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Message & Media (part 3) – McLuhan

The Medium is the Message
Marshall McLuhan

Technology is not simply a conduit or pipeline – a neutral purveyor of information, but a dynamic force with the power to shape and change us regardless of content.

To avoid being consumed by it or left behind by it, we need to study the action of the technological whirlpool and navigate and harness it to our own ends by cooperating with it.
To shun it completely or embrace it openly without understanding it could have disastrous and unexpected effects.

So, we need to ask ourselves some questions when we start to make choices about what media we want to use.

What does it extend / enhance?
What does it reverse into?
What does it retrieve?
What does it obsolesce?

What does it extend / enhance?
Every new form of technology enhances something of our humanity or extends an older form of technology. To understand media properly, we must understand that all media is an extension of humanity.

The wheel extends function of the foot.
The telephone extends function of the voice and the ear.
The telescope / Binoculars extend function of the eye.

What does it obsolesce?
Any new medium makes an older medium obsolete, maybe not necessarily disappearing but function changing. For example, the car makes the horse & cart obsolete, but that merely transforms the horse & cart into a recreational, romantic or entertainment vehicle.

What does it reverse into?
When pushed to its extreme, every medium will reverse into its opposite intention, a good example being the car: originally intended to increase transportation speed, when pushed to its extreme, reverses into traffic jams and fatal accidents. This is the most difficult law to predict or anticipate

What does it retrieve?
Each new form of technology retrieves an experience or an older form of technology from the past. For example, email retrieves the technology of the telegraph so to understand a little more about the future effects of email, we would do well to study the cultural effects of the telegraph in the 1800s.

Lets use the wheel as an easy example

The Wheel

ENHANCES: Speed of transportation, personal energy saving.
OBSOLESCES: Need to use travel as a form of exercise – leads to obesity? Coach / work horses. Various manual labour with the introduction of the wheel into machinery.
REVERSES INTO: Danger to individuals – Road traffic accidents, societies built round the car like in the USA, reliance on speed of transportation over environmental factors – leading to global warming (debatable).
RETRIEVES: Ability to use something else to do the work for us. (Previous horse)

This is all very well and gives a fairly simple expansion of the effects of the technology of the wheel.

Why not try it on something a little newer – the Mobile Phone.

Here’s where you join in with your comments.

What does the mobile phone extend / enhance?
What does the mobile phone reverse into?
What does the mobile phone retrieve?
What does the mobile phone obsolesce?

Discuss!!

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