A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan continues. If he had lived Marshall would have been 100 on July 21, 2011. Join me in the countdown to his centennial, and an exploration of more of his observations on the way media work in the electric age in which we live.

Understanding media

The power of the media

Marshall McLuhan (1970, age 59).  The medium is the message.

“The media tycoons have a huge stake in old media by which they monopolize the new media.”

Me (March, 2011, age 58).  For example?


Cordially, Marshall and Me



Marshall McLuhan, Culture Is Our Business, 1970, p. 104.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
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Merry Christmas!

Marshall McLuhan (December 25, 1960, age 49).  Everybody!

I feel particularly Christmas-ee today.  Corinne’s parents sent us a smashingly swell-elegant crystal drinks tray.  It made the trip from Fort Worth, Texas, without a hitch, every surface unscratched and without any extra duty to be paid.  It will come in very handy in this the season to be entertaining and celebrating.  Also, my book job “The Gutenberg Galaxy” is almost done.  I am so wound up I can think of nothing else.  The manuscript will go to the publishers the day after tomorrow.  And on that very day I begin writing this other book on media after Gutenberg which has been on my mind.  I’ve spent the last 20 years reading, it seems only right that I put out some things of my own.  Without Corinne’s help in typing and discussing the ideas swirling around me, I don’t know where I’d be.

Me (December, 2010, age 58).  And a Happy New Year!

A time to be thankful for all we’ve got and the gifts we’ve been given material and spiritual.  Like Marshall without the help of my wife, Debbie, who has posted this blog since its beginning in September 2009 and has encouraged me to make it better, I don’t know where I’d be.

Merry Christmas, Marshall and Me


Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 276.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, December 25th, 2010
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The celebrity of Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  The Sixties.


“Yes, Marshall.”

“Don’t you think it odd there is so little about this decade that appeals to me and yet so much about me that appeals to it?

“Do you think?”

“Indeed I do.”

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  What is it about the Sixties and McLuhan?

In 1965 anyone who watched TV, read a magazine or looked at a newspaper had heard of Marshall McLuhan.  Why was he such a celebrity in this decade?  It is hard to shake off the idea that there was something about the Sixties that prepared people to be drawn to Marshall McLuhan.  But what was it?

As far as the counter-culture is concerned perhaps it helped to be on drugs to truly appreciate the delights of Understanding Media.  Dig this.  A scarcity of papyrus brought down the Roman Empire.  Far out man.

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, practically any page.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010
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Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  “What did you say, Corinne?”

“Doubts, Marshall.  Do you have any?”

“Certainly.  I doubt that there are more than 5 of my colleagues at Toronto University that understand anything I’ve been saying about media.  I doubt I will ever be comfortable with these invasive new technologies.  I doubt that anyone but myself truly understands the importance of my work.”

“No, Marshall.  I mean with all the trouble in the world do you ever doubt there is a God?”

“Never.  Others can bother their heads about it.  I don’t.  It frees me to do so much.  It allows me to see the world for what it is.”

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  Doubtless …

Marshall knew as a Catholic that no matter how things looked the world was the creation – the extension – of God and as such coherent and understandable.  No matter what he had to worry about He didn’t have to worry about that.

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger, 1989, p. 58-59.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, November 18th, 2010
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The power of print is greater than you think!

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  The curious case of the death of the book.

Of all Marshall McLuhan’s prophecies perhaps the most controversial in his time, and ours, was the death of the book.  And he was not shy about who he mentioned it to.  Most famously, in a speech to publishers in New York City in the sixties, the story goes, McLuhan decided to let his audience in on the news that they wouldn’t be around in the future, at least not in the business of publishing hard-cover books.  Afterwards, the audience was so impressed by his talk one of the publishers offered him a book deal for – you guessed it – Understanding Media.  Yet it is often forgotten that McLuhan also believed that the powers created by the book would long outlive their creator, which is not as good a story, but may in fact be more likely to be true.  And perhaps there is for this reason less need to run for cultural cover as the internet continues to play havoc with newspapers, magazines, and of course the poor old book.

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  The book may be dead but not the book bred!

“Those who panic now about the threat of the newer media and about the revolution we are forging, vaster in scope than that of Gutenberg, are obviously lacking in cool visual detachment and gratitude for that most potent gift bestowed by on Western man by literacy and typography: his power to act without reaction or involvement.  It is this kind of specialization by dissociation that has created Western power and efficiency.  Without this dissociation of action from feeling and emotion people are hampered and hesitant.  Print taught men to say, “Damn the torpedoes.  Full steam ahead!”

As illustrated, for example, here:


Cordially, Marshall and Me


Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 178.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, October 20th, 2010
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Is the weather naturally more entertaining than the news on radio or TV?

Me (October, 2010, age 58).  The perceptive Dr. McLuhan.

In his study of media McLuhan was always on the lookout for ways of seeing past the messages media delivered to see how they worked on us as media.  One approach he used was to look for rough natural experiments in which the effect of the medium can be isolated, or in this case caromed or bank-shot, from the message.  Here, in a passage from Understanding Media, he argues that the weather is more entertaining than the news on radio and TV.  Why?  Because it’s electric.

Questions:  Was it true in the 1960s when McLuhan made this observation?  Is it true now?  Is the news naturally more ‘arresting’ in newspapers than the weather? To help you make up your mind here is a current weather report and an entirely different explanation for this phenomenon by the content-biased Charlie Brooker focusing on what’s wrong with news reports.




Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Yes!

“It is curious how much more arresting are the weather reports than the news, on both radio and TV.  Is not this because ‘weather’ is now entirely an electronic form of information, whereas news retains much of the pattern of the printed word?”

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 307.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, October 16th, 2010
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The paradox of the electronic age

Marshall McLuhan (May 16, 1959, age 47).  That old black magic has got us by the …

In this electronic age of ours change is the only constant.  We live and breathe change and yet there is nothing that we hate more than change.   This is the great paradox of our times.  And yet it is easily explained.  Electric media have re-tribalized us.  And there is nothing tribal man hates more than change.  You might say we are used to change and used by change, but we have not got used to it.

Me (September, 2010, age 58).  Hope this helps …


Cordially, Marshall and Me



Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 254.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, September 29th, 2010
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Y-y-y-y-you are not who you think you are

Me (September, 2010, age 58).  Really!

Everyone knows Marshall McLuhan said “the medium is the message.”  But hardly anyone understands what he meant by it.

Are you ready for it?  New media change the way we perceive the world.  How?  Because they change the way we sense the world.  With our perceptions changed the world becomes a different place.

So what?  Your children, being shaped by different media than the media that shaped you, are entirely different creatures and live in an entirely different world.  But you knew that already didn’t you?

Marshall McLuhan (1977 age 65/66). We’re re-tribalising!

Boom!  Boom!  Boom go the drums! [Be patient this 8 minute video is well worth it]


Cordially, Marshall and Me


Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage, 1967.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, September 25th, 2010
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How Smart Are You?

Me (September, 2010, age 58). Who can make sense of this?

Goths, Tattoos, and Celine Dion

Sex Tapes, Oprah, and Chef Gordon Ramsay

Dubai, Silicon Valley, and Off-shoring Jobs

Touch Bars, Internet Porn, and Pamela Anderson

Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia

Gated Communities, The Homeless, and Meth

Twilight, Book Clubs, and Islamic Militarisml

Teen-age Bullying and Date Rape

The Recession and Global Warming

The 21st Century

Marshall McLuhan (September, 2010, age 99).  I can.

How?  I’ll give you a hint.  Click on this link.

Don’t like that idea?  I’ve got others.  Tune in next week.

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, September 4th, 2010
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The secret is to avoid eye contact

Marshall McLuhan (1964, age 52).  Isn’t it obvious?

“The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.”

Me (August, 2010, age 58).  Really?

What did McLuhan mean by this?  Read Douglas Coupland’s recent biography of McLuhan and you will find this quotation separated from its context and put up as meaning that a man’s name has a subliminal effect.  If your last name is Rich, for example, people won’t think you’re poor.  A somewhat kooky idea that McLuhan adopted in his analysis of the difficulties of Richard Nixon. (See this blog – The Power of Names – in which I must admit I did not see this distinction as clearly as I do now.)

Take a look at what McLuhan is actually trying to say with this line in Understanding Media (p. 49).  He starts with the observation that “in a highly visual and highly literate culture” – read Canada, Britain or America – most people can’t quite catch the name of a person they’re being introduced to for the first time.  Why?  Because McLuhan says you’re so caught up in looking at the person that you don’t hear the name.  It’s as if the sound is blocked out or dimmed.  To get the name you then ask “How do you spell your name?”  (How much more visual can you get?)  This wouldn’t happen, he says, in a highly auditory ear culture.  In such a culture – to reach the quotation at last – “the sound of a man’s name … is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.”

If you lived in an ear culture rather than an eye culture, McLuhan says, you’d hear the name.  But we don’t do we?  Even today after half a century of television and now the internet we still seem to be a highly visual culture.  We still have trouble hearing names for the first time.  What do we do to help people hear names at large business meetings and social events?  We ask them to wear name tags. (How much more visual can you get?)

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, pp. 49.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, August 28th, 2010
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