Herbert Marshall McLuhan is often considered the ‘prophet of the digital age’, with his idea of the ‘global village’ [McLuhan. 1962], predicting the idea of our modern internet. His work has touched pop culture, and sent ripples through the academic world, through how we see our relationship with media.
‘The Medium is the Message’, first appeared in Understanding Media [McLuhan. 1964: 19]. McLuhan use of ‘medium’ and ‘message’ take on an array of meanings in his work. The term medium, acts as an extension of the human body and mind, meaning that when he refers to things such as media, he is referring to not only television, films, radios, and books, but also items such as clothing and cars. According to McLuhan, media always extends at least one part of ourselves. Clothing is an extension of our skin, adding a second layer to us. Cars are an extension of our feet, allowing us to travel greater distances at a faster pace. A book or a magazine extends our eyes, allowing us to see more of the world. Television or film extends or eyes, ears and our sense of touch. The global village McLuhan describes, now known as the modern internet, extends our central nervous system, our minds, as we are able to access vast quantities of information, and extend our reach to ever corner of the world.
McLuhan’s use of ‘message’ in this sense, is not as straight forward as that of a text message or a written letter. McLuhan’s use of the term focuses on the effect or impact the medium has on our lives and our way of thinking. Similar to the study of semiotics, the medium in which a message is conveyed, hold just as much meaning as the way in which it is conveyed.
As McLuhan describes the various ways in which media extends our bodies and minds, he also describes the two categories into which media can be sorted: Hot and Cool to describe our levels of engagement with the media in question. McLuhan describes hot media as one that is full of information, feeding it clearly and directly to you, allowing for little input from the audience. While cool media allows for variation in information, so the audience has some form of interaction with the media. For example, a lecture is a hot media, because the information is being fed to students with no breaks, the information is prepared beforehand, and delivered as such. However a tutorial is cool, because while a general topic and subject is agreed upon beforehand, the actual content varies depending on the participants, it is highly interactive. When it comes to television vs. the cinema, TV is cool, while the cinema is hot. You have complete control over what you watch on the television, but in the cinema, you are placed in a dark room, unable to pause, rewind or change film during the presentation.
- Bishop, R. (2014) I Sing the Senses Electric. Journal of Visual Culture. SAGE Publications: London.
- Bolter, J. (2014) McLuhan and the Legacy of Popular Modernism. Journal of Visual Culture. SAGE Publications: London.
- McLuhan, M. (1962) The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. University of Toronto: Toronto.
- McLuhan, M. (1964) Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McGraw-Hill: New York.
- McLuhan, M. & Fiore, Q. (1967) The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. Penguin Books: Westminster.
- McLuhan, M. & Fiore, Q. (1968) War and Peace in the Global Village. Gingko Press: California.
- Annie Hall. (1977) Film. Directed by Woody Allen. [Blu-Ray] Rollins-Joffe Productions: USA.
- The Doors (1990) Film. Directed by Oliver Stone. [Blu-Ray]
- Videodrome (1983) Film. Directed by David Cronenberg. [Blu-Ray] Filmplan International: Canada.