Understanding Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

25Dec20

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: https://tinyurl.com/y8n9y4cv




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