Paul Levinson Discusses Some Key Ideas of Marshall McLuhan

29Sep13

Paul Levinson writes:-

I was interviewed in July 2012 about the relevance of Marshall McLuhan’s thinking to our current age of YouTube and social media.  The interview was conducted by J. Charles Sterin for the second edition of his Mass Media Revolution, a multi-media book published in July 2013.  The video contains clips of McLuhan from 1967, juxtaposed with my observations.


Dr. Levinson points out that the two most famous aphorisms that McLuhan is famous for – “the medium is the message” and “global village” – have taken on new meanings in the Internet Age, meanings that differ from what McLuhan intended by them back in the ’60s with its pre-Internet media ecology. By “the medium is the message” McLuhan meant what he wrote in this quote from Chapter 1 of ‘Understanding Media’ (1964):

“The medium is the message. This is 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” (MIT Press edition, 1994, p. 7).

The Medium is the Message 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 greater attention to the impact on the world that any communication 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.

Global Village 

Here’s how McLuhan described his sense of the global village:Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.”– Understanding Media, 1964.

He saw the global village as the interconnectness and resulting mutual awareness of people around the world due to electronic communication technologies (TV, satellites, movies) and inexpensive global travel (jet planes, ships, trains). I speculated in a posting on this blog last year that McLuhan might have had the Telstar communications satellite, first launched in 1962, in mind when he formulated his global village idea (see http://tinyurl.com/q387bt4 ). He wrote the following in The Medium is the Massage (1967, p. 14): “The family circle has widened. The worldpool of information fathered by the electric media—movies, Telstar, flight—far surpasses any possible influence mom and dad can now bring to bear. Character no longer is shaped by only two earnest, fumbling experts. Now all the world’s a sage”. This awareness, arrived at because of our technologies, does not necessarily lead to mutual understanding, respect, and global harmony, as Marshall McLuhan (who adopted the term from the writer Wyndham Lewis) wrote in his book “War & Peace in the Global Village” (1968). Today we tend to regard the global village in terms of social media and online communities.

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