“The medium is the message”
This often and tediously repeated phrase by Marshall McLuhan is his most misunderstood idea; it does not mean what it literally says and you have to understand the context in which McLuhan wrote it. By “the medium is the message” he means what he says in this quote from ‘Understanding Media’ (1964):
“The medium is the message. This merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology” (p. 7).
The key words are: “the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology”. It means that we should pay more attention to the impact on the world that a medium has, consider how it changes society and the world both for better and worse, rather than its content, “the new scale that is introduced into our affairs”, rather than the messages that are carried. For example, TV has had a profound effect on all kinds of things: politics, news, entertainment, religion, business, advertising, education, etc. The message of TV, which is more important than any programming TV carries, is the cumulative effect of all those changes. The Internet is similarly having a profound effect on the world. If you want to read more about this, Mark Federman has explained it here: http://individual.utoronto.ca/markfederman/article_mediumisthemessage.htm .
And here’s another explanation by McLuhan himself:
"When I say the medium is the message, I'm saying that the motor car is not a medium. The medium is the highway, the factories, and the oil companies. That is the medium. In other words, the medium of the car is the effects of the car. When you pull the effects away, the meaning of the car is gone. The car as an engineering object has nothing to do with these effects. The car is a FIGURE in a GROUND of services. It's when you change the GROUND that you change the car. The car does not operate as the medium, but rather as one of the major effects of the medium. So 'the medium is the message' is not a simple remark, and I've always hesitated to explain it. It really means a hidden environment of services created by an innovation, and the hidden environment of services is the thing that changes people. *It is the environment that changes people, not the technology*." - Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews (2003).
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