Medium is the Message

This week’s reading, Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message, was a very interesting way of looking at communications and media as a whole. When McLuhan explains that his message, “the medium is the message”, means that it’s the medium that “shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action”. [1] He also talks about how the automation of things starts to eliminate jobs, and on the other hand, also creates new roles for those people that had recently lost their other jobs. It seems that he is arguing that for every job that technology/automation takes away, another job is made up to replace it.

McLuhan also makes a point that forms of communication are simply limited to the press, radio, etc. It comes in the form of things as simple as electric light. He argued that people don’t seem to notice it as a medium because they don’t consider it to have “content”.[2] His argument continues in an example he gives that refers to this electricity only meaning something if it spells out a brand name. But the message is still written in the form of the electricity, which makes the electricity a medium. The way that this point had sparked a light bulb to me (hah, get it…ok sorry), was comparing it to mediums in art. A pencil may not be the art, but it’s considered a medium because it allows the artist to translate their thought onto paper, canvas, etc. This places the pencil in a high state of importance, just like the ability electricity has to create these massive signs that are even quicker at translating messages than the print or radio.

I can understand why people thought that he was eccentric in his interpretations of what communication is, but I also agree with him that electricity is also a medium, and one that carries a message. I honestly encounter an electric sign every day, especially with my morning and afternoon commutes too and from school and work, and I completely agree that the electricity is getting messages like “Use yah blinkah” and “Don’t text and drive,” to me much faster, and continually, than than the radio and television. It’s harder for me to understand how people don’t consider electricity a form of communication, after reading his argument.

On page eleven of his analysis on mediums of media and their messages, he quotes a General David Sarnoff whom stresses that the it is the way in which we use something that determines its value and meaning, and that the actual object has no ‘content’. [3] This goes exactly against what McLuhan had said earlier, referring to his argument that the mediums do count as media and are not defined by whether or not they have ‘content’. He continues to argues, unless I am completely misinterpreting this wrong (to which I am very sorry), that Sarnoff completely misses the concept that technology can do other things other than simply add onto what we already are. To this I think he is talking about how technology seems to be simply an extension of what we are. It’s not that we are changing over much, but it’s the way in which technology changes with us that matter. What I’ve notice technology to do is not simply add onto what we do, but really change it. It has changed the things children are doing simply within the past decade. When I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of video games to play with, so I’d be outside. Now, all my little brother does is play video games. The medium of these video games have changed us, it’s not just the way in which we interpret them, but its the actual medium of itself that did so.

All in all, I found his argument to be very wordy and confusing. I did my best to translate it into something that is better easily understood.




[1] Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (England; Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited, 1964) 9.

[2] McLuhan, Understanding Media, 9.

[3]  McLuhan, Understanding Media, 11.


7 thoughts on “Medium is the Message

  1. Hi Holly,
    Great post! I agree with you that electricity is a medium. I feel like anything you use to spread a message could be a medium. I liked your examples of the road signs like “Use ya’ blinka!” and it got me to thinking of other things that use electricity to depict a message. A traffic light, for instance, tells a driver when to stop without even having to say the words. Also, with new technologies the world has changed. I like your connection to how your brother plays video games while when you were younger you went outside. I’m in a fourth grade class for field study and it is almost scary how the children all have cell phones and they all have social media. Fourth grade is supposed to be the time where you play outside all the time. I really liked how you made his argument much easier to read and understand!


  2. Holly, great post! I really like your ideas on what McLuhan had to say about electricity being a medium. You seem to agree with his ideas and you definitely support your argument well but I think that McLuhan misses something; maybe you’ll agree with me. While the medium allows people to express themselves in certain ways and does have some effect on the outcome of that expression, the human thought that began the whole process remains unaltered by the medium. McLuhan seems to think that human thought counted as a medium of expression and that was where I took issue with him; to me human thought is really the only thing that I would not classify as a medium. One thing that didn’t make sense to me in McLuhan’s writing was his use of artists as an example of how “the medium is the message.” I think that any artist would agree that their art is a representation of thought, they chose the medium and therefore their thought dictates their expression not the medium. Am I making sense? I totally agree with the fact that the medium does partly dictate how we express ourselves but I don’t believe as McLuhan does that the medium makes up the message. Let me know what you think of this critique, it was something that I really found interesting. Great post!


    • Hey! I completely agree with you about how he refers to the artists being confusing, or not really getting it. I have absolutely no idea why he would reference artists as having the medium be the message. I agree that the message is how the artist is trying to interpret their feelings and other world events though their painting, sculpture, photography, etc. It is not the medium they use to distinguish the meaning, but the way in which they use it! You made complete sense to me when you discussed this, so no worries. You also made me think about our discussion in class too; how the meaning may be interpreted differently by each individual. I wonder how he would argue that…?


  3. Holly,
    I love how you used our own interpretation of the electric medium. Because you commute to school you are seeing what is being placed out into the world for people to see, read, and understand. I also agree with your comment about how all your brother does is play video games. I agree with how the content is changing the way kids are interpreting things. This relates back to my post about the Morality in the Media. Kids are not recognizing what is real and what is fictional when they are being exposed to too much realistic but fake content. On that note, GREAT post!


    • Hey! So I wanted to reply back to your comment about how kids not recognizing the difference between fiction and reality, I mean real reality. It’s funny to me how ‘reality tv’ is actually considered REALITY. I mean to kids seriously not understand that ‘Jersey Shore’ or ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ is not actual the reality that everyday people face? The same could be argued about books, but at least we can definitively tell when a book is fictional (since it’s categorized as such). I don’t know, what are your thoughts?


  4. Hi Holly!
    Reading your post I noticed you and I both touched on very similar topics when writing and reading. I like how you went on to use the evidence and arguments McLuhan made in the reading to create your own ideas and interpretations of different mediums today, and how they relate to daily life. Also, when you relate the medium back to earlier life when you were a child and how different it is today for children having access to unlimited technology. I too had a difficult time understanding the main message McLuhan was trying to get across, but I think you did a great job interpreting what you read and understood to form your opinion of what “the medium is the message” means!


  5. Holly,
    I agree with what you said about “automation”, McLuhan says there are two sides to it, a negative one, when someone loses their job to technology, and a positive one when that said technology ends up creating new jobs in the end. I wrote about that in my blog post as well! I really enjoyed how you brought in your own examples to help clarify what you are talking about. In the end I agree it was difficult to interpret, but I like the examples you used, and used similar examples to you from the reading. I was just wondering what you think “the medium is the message” in your own words? Overall I thought it was a great post, and came up with similar ideas in my post!


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