Media and McLuhan

Media, many have argued, has come to constitute our reality. The advent of each new communications technology increases our ability to reach out and access an ever larger world and, in so doing, changes us and that world. McLuhan's aphorism; 'the medium is the message' has become famous because it sums up this reality. McLuhan goes on to note, "This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium, that is, of any extension of ourselves result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology." He points out that a medium does not have to have interpretable content - a message as such, (he uses the example of electric light), and notes that the content of any medium is always another medium - the content of writing is speech, the written word is the content of print etc., whilst its message is the change of scale or pace or pattern or possibilities that it introduces into human affairs.

"The everyday use of a medium by someone who knows how to use it typically passes unquestioned as unproblematic and 'neutral': this is hardly surprising since media evolve as a means of accomplishing purposes in which they are usually intended to be incidental. And the more frequently and fluently a medium is used, the more 'transparent' or 'invisible' to its users it tends to become. For most routine purposes, awareness of a medium may hamper its effectiveness as a means to an end. Indeed, it is typically when the medium acquires transparency that its potential to fulfil its primary function is greatest. The selectivity of any medium leads to its use having influences of which the user may not always be conscious, and which may not have been part of the purpose in using it. We can be so familiar with the medium that we are 'anaesthetized' to the mediation it involves: we 'don't know what we're missing'. Insofar as we are numbed to the processes involved we cannot be said to be exercising 'choices' in its use. In this way the means we use may modify our ends. Amongst the phenomena enhanced or reduced by media selectivity are the ends for which a medium was used. In some cases, our 'purposes' may be subtly (and perhaps invisibly), redefined by our use of a particular medium. This is the opposite of the pragmatic and rationalistic stance, according to which the means are chosen to suit the user's ends, and are entirely under the user's control. An awareness of this phenomenon of transformation by media has often led media theorists to argue deterministically that our technical means and systems always and inevitably become 'ends in themselves' (a common interpretation of Marshall McLuhan's famous aphorism, 'the medium is the message'), and has even led some to present media as wholly autonomous entities with 'purposes' (as opposed to functions) of their own. However, one need not adopt such extreme stances in acknowledging the transformations involved in processes of mediation. When we use a medium for any purpose, its use becomes part of that purpose. Travelling is an unavoidable part of getting somewhere; it may even become a primary goal. Travelling by one particular method of transport rather than another is part of the experience. So too with writing rather than speaking, or using a word processor rather than a pen. In using any medium, to some extent we serve its 'purposes' as well as it serving ours. When we engage with media we both act and are acted upon, use and are used. Where a medium has a variety of functions it may be impossible to choose to use it for only one of these functions in isolation. The making of meanings with such media must involve some degree of compromise. Complete identity between any specific purpose and the functionality of a medium is likely to be rare, although the degree of match may on most occasions be accepted as adequate."
Semiotics for Beginners Daniel Chandler

McLuhan on Hot and Cool Media

McLuhan classed media as either hot or cool dependent on how high their level of interaction. Hot media have very low levels of interaction, whereas cool media demand a high level of interaction.

McLuhan on Media as the Extension of Humanity

McLuhan felt that all media are extensions of the various human senses and faculties, hence the title of his seminal work Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. He felt that the global electronic networks were an extension of our central nervous system. As our central nervous system is a single unified field of experience so, he felt, were the global networks. This relates to his concept of the Global Village and retribalization, for tribal village life, in many ways, presents a single unified field of experience.