic forms. Around 80 years later, it is time to check whether these historical findings have been realized.

#FEEDBACK 5 – Global Warning! : Marshall McLuhan and the Arts, curated by Baruch Gottlieb and sponsored and supported by the Canadian Embassy in Germany and West The Hague, is a look ahead to Canada as the host country at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2021.

Museum für Kommunikation Frankfurt

Me. You. Us. Them. by ,,

17 August 2020

Have you wondered why the inside of your head feels so strange these days? We think you’re morphing into something else. We call this “The Extreme Self.”

What follows is a sample from our next book. It charts the transformations taking place in individuality and in crowds — emotionally, socially, and spiritually. It’s also a sequel to our previous title, The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present. Like that book, The Extreme Self is designed by Daly & Lyon, and the imagery predominantly comes from seventy of the world’s foremost artists, designers, filmmakers, musicians, and more. We asked them to send us portraits or self-portraits. Why? Because the “face” has become the basic unit in what Shoshana Zuboff calls the “age of surveillance capitalism.”

The Extreme Self was previewed in a large-scale exhibition we curated at MOCA Toronto, titled “Age of You,” which travels to Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai, in 2021. See

Here’s a discussion charting the evolution from “the extreme present” to “the extreme self” in our extremely uncertain times.

Shumon Basar: Flashback to 2017. We were in Hans Ulrich’s office at the Serpentine Galleries in London. There was a palpable whiff of something unsettling in the air. Earlier that year, Trump had been inaugurated as president of the United States. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, right-wing militia, and the Ku Klux Klan had recently marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. Timothy Garton Ash described this geopolitical moment —when nativist politics was taking over, and it seemed like democracy was voting to annul itself — as “like 1989 in reverse.”

Douglas Coupland: It was the point when we knew we’d crossed a border into utterly new cultural territory.

SB: Totally. It was also clear the alt-right could meme way better than the political left. This was one reason they were winning the disinformation wars.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Then, somehow, the three of us began to discuss our shared love for Eric Hobsbawm’s book The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991. Hobsbawm had been a young boy in Germany when Hitler came to power in 1933. This set him on a path of lifelong Marxism, based in London. Eventually, he also became a mentor of mine, and a close friend of the Serpentine Gallery’s.

SB: He really was a titan. And, if I recall, Hans Ulrich — who’s always manically doodling like Robert Walser used to — wrote down some words. “The Extreme Self.” It felt like a eureka moment. We knew this was the direction to explore in a new book and exhibition. Doug, our first book together, The Age of Earthquakes (2015), introduced the “Extreme Present.” How does the extreme self follow on from The Extreme Present?

DC: Well, The Age of Earthquakes articulated how we inhabit a world that has profoundly morphed away from the twentieth century. That book was sort of a birth cry. Much of it was written in 2012–13. My worry has been that the pace of culture might outstrip the book’s perceptions, but its ideas are aging crisply. I think that for older people, The Age of Earthquakes is a guidebook. For younger people it’s like those super obvious rules they post on the walls beside swimming pools.
Fast-forward to now: The Extreme Self explores the mutation of personhood inside the “extreme present.” It’s about our interior worlds more than the exterior world. It asks, “What does being ‘you’ mean right now versus, say, ‘you’ of thirty years ago. And what is a ‘group’ compared to 1990?”

SB: Then COVID-19 came along and pushed us even faster and further into the twenty-first century.

DC: It really did. I do find it remarkable how, with 9/11, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries broke away so cleanly from each other. Even to watch an episode of Friends right now feels like temporal ecotourism, which is probably why it’s so massively successful in streaming format.

HUO: We then decided that we’d take the bone structure of Hobsbawm’s The Age of Extremes and update it for our current world.
Read the rest at

To read about this group’s last book see From The Medium is the Massage (1967) to The Age of Earthquakes (2015) at

On a subway just about all passengers stare at their cellphones.

By Doc Searls  –   Sep 13, 2019

This document was passed on to me by Andrew McLuhan. It looks like a handout to be given to visitors to McLuhan’s Centre from beyond the University of Toronto, as well as from within it. Since it mentions City as Classroom, which was published in 1977, this document must date from that year or 1978. It is useful in showing how McLuhan viewed and promoted the Centre to the world at large.


University of Toronto
Toronto 5, Canada


Marshall McLuhan, Director


The Centre began as a seminar in Culture and Technology in 1952, with Professor E.S. Carpenter (Anthropology, Professor Jacqueline Tyrwhitt (Architecture — associate of Siegfried Giedion), Professor Tom Easterbrook (Political Economy), Professor Carl Williams (Psychology) and Professor Marshall McLuhan (English).The group was interested in the studies of Harold Innis, among others. In 1963 Professor McLuhan was appointed by President Claude Bissell to create a new Centre for Culture and Technology to study the psychic and social consequences of technologies and media

The work of the Centre has been guided by Professor McLuhan, who has been influenced in his work by another eminent Canadian, Harold Innis(also of this university).It is widely acknowledged that Professor McLuhan has opened up significant dimensions of the field for study.

At the present time, the culture of Canada is at a major turning point. The combined pressures of our information technologies–from telephone, radio and television, to satellites, microprocessors, ships, cable–systems, fibreoptics and lasers–are about to swamp the pattern of Western civilization and identity. All previous technological breakthroughs and the ensuing cultural revolutions that we have studied, have operated with relatively extensive time scales when compared to the present one. In our century these time scales have been drastically shortened. The print revolution was enacted over hundreds of years: the television revolution was enacted within one generation. It is crucial that the question of the interaction of culture and technology receive immediate and widespread attention.

In the pursuit of our interests at the Centre, we have been observing the most recent developments. We are interested in using our training and experience to examine the practical questions that our government will be facing with regard to the future of Canadian culture and identity.

Our research team bridges the two ‘cultures’ as defined by C. P. Snow: it Includes both, comprising individuals trained in humanities as well as in the sciences and in the technical aspects of the technologica] hardware. Presently, our ‘core group’ consists of persons trained in Communications, Engineering, English, French, Physics, Biochemistry, Management and the History of Science. In addition, members of the core group have studied (and published on) the politics of Canadian identity and cohesiveness from various standpoints. We are quite conscious of the peculiar nature of the Canadian mosaic, having worked with the French—English interface as well as with native people and multi—cultural communities. Culture means not just the fine arts, but all aspects of the everyday life of the population, resident and transient: it includes hockey and physics as well as ballet and native sculpture.

          The published works of our associates over the years are too well known to require mention here. Our more recent investigations have included the following:

—  a classroom text for training in the study of culture and media (City as                           Classroom)

  a book-length study of the changes in management structures due to electric               media (Take Today:The Executive as Dropout)

  a detailed study of the forging of Western patterns of culture by the phonetic               alphabet. (“Alphabet, Mother of Invention”, Et Cetera, Vol.34, 1977)

— a study of those and other cultural patterns in relation to the hemispheres of the          brain;

— a proposed research project for converting television hardware into a form that            would support (instead of erode) Western sensibility and culture;

a preliminary study of the parameters peculiar to the Canadian pattern of identity;

— a full-scale study of the etymological and verbal character of all human artefacts, which places the study of technologies and their effects on a linguistic and humanistic basis for the first time, and which allows prediction of effects (currently underway, supported in part by a SSHRC grant).

By Publius Audax

Controlling the center of The Center of Everything (“China” in English) makes Xi Jinping the most powerful person on Earth and the world leader of the Mussolini Movement. The danger to us all: Xi has lost his nerve. His panic is the biggest geopolitical crisis since WWII.

Xi’s problem is the Information Cost-Velocity Curve. The ICVC has dominated all human organization since we learned to mumble. On the Curve, information cost is always falling and information velocity is always increasing. Anything that fell off the Curve from the Roman Empire to the first-generation PC and smartphone makers, died.

All organizations, political, social or economic have, for all history, been subsets of the Curve. If the Curve moves, as so famously with the Gutenberg Press of 1440, you either move with it, or you go down. The Gutenberg Press shredded every power structure in Europe. Those countries which resisted paid a fearsome price in people and money. The European Union is to this day divided into two: those countries in its north who adapted and those in its south who didn’t.

McLuhan’s Gutenberg lesson for Xi: The Curve can fast outrun any limitations you place on it. Xi now faces his Gutenberg Moment. And he’s choking.

The Curve’s biggest impact is this: the farther we move out on the Curve, the more power is diffused. Our democracies are a direct function of Gutenberg’s putting the printed word in front of people so that they could make up their own minds about things. The telegraph took the next step, the radio the next and so on through the Internet, the Cloud and social media.

Staying out front on the ICVC is the key to growth and prosperity. Why? Because those companies and nations better able to substitute ever-cheaper information for other factor inputs like land, labor and capital gain market share more quickly than those which cannot. That’s how Walmart and Apple did it.

Naturally, every company wants to put as much distance as possible between itself and its competitors on the Curve. All nations—the smart ones anyway—know that Ricardian comparative advantage comes from information-optimization strategies that get them out on the Curve and keep them there.

Over half a century ago, Marshall McLuhan taught us in his two great books, The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media, that, like gravity, the shape and direction of information governs all structures. Structures cannot defy information gravity and dictate the shape and direction of information.

Xi’s problem: how can The Party defy information gravity and limit the massive shape changers like marginal cost computing on the Cloud that determine outcomes.

McLuhan died 40 years ago this week. He did not live to see the PC age, let alone the Internet or the overwhelming power of marginal cost computing on the Cloud. Nonetheless, in Understanding Media, he said that we would live in a world of “electric-all-at-onceness” (the only way he could express it in 1964) and then laid out logically how we would behave in such a space. He described the world of Facebook and Google perfectly…

Mussolini came from southern Europe, the losing side of the Gutenberg revolution. His pre-Gutenberg policy was Party control of the military, information and selected enterprise, leaving the rest to the market. He believed that the Fascist Party could control information gravity, thereby controlling outcomes. Hitler called Mussolini a “political genius” for this kludge: all the control that Stalin got for a fraction of the cost. Mussolini’s system is widely used all over the world today, most notably in The Center and Russia.

McLuhan would have been happy to tell Xi that we are way too far out on the ICVC today for the Mussolini system to hold.

McLuhan would have pointed to a second, massive danger to Xi: the changing nature of time. He would have explained to Xi that time on the ICVC is measured in the half-life of a microprocessor, where a year is about two months. That, he would have told Xi, changes both the nature of your decision-making and the speed with which you must make decisions. “Electric-all-at-onceness” is no joke…

Thanks to Michael McLuhan for supplying this article.

Read the rest here:

Paperback editions of ‘Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.’ (photo: Andrew McLuhan)

By Andrew McLuhan

Some excerpts from and comments on Marshall McLuhan’s introduction to the second edition of ‘Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man’ (1966) with some information about The McLuhan Institute (Ted (revised) from MI). 

Something you may not know about, and I only discovered very recently, is that for the second (paperback) edition of ‘Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man’ (1966), Marshall McLuhan wrote a short new introduction.

[It was not reprinted in most subsequent editions, but is in the latest ]

This second introduction is short, only five printed pages, but it is packed with goodies directed toward criticisms and misapprehensions of the original printing, notably ‘media hot and cool,’ and ‘the medium is the message.’

A few examples:

[After several paragraphs on changes in the popular use of the terms ‘hot’ and cool.’]

“The section on “media hot and cold” confused many readers of Understanding Media who were unable to recognize the very large structural changes in human outlook that are occurring today. Slang offers an immediate index to changing perception. Slang is based not on theories but on immediate experience. The student of media will not only value slang as a guide to changing perception, but he will also study media as bringing about new perceptual habits.”
[Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Introduction to the Second Edition, p.viii]

I am struck by how often what Marshall wrote half a century ago holds up today. I am not talking about so-called prophesy or prediction. Marshall wasn’t so much ahead of his time as ahead of contemporaries who were behind their time. As he said ‘I’m very careful to only predict things which have already happened.’

A technique such as this — studying slang as a guide to changing sensibility in individuals and cultures — is still worth employing if one is interested in noting change. This tool is one of many Marshall gives “the student of media” who cares to take it.

“The section on “the medium is the message” can, perhaps, be clarified by pointing out that any technology gradually creates a totally new human environment. Environments are not passive wrappings but active processes. … “The medium is the message” means, in terms of the electronic age, that a totally new environment has been created. The “content” of this new environment is the old mechanized environment of the industrial age. The new environment reprocesses the old one as radically as TV is reprocessing the film. For the “content” of TV is the movie. TV is environmental and imperceptible, like all environments. We are aware only of the “content” or the old environment. … Each new technology creates an environment that is itself regarded as corrupt and degrading. Yet the new one turns its predecessor into an art form.”
[Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Introduction to the Second Edition, pp. viii-ix]

Substitute terms and we could say today: “The new environment reprocesses the old one as radically as Netflix is reprocessing TV.”

Read the Rest here:

Panchal Mansaram

March 4, 1934 –  December 6, 2020

We are deeply saddened that Panchal Mansaram passed on from this life on Sunday December 6, 2020 in Burlington, Ontario, at the age of 86 years old, almost one year after his beloved wife Tarunika. He had a strong internal light and quiet persistence that came from a deep faith that life would lead him where he needed to go. He was born on March 4, 1934 in Mt. Abu, Rajasthan, India. He studied at the Sir J. J. School of Art, Mumbai and at the Rijks Academie, Amsterdam. In 1966, he migrated to Canada with his family. After stops in Montreal and Toronto, he made his home in Burlington, where he trained a generation of artists as a teacher in the Hamilton & Wentworth District School Board. His house and art studio on Gardenview Drive was a welcoming space where visitors from far and wide were always made to feel like family. In the last year of his life, he found a warm community at The Village of Tansley Woods. Mansaram was a visionary artist whose diverse artwork reflected his interest in the ways media and technology created a collage-like experience in daily life. He had life-long friendships with leading thinkers and artists of the 20th century [Including Marshall McLuhan], and he produced a substantial body of work ranging from painting and prints to photography, textile works, video and more. Today, his artwork is in museum collections around the world.

He was beloved husband of the late Tarunika Mansaram and loving father of Mila Mansaram. He was the brother of PratapChand Mistry, Bhagwandas Mistry, Shantiben Gehlot and brother-in-law of Anil Mehta, Dinesh Daftary, Surbhi Shah, and Mrudu Chauhan. The last rites were performed at the Bay Gardens Funeral Home, Burlington. His ashes will be scattered along with those of his beloved wife Tarunika at a later date. Due to covid restrictions, there will be no visitation or memorial service. Leave your messages in the online Book of Condolences at

Rest in peace, dear friend.

You can also sign the Guestbook here:

A poster created for an exhibition of his art where I first met Mansaram. The photo of McLuhan in the centre was taken by Mansaram. Marshall McLuhan added his name to the art work on the right side.

In anticipation of Bill Kuhns’ to-be-published huge compendium of McLuhan quotes in his McLuhan Marshalling Machine: A Dictionary of Quotations, where they will be categorized by the artifact or phenomenon they refer to, I have Bill’s permission to publish samples of original McLuhan quotes from his writings, lectures, and interviews, some of which will have never before been seen in a secondary publication context.
For your information, the publisher is not yet known but the manuscript is near completion and publication is expected to be sometime next year.

Marshall McLuhan on “Breakdown as Breakthrough”

“Breakdown As Breakthrough”

Culture Is Our Business (1970), p 27.
“When Jove had a migraine, it turned out to be Minerva.”

– Culture Is Our Business (1970), p 27.
“In the age of the information hunter, feed-back yields to feedforward, the point of view becomes the probe. Problems become discoveries.”
Culture Is Our Business (1970), p. 80.
“The breakdown or hang-up is always in the connection, whereas the breakthrough or discovery is inside the problem itself, not outside but “in the gap.”
– “The Argument: Causality in the Electric World” (1973) in McLuhan Unbound (2017), p. 29.
“Alexander Graham Bell, while trying to remove defects from the telegraph, invented the telephone.”
– Culture Is Our Business (1970), p. 28.
“By repetition, an archetype can become a cliché again; or an individual man a crowd (with no private, but rather corporate, identity). Breakdown becomes breakthrough.”
Laws of Media (1988), pp.  107-108.
[To a graduating class] “We will now retire from  the scene for one year, leaving  the reshaping of  it to your splendid energies. A year from now we shall inspect the fruit of your endeavors with the most benign curiosity.  It has often been said that every breakdown is a breakthrough.  We have broken down.  The breakthrough is all yours. Good luck.”
“Adopt a College,” This Magazine Is About Schools, Autumn, (1968), p. 55.
“In the same sense, by repetition an archetype can become a cliché  again, or an individual man can become a crowd. The cloned person loses his private identity, but becomes a corporate one. As we have said before, breakdown becomes breakthrough.”
– The Global Village Marshall McLuhan with Bruce Powers (1989), p. 20.
“What Illich fails to see is that when the answers are outside, the time has come to put the questions inside the school rather than the answers.”
– “The End of the Work Ethic” (1972), in Understanding Me (2003), p. 203.
“Computer programmers have also learned that “information overload leads to pattern recognition” as breakdown becomes breakthrough: from “bits” to “bytes” to “whole” again.”
– “The Argument: Causality in  the Electric World” (1973), in McLuhan Unbound (2017), p. 6.

In anticipation of Bill Kuhns’ to-be-published huge compendium of McLuhan quotes in his McLuhan Marshalling Machine: A Dictionary of Quotations, where they will be categorized by the artifact or phenomenon they refer to, I have Bill’s permission to publish samples of original McLuhan quotes from his writings, lectures, and interviews, some of which will have never before been seen in a secondary publication context.
For your information, the publisher is not yet known but the manuscript is near completion and publication is expected to be sometime next year.

Marshall McLuhan on Canada

Assumption [College, Windsor, Ontario] a little bay of silence – a little backwater in a stagnant stream. Oh the mental vacuum that is Canada.
– — Letter to Wyndham Lewis, December 13, (1944), in Letters of Marshall McLuhan (1987), p. 165.
…in Canada – you can never be a nation as long as we have two cultures, OK? What we need are more cultures, not fewer. It is obvious that you can not have too many cultures in an electric age. Do you think? 

– Jean Pare interview, Forces Magazine, (1973), typescript, p. 26.
“Canada Needs Three Million Jews”
Title of an unpublished essay, 1948.

“No, there is a huge inertia in Canada. I like this, because it enables me to sort of move ahead of the rest of them.”
– M
ademoiselle Interview, September, (1967), p. 128.
“Actually, the very absence of cluttering example and traditions in the arts is the main Canadian opportunity. The only possible strategy for the Canadian writer, poet, artist (as it was for Joyce, Pound, and Eliot when they found themselves in cultural backwaters) is to conquer the old traditions through the most revolutionary artistic techniques suggested by the current modes of science and technology. This is the really great advantage enjoyed by any provincial in a time of rapid change.”
“Defrosting Canadian Culture,” American Mercury, Vol. 74, No. 339, (1952), p. 11.
“But as a counter environment, Canada has the opportunity to achieve a kind of artistic awareness of the United States and typically Canadians have shown considerable aptitude in making ironic and comic and humorous observations about the United States.”
– CBC TV show, Fletcher Markle, “Telescope 67,” (1967).
“Like Shaw, the Canadian ‘nobody’ can have the best of two worlds—on the one hand, the human scale of the small country, and on the other hand, the immediate advantages of proximity to massive power.”
The Global Village, Marshall McLuhan &  Bruce Powers, (1989), p. 151.

“…the cringing, flunkey spirit of Canadian culture, its servant-quarter snobbishness resentments ignorance penury.”
– [Quoting McLuhan] Edmund Carpenter in “That Not-So-Silent Sea,” (1992), in The Virtual Marshall McLuhan by Donald Theall, Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2001, p. 250.
“But what complete isolation governs the maturing of any thought in this country! You have had a big taste of it.”
Letter to Wyndham Lewis, January 17, 1944, in Letters of Marshall McLuhan (1987), p. 147.
“In print-oriented Toronto, poetry-reading in the public parks is a public offense. Religion and politics are permitted, but not poetry, as many young poets recently discovered”.
Understanding Media (1964), MIT Press Edition, p. 53.
“The [Canadian] Royal Commission is squarely in line with our bureaucrats and Victorian patriarchs in supposing that culture is basically an unpleasant moral duty. According to this view, everything that people do spontaneously and with gusto, everything connected with industry, commerce, sport, and popular entertainment is merely vulgar. Americans are sufficiently familiar with this attitude through the genteel tradition of New England which dominates their academic life….Who knows? Perhaps the next Royal Commission on Canadian culture may include a brief notice on Walt Disney and ice-hockey as Canada’s outstanding contributions to world culture in the twentieth century.“

– “Defrosting Canadian Culture,” American Mercury, Vol. 74, No. 339, (1952), pp. 96-97.
“A serious writer updates a culture – I don’t think there’s any serious writing going on in Canada today – by anybody”.
Interview by Linda Sandler, Miss Chatelaine, September (1974), p. 59.

“Nature and history seem to have agreed to designate us in Canada for a corporate, artistic role. As the U.S.A. becomes a world environment through its resources, technology, and enterprises, Canada takes on the function of making that world environment perceptible to those who occupy it.”
– The Marfleet Lectures (1967), in Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews (2003), p. 104.
“In the land of of rye and caution fourteen million people are stretched out thinly along a 5000-mile frontier. There is no possibility of defense in depth against the aggression of American pin-up girls. Canadians are the only people on earth who read more alien than national cultural matter”.

– “Defrosting Canadian Culture,” American Mercury, Vol. 74, No. 339, (1952), p. 91.
– “The fact that we are a counter environment, rather than an environment, is well reflected in the fact that they don’t spend any time writing about us”.
CBC TV show, Fletcher Markle, “Telescope 67,” (1967).

“Canada has no identity because it has too many borderlines. Diversity does not create identity. It creates a very low-profile thing, whatever it is. If you want a real identity then you have to close off most of the borderlines and most of the cultural situations have to be thrown away to concentrate on a few strong positions and then you get a national identity. That’s why you need a war and a great big bloodbath to create a national identity.” 
– “It Will Probably End the Motorcar” (1976), p. 27.
“So the Canadian, located between two great communities, the English and the American, is provincial to both. He would, therefore, be in a superb position to develop habits of critical insight if the developments of such habits were not paralyzed by colonial timidity or Scottish caution.” 

– “Defrosting Canadian Culture,” American Mercury, Vol. 74, No. 339, (1952), p. 95.
“As a visiting Frenchman once pointed out, the Canadian is like a poor man sharing an apartment with a rich man. He lives continually beyond his means in a state of perpetual anxiety and expediency. Just as naturally he develops a power of acute observation and the ability to comment shrewdly on the ebullient comings and goings of his rich friend to the south of him.”

– “Defrosting Canadian Culture,” American Mercury, Vol. 74, No. 339, (1952), pp. 92-93.

A Provincial Toronto in the 1950s, the tallest building Royal York Hotel, once heralded as the “tallest building in the Canada, and the British Empire.”

By Alex Danco

To really understand the impact of audio, we need to go back to basics and understand how audio works as a medium, independent of its content. What does audio have to say? What does it do to us, in plain sight, that’s gone unnoticed? We need to go deep into some Marshall McLuhan territory, and appreciate what he meant by his famous line The Medium Is the Message. 

McLuhan is one of two 20th century figures – the other is Claude Shannon – to truly grasp how and why information technology works. Claude Shannon laid the groundwork for McLuhan by discovering Information Theory, and defining information in a counterintuitive but powerful way: as resolution of uncertainty

Compare these two sentences: “Let’s meet tonight at my house at 7:30” versus “Let’s do tonight, maybe.” Which one contains more information? The first one. It resolves uncertainty to a higher degree, which is why we say it’s “higher resolution”.

If you’re told “Let’s meet tonight at my house at 7:30”, you’ve received a pretty complete, high-resolution dose of information. On the other hand, “Let’s do tonight maybe” is lower-resolution, with some gaps you’ll need to go fill yourself. It could mean yes, it could mean no. Eventually you’ll figure it out, but it requires active work on your part to interpret your friend’s communication style and understand the message correctly.

We live in a world of information, and we often think of information in terms of sensory input coming at us. But that’s not really information. Information isn’t what we’re told; it’s what we understand.

Hot and Cool Media

Now let’s add McLuhan to the picture. McLuhan’s first insight here is that different forms of media create different kinds of spaces and stages for information and understanding, regardless of whatever the content might be. You can arrange them on a spectrum, from high-resolution to low-resolution. McLuhan labeled this spectrum “Hot” to “Cool”. 

Some forms of media and communication inherently transmit information in high definition, where what’s being communicated is right in your face. Uncertainty is resolved immediately and thoroughly. The media yells at you, like a newspaper or an action movie: it doesn’t hold back. There’s no guesswork or participation required on your part. McLuhan calls this “Hot” media. 

Other forms of media and communication transmit information in lower definition. The participants have to do work to integrate several different pieces or senses, including gaps in information that must be filled in or genre conventions that must be followed, in order to complete the picture. A typical telephone conversation is lower resolution media, because a large part of the message being communicated is obscured or unsaid: it isn’t in the words, but in the gaps we must fill in. This is “Cool” media. 

The concept of Hot and Cool media took me a long time to really understand. But when it suddenly clicked, it clicked all at once. I think some people have a hard time figuring it out because McLuhan’s illustrative examples in Understanding Media are from another era. “The Waltz is a Hot dance, because it’s unambiguous mechanical mashing, whereas the Twist is a Cool dance, because you have to integrate information and fill in gaps in real time” was a great example then, but less so now. People also get thrown off by his description of TV as a “cool, tactile medium”. Remember, back then, TV was a glowing fuzz of white dots and muffled audio you had to piece together – a totally different medium than film (hot back then, and now) or TV today (which has heated up a lot since McLuhan’s day). 

So here’s an explanation in terms of media we know today: texting, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

Texting: ice cold. The entire point of texting, particularly for young people, is that it’s a way to communicate that reveals very little information. Uncertainty and ambiguity is the point. Texting, especially a group chat, is often like a game of “what’s said versus unsaid”, where gaps must be filled in. It demands active participation on your part to complete the picture of what’s being communicated. (The dreaded “…” in iMessage, which says so little but draws us in, is Cool Media.)

Twitter: cool. Twitter is tricky because there are many different ways to use it. Breaking News Twitter, for instance, is fairly hot. But Twitter the social network, the way I use it, is quite cool. It’s a low-resolution, character-limited format where the majority of what’s being communicated is actually just offscreen, out of the picture. The greatest tweets and the funniest jokes on Twitter are incomplete information: they’re pure punchline. The setup goes unsaid; you have to already know it, or go figure it out. It takes a lot of work to use Twitter successfully and you have to fluently understand its genre conventions in order for it to make sense. Twitter, when used optimally, is Cool Media.

Instagram: warm. The main content being communicated is all visual, and you don’t need to understand genre conventions as much. Instagram in its early photo filter days was fairly hot media, as is classic photography, but it cooled down when it became the de facto social status app. Now there’s interplay between what’s posted and how many likes it gets, and from whom, and other social dynamics like private versus public posting. There is still some ambiguity, but as a medium it’s more information-complete than Twitter or texting.

Facebook: hot. Unlike Twitter, which is a muttering mass of inside jokes, or Instagram, which is warmer but still has some cool elements to it, Facebook is more like a newspaper. It’s not holding anything back. It’s a patchwork mosaic of yelling: Acknowledge this! Be angry at this! Celebrate this! There’s not a lot of mystery on Facebook, and it doesn’t take much fluency to use it correctly. The information being communicated is all right there, blasted at you. Facebook may have started out cooler, back when it was college kids navigating social status (as Instagram is used now). But it’s heated up steadily since then.

YouTube: scorching hot. We’re going to talk about YouTube later.

Now, remember: when we say Hot and Cold media, we’re not talking about the content. We’re talking about the medium itself. The Medium Is the Message means is that the choice of media creates a stage for what follows. Hot media creates space for hot communication; cool media creates space for cool communication. Hot media heats things up; cool media cools things down.

Think about the difference between communicating by texting (cool) versus email (hot). Typographically, there’s no difference between the two. But email is understood to be a single-shot method of communication, which is hot and high-resolution, whereas texting is understood to be a dialogue: it’s a cool, chatty medium by nature, where little information is actually exchanged. Communicating by email, regardless of the content, will generally heat things up and force directness. Communicating by text will generally cool things down and invite ambiguity.

Meanwhile, the physical properties of the medium you choose will also influence the temperature of what’s being communicated. A photograph is hotter than a pencil: they both make pictures, but one makes low-resolution sketches and the other high-definition images.

What’s hottest? You might think that the highest-resolution format of all could be visual, typographic or video. But it’s not. It’s audio.