A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.¬† Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday,¬†I present one of McLuhan‚Äôs observations and talk about its relevance today.¬† 300 ideas. 300 days.¬† 300 posts.
Marshall McLuhan (July, 1952, age 40).¬† The technique is the content
‚ÄúSomehow the bugbear of content‚ÄĚ has so captured people‚Äôs minds that no one thinks about the way content is delivered.¬† They think only about the message not the technique or the technology by which it is sent and received.¬† It is time they did.
Michael Hinton (October 2009, age 57).¬† Imagine the world without your favourite gadget
Here Marshall McLuhan comes very close to saying ‚Äúthe medium is the message.‚ÄĚ¬† So close that you can point to his statement in this letter (July 16, 1952) as the earliest statement of the idea.¬† What he actually says is ‚Äú[you] should be interested in technique as content.‚ÄĚ¬† What does he mean when he says this?¬† When an ad is playing on TV is he saying that the TV is persuading us to buy something? Everyman‚Äôs McLuhan says ‚ÄúMcLuhan never intended the phrase… to have such a literal meaning.‚ÄĚ¬† And that McLuhan ‚Äúrephrased the medium is the message in different ways at different times for different audiences.‚ÄĚ¬† For example, he also said: because a medium is an extension of our bodies, minds or spirits, the user is the content; mediums are environments that produce effects on us; ‚Äėthe medium of language is its own message‚ÄĚ; and the medium is the massage.
Terry Gordon, McLuhan’s offical biographer, gives a handy formula for you to generate an infinite number of interpretations of the medium is the message.¬† Write it as ‚Äúthe medium (insert a defining word or phrase here) is the message (insert another additional defining word or phrase here).‚ÄĚ¬† Which allows you to write, for example: ‚ÄúThe medium (of the past) is the message (of the medium of the present.)¬† Or ‚ÄúThe medium (of Angelina Jolie) is the message (of the medium of Brad Pitt.)¬† Or ‚ÄúThe medium (of bullshit) is the message (of the medium of the PR spokesman).‚ÄĚ¬†
This is fun, providing a way to pass the time and get academic articles published, but it is not very helpful in understanding Marshall McLuhan or his relevance to your life today.¬† The best way I know to explain the meaning of ‚Äúthe medium is the message‚ÄĚ is to say that the world with the medium is different from the world without the medium.¬† And so I agree with Everyman‚Äôs McLuhan that when an ad is playing on your TV, your TV is not the message of that ad.¬† You are asking too much from the idea.¬† It explains some things but not everything.¬† To see the relevance of this big idea of Marshall McLuhan ask yourself these two questions:¬† How is the world of business with PowerPoint different from the world of business without PowerPoint?¬† How is your world with cell phones different from the world your parents or grandparents grew up in which was a world without cell phones¬†?¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
Cordially, Marshall and Me
Reading for this post
The Letters of Marshall McLuhan.¬† Selected and edited by Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan, and William Toye. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 231-232.
Gordon, W. Terence, Eri Hamaji and Jacob Albert. Everyman‚Äôs McLuhan. New York; Mark Batty, 2007.
1950s and 60s, Business, Communication, Technology, Vol. 1 2 Comments