Friday, February 3, 2012

Review on "Understanding Media" by Marshall McLuhan

First of all, Marshall McLuhan is a visionary, he was a legend during his time. The fact that he was able to predict what media and technology will be like today when he wrote this book back in 1964 just goes to show that he was light years ahead of everyone of this generation.  McLuhan predicted that at some point, man would develop the technology to have instantaneous communication with anyone in the world at any time or where he could access information on current events from anywhere on the planet. We call it the internet. RESPECT. However this book  is hard to grasp because any attempt to read this book without a detailed knowledge of anthropology, psychology, linguistics, philosophy, sociology, history, media and virtually every other aspect of the Arts and Humanities will lead the reader to confusion. 

Now this book was extremely dry and difficult to read. It is not for everyone. One must abe highly intelligent to comprehend the sheer scope and magnitude of McLuhan's fragmentation-based dialectic.  Thank goodness I was required to read the first part, and LUCKY me, the first part is all about the theory of media, and you know it, theory is never fun.  While I felt confused throughout the entire time reading this book, I shall try my very best to explain what I understood from Part 1 of the book. Here goes...

Marshall McLuhan's contributions to media theory are mostly dismissed in two phrases namely: 'global village' and 'medium is the message'. The first part details his theory of media. These are the ideas I manage to pick up:

1. Medium as at once the message (as it effects in spite of its content rather than because of it) and massage of senses. 

2. Media as extensions of man (that is, any tool that mediates human action or thought rather than just communication media). 

3. Hot media (which accentuate senses) and Cold media (which are synaesthetic). 
4. Hybrid energy released by combination of media. 

He explains in the theoretical part that media is the extension of man. That all things created by man have come from man's own experience. This is like a dream, in one sense, where one must determine at some point that they are creators of the dream, and therefore, all content of the dream must apply to the dreamer's existence, and no one elses. Likewise, all inventions and discoveries are aspects of human dimensions that have been created by man, and therefore must come from man's inner experiences. These inventions are ultimately what McLuhan calls extensions, as they extend our human capacity for that movement or experience. The foot can travel so fast, while the tire is the extension of the foot, and therefore can move at a much higher rate of speed than the foot.

In Understanding Media - it is "fragmentation" which is the force behind all human cultural evolution from early homosapiens to today's age and it is this same "fragmentation" which has been the force of any kind of future advances. McLuhan's popular phrase: "global village" in this context means this: fragmentation had alientaed most men from their many thousands of years life in small communities. What resulted from fragmentation over the centuries in McLuhan's time were inventions like: tv, radio, fax, telephone, which in turn brought people over vast distances - much closer together, indeed like a village, a global village where you could learn about events tens of thousands of miles away as if they'd just happened down the street. 

When McLuhan says: "the medium is the message" what he is actually saying is this: it is not important what we're listening to on the radio, or what we're watching on tv, or what the advertisement is telling us. The more important thing is what is going on in us when we're watching the tv, what is going on in us when we're listening to the radio. The same goes for any interaction with any given medium. It is how the use of a given medium contributes to further fragmentations. 

In conclusion I feel that what McLuhan is trying to say is that we become the media that we have been shaped by in our culture and time. The spoken word, the written word and the telegraph, McLuhan noted, has had the largest impact on our society. Not because of their usefulness, or whether they work or not, but because society has patterned themselves after the respective media. 


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