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What did McLuhan Mean When he Said “The Medium is the Message”?

McLuhan was a world-renowned philosopher; he earned his name in academia when he published Understanding Media: The Extension of Man, which made a sensation in the 1960s. During the time the book was published, it was a best seller. After the coming years, McLuhan published two other books, The Mechanical Bride and The Gutenberg Galaxy (Finkelstein, 1968). However, these books weren’t as successful as ‘Understanding the Media’. McLuhan was one of the first to glamourise technology and ‘The Global Village’. The idea of the medium being the message is a controversial topic, as it was once deemed useless by many academics, and McLuhan’s style of thinking was frowned upon. Marshall McLuhan was a new type of intellectual; he had a mosaic approach as he would only create a small segment of an image in the viewer’s mind.

He invited his readers also to be producers of the text. Marshall’s approach to subjects rather than giving a straight answer he would often beat around the bush. But recently, as the internet has been discovered, his theories have been the centre of attention, his was has been resurrected and refers to many of today’s contemporary media. The medium is no longer identifiable as such, and the merging medium and the message McLuhan is the first great formula of this new age (Cavell, 2003, p2). One of the many ideas that McLuhan had was that the media was an extension of man. When Marshall famously spoke about the ‘medium being the message’, he meant that it was nessasirily the services provided by the object; it was the object itself. Such as the wheel McLuhan famously spoke of the wheel being an extension of the foot and that clothes were an extension of the skin.

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In presumption, the term medium is aimed at objects such as radio, books or television. However, McLuhan’s theory defines that the medium is not what music is being played on the radio; it’s is the radio itself. “The medium is the message” means, to McLuhan, that, in any form of communication or form of artistic expression, what is consciously or purposely ‘said’ is of no importance (Finkelstein, 1968, p47). The title of his book, “The medium is the message”, was a spelling mistake, which occurred during printing. However, once Marshall McLuhan was informed about the incorrection, he allowed the book to be published. He liked the fact that the mistake added to his value of the medium is the message. The message wasn’t the contents of the book. It was the object itself.

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Another famous idea of McLuhan was that electronic media creates a ‘global village’; he described an idea where technology has now minimalised the whole world into a small village. McLuhan believed that different media have different consequences for the control of time travel and space. Most of the information we rely upon comes through our eyes; our technology is arranged to heighten that effect ( McLuhan and R.Powers, 1989, p36). The ‘Global village’ was an idea that technology brought everyone around the world together as a community. The media being extensions of ourselves. The global village was a world in which all parts are interconnected. Electronic media is faster and completely persuasive. The saying the media is an extension of ourselves is true as technology helps us carry out our daily duties with ease.

These inventions have only helped make life more smooth for humans, and it is beneficial to all us of. Like McLuhan has said, it has brought the world together in one way. All media may be thought of as tools that extend the range and scope of our bodily faculties and senses (Scannell, 2007, p134). The ideas presented by McLuhan might be relevant in contemporary media since the development of the internet. Before this, his theories were wild and seemed unrealistic. Another of his ideas was hot and cool media, such as the radio being a hot medium and the telephone being a cool medium. “Hot” media, he says, are filled with data,” while “cool” media are sparse in data (Finkelstein, 1968, p82). The radio was considered hot because it was always on and made a noise, but the telephone would only work if someone else were on the receiving end.

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The movie was a hot media on a big screen and viewed by a wide audience. The “hot” presents what appears to be a complete, simulated experience (Finkelstein, 1968, p81). On the other hand, television was considered a cool medium, as it was small and accessible only to individuals. A perfect example of his concept of hot and cool media was photography, as the images are high quality. At the same time, cartoons were considered a cool medium as they were low in quality. This was another one of McLuhan’s theories. In conclusion, McLuhan’s theory successfully turned our attention to the medium of communication and its property. After the birth of the internet, his name has been redeemed, and his theories have now been taken into perspective. He may be one of the most controversial philosophers in the world. But his ideas and theories are logical and make more sense in the present than I would of in the past.

Although Marshall had a different thinking style, he was always coming up with new ideas and theories that made perfect sense. The idea of media being an extension of man is true as mobile; mobile seems to be a part of us these days. We carry them wherever we go and take them to places we don’t really need. This is because the object has become a part of ourselves as the apps and programmes on the device has made life more simplistic. This I what McLuhan meant when he said that media is an extension of man. “However, with such tools, the true “extensions of man” lie not in the physical tool itself but the essential growth of the senses and skills represented by it (Finkelstein, 1968, p62). Many of McLuhan’s are useful after the invention of the internet, but he is far from a saint. “Prophets once cried out in the wilderness, but there is no such inattention to the brilliant prophet of our own time, Marshall McLuhan (Finkelstein, 1968, p7).

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  • Richard Cavell, (2003). McLuhan in Space: A culture geography. University of Toronto press incorporated 2002.
  • Sidney Finkelstein, (1968). Sense & nonsense of McLuhan International Publishers 381 Park Avenue South, New York.
  • Marshall McLuhan and Bruce R.Powers (1989). The Global Village: Transformations in world life and media in the 21st Century. Oxford university print press
  • Paddy Scannell, (2007). Media and Communication. SAGE publications are limited.

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What did McLuhan Mean When he Said "The Medium is the Message"?. (2021, Aug 31). Retrieved August 14, 2022, from