The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

30Sep14

The medium is *still* the message, I might add. This essay by Paul Hiebert underlines the continuing relevance of Marshall McLuhan’s ideas, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of his most important book, “Understanding Media” (1964). McLuhan’s ideas were descriptive of media both of his own time and especially now, when much of what he wrote anticipated our New Media of today. Both Paul Levinson and yours truly are cited.

 

Marshall McLuhan.jpg

Marshall McLuhan, c. 1936 at the age of 25

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

• September 30, 2014

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?

He had a thing for clip-on neckties. He once said LSD was the lazy man’s form of Finnegans Wake. When deciding whether a book was worth reading, he’d flip through its table of contents then skip ahead to page 69. If page 69 offered no insight, he’d put the book down and move onto the next. In a 1951 letter to Ezra Pound, he described himself as an “intellectual thug.”

That man was eclectic Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who lived from 1911 to the very last day of 1980, the same year CNN launched. This year, however, marks the 50th anniversary of his famous work, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, which builds upon his famous aphorism: “The medium is the message.” Last April, the Journal of Visual Culture devoted an entire issue to exploring Understanding Media‘s enduring influence. Article titles include “I Sing the Senses Electric,” “Reading for the Noise,” and “Terrorphone.”

Along with the success of his 1962 book The Gutenberg Galaxy, which describes how changes in communication technologies (e.g. the printing press) fundamentally alter people’s orientation to the world, Understanding Media propelled McLuhan into the realm of pop-culture priesthood. He appeared on The Dick Cavett Show and the cover of Newsweek. Executives from General Electric and IBM arranged private meetings. In the New York Herald Tribune, Tom Wolfe wondered if McLuhan was the most important thinker since Newton, Darwin, Freud, and Einstein. A 1965 piece in Harper’s, titled “Marshall McLuhan: Canada’s Intellectual Comet,” states, “like it or not, he is on his way to becoming one of those annoying ‘seminal’ thinkers whose arguments you must adapt, incorporate, or dispose of before pressing ahead in his field or—as McLuhan clearly believes—into areas well beyond it.”

The most important part of this essay can be found at http://tinyurl.com/kvh5vqo .

Paul Hiebert is the editor of Ballast, a Canadian-centric Website about culture and politics. See http://ballastmag.com/ .

The content below is from the Whole Earth Catalog, 1968 – 1974 (see http://tinyurl.com/3lnfjy4 )

 

In Understanding Media, McLuhan surveys changes in perception affected by evolving media environments, from early print culture to modern television. For McLuhan, the media environment of the electronic age demanded radically new pedagogy to help young minds navigate these new conditions. Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, influenced by McLuhan’s work, promoted experiments in new media as responsive to these shifts in culture, offering new possibilities for teaching and learning for an electronic age.

Marshall McLuhan. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New American Library, 1964).

Understanding Media

Understanding Media Ad

Advertisement for Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man in the Whole Earth Catalog

Advertisements


No Responses Yet to “The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: