Marshall McLuhan on Money, the “Poor Man’s Credit Card”

25May15

We can think of money as two things: 1. stored labor, and 2. a communication medium that conveys value; Marshall McLuhan devotes Chapter 14, the subtitle of which is “The Poor Man’s Credit Card”, to the medium of money in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964). The following paragraph discusses McLuhan’s ideas about money:-

McLuhan argues that the emergence of money as currency rather than the commodities used in trade allowed man to “…extend trading to the whole social complex.” (McLuhan, 1964, p. 132.)  Through this extension of money in trade, man was also able to exchange ideas, opinions, and theories while they were exchanging money for goods and services.  A social medium eventually evolved from the emergence of money as items began to attain a value to society.  “Money as a social medium or extension of an inner wish and motive creates social and spiritual values…” (McLuhan, 1964, p. 135).  Money/Value can be seen in items worn or used by individuals, they send a message to the rest of society; a Rolls Royce, a house in the Hamptons, Harry Winston jewelry are examples of money or what it can acquire.  If we follow McLuhan’s belief that the content of any medium is always another, the consideration of money as a medium would beget conspicuous consumption, platinum cards or the lack thereof as a medium as well.  These items show the appearance and effects of money (or poverty) and send a message to the rest to society. (Source: http://tinyurl.com/ll3r5ej )

Here are some quotes from McLuhan’s Understanding Media that illustrate his views of money as a medium:-

“Money talks” because money is a metaphor, a transfer, and a bridge. Like words and language, money is a storehouse of communally achieved work, skill, and experience. Money, however, is also a specialist technology like writing; and as writing intensifies the visual aspect of speech and order, and as the clock visually separates time from space, so money separates work from the other social functions. Even today money is a language for translating the work of the farmer into the work of the barber, doctor, engineer, or plumber. As a vast social metaphor, bridge, or translator, money—like writing—speeds up exchange and tightens the bonds of interdependence in any community. It gives great spatial expansion and control to political organizations, just as writing does, or the calendar. – UM, Ch. 14

“Money, as a social means of extending and amplifying work and skill in an easily accessible and portable form, lost much of its magical power with the coming of representative money, or paper money.”– UM, Ch. 14

“Money, like language a store of work and experience, acts also as translator and transmitter.”

“The nature of people demands that most of them be engaged in the most frivolous possible activities—like making money.”

Money “speeds up social exchange and tightens the bonds of interdependence in any community” – UM, Ch. 14

“Even today, money is a language for translating the work of the farmer into the work of the barber, doctor, engineer, or plumber. As a vast social metaphor, bridge or translator, money – like writing – speeds up exchange and tightens the bonds of interdependence in any community… In a highly literate, fragmented society, ‘Time is money’ , and money is the store of other people’s time and effort.” – 1964, Toronto

Money is just the poor man's credit card.

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