A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

Media extend us

Marshall McLuhan (February 27, 1962, age 50).  I thought it up.

Ed Hall says he got the idea that media are extensions of us, our bodies our minds, our spirits, from Bucky Fuller.  I didn’t get it from anybody.  It just hit me.  But now that I’ve got it I see the idea everywhere.  Blake put it this way – “If perceptive organs vary, Objects of Perception seem to vary: / If the perceptive organs close, their objects seem to close also.” In other words by extending the senses media vary our perceptions and as our perceptive organs vary and the objects of the world vary.  O brave new world!

Me (February,  2010, age 57).  What if he’s right?

Marshall McLuhan enjoyed the game of exploring the myriad ways media extend us and in so doing alter the way we see the world.  Every part of us he thought was a perceptive organ.

What is Twitter an extension of?  Our voice.  A yell.

What is the calculator an extension of?  Our fingers and toes.

What is PowerPoint an extension of?  Our palms and sleeves where we used to make notes to remind us of things we didn’t want to forget.

What is the digital book an extension of?

What is the digital newspaper an extension of?

What is the digit an extension of?

Is this more than a parlor game?  Does it really matter?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 286-287.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, February 6th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Technology, Vol. 1 1 Comment

1 Comment to Media extend us

  • Dominique Dutoit says:

    In the case of the calculator, it is not only the fingers and toes that are being extended but also the whole mental operation that is being transferred. Moreover, nineteen fingers and toes got chopped off in the process: calculators operate with digits, which is analogous to doing math with a single finger, and revealing enough, one finger is all you need to tap on the keyboard.

    This amputation of the sensorium is no stranger to the unwillingness of the education authorities to replace calculus by the use of calculator and move on to more interesting subjects, but it has also strong influence on our perception of the policies of late comers to the 21st century, hence the American’s fear of all things which are only made possible with the help of powerful calculators, such as the Iranian nuclear program or the Chinese space program.

    Marshall McLuhan has written extensively on this subject of how we will resent the aggressiveness of our 19th century as the East goes West (see Chapter 5 on the hybridisation of media in “Understanding Media”, the chapters on education as war and war as education in“War and Peace in the Global Village”, “Counterblast”, large portions of “Take Today” are dedicated to the subject) while we will perceive our move toward East as peaceful (see Obama’s intervention to keep Twitter opens to support the democratic movement in Iran).

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