The Medium is Part of the Message

When I first read “The Medium is the Message” by Marshall McLuhan I found it somewhat wordy and difficult to understand. I can absolutely understand why someone might call McLuhan eccentric; but the message of the reading was clear enough, it is not the content but the medium through which that content is transmitted that shapes our understanding of the content itself. McLuhan is saying that there is little importance when it comes to the message that we are transmitting but there is great importance in how we transmit that evidence. In McLuhan’s words, “the medium is the message because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.” [1] This is an interesting concept, but I think that it is only partly right. The medium through which we send information certainly has a lot to do with how we perceive that information but both are equally important in terms of the change that they bring to society. McLuhan makes the point that the significance of the medium through which we communicate is often overlooked because of our focus on content. [2] This is where I find his argument to be the most convincing, we do often forget that the medium of communication we choose often says just as much as the content; however I do not believe that content is generated by the medium. McLuhan states that non-verbal thinking is a medium of communication (because it precedes speech), and that is where I draw the line. [3] Human thought is an internal thing, it is not a form of communication and therefore the content of communication is always generated by something that does not directly affect its character. When human thought is expressed through speech, written word, film, etc. it is altered by the medium through which it gets conveyed but the thought itself was pure and unaltered before it was communicated. So I would say that McLuhan is absolutely right in believing that “the medium is the message” but he takes his thinking too far. There was one instance that I did agree with McLuhan very strongly, and that was when he explained his thought that “the medium is the message” using electricity as an example. I think that McLuhan chose electricity to back up his claims because historically it has had the greatest impact on humans throughout our entire existence. If you think about electricity as a medium then McLuhan’s argument makes a lot of sense, with the introduction of electricity to human society we experienced a massive degree of change in a very short amount of time. In this way electricity as a medium has absolutely shaped the content created by humans because it is now used to communicate all of our ideas. When communication between people became instant due to electricity everything changed. People began to think differently about how they were going to express themselves and how they could use technology to do so. I believe that McLuhan makes an important argument in that sense because it is important to consider the effects that technology has on the communication of human thought. That being said I do not believe that content is shaped solely by the medium through which it is conveyed.

 

1.      Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message,” Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (London: Routledge, 1975), 9.

2.      McLuhan, “The Medium,” 9.

3.      McLuhan, “The Medium,” 8.

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5 thoughts on “The Medium is Part of the Message

  1. I think you have touched on some extremely important points here, Matt. McLuhan’s work was definitely one where we had to read through a couple of times to get the whole meaning of the work. As with you, I too am a little skeptical with McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” argument. I believe that the medium is quite often overlooked; however it is not the entire message, for the message inside the medium is just as important. I do think that more time needs to be spent on analyzing and understanding why certain people used a specific medium when creating their message, in this respect McLuhan is entirely correct. I also liked how you singled out the example of electricity because that was also a key example that I found to be extremely coherent and helpful to the reading.

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  2. I clicked on your post because the title was “the medium is part of the message” which is exactly how i feel about McLuhan’s argument. Just like what you mentioned, the medium is definitely important to communication and can add to what somebody is trying to communicate, but it is not more important than the message or content itself. What McLuhan said about non-verbal thinking being a medium was something that I never really got my head around, but how you critiqued it makes sense. Communication is information getting from one to one or one to many or many to many, etc. So I’m not sure how thought can be a medium. Your explanation on how electricity changed communication was also very interesting. I’m still not sure how it relates is a medium though, because it is electricity that created new mediums that messages could travel through. But I never really understood McLuhan and his examples. Great job on your post!

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  3. Matt,
    I really your post and I find your critique of McLuhan to be insightful and well thought out. I too believe that his overall message is strong, but as you said, he simply over extends himself. Content is most certainly impacted by the medium that presents it, however I do not think that the medium is of more importance than the overall content. In example, a YouTube video as a medium of communication can be very revealing and important as a “message”, however the content within the video itself is more significant because the video content is what draws out most of our emotions and thoughts and therefore forms our overall response. That being said, I think that the medium of the message is important in its capability to channel how we may respond in a way. If a message is communicated to us via text message, the medium of that communication will dictate how we respond. In this sense the attributes or qualities of a medium can impact how we respond to it, however I think saying the medium is more important than the actual content is a stretch. Overall, great post!

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  4. McCluhan’s ideas, and your analysis of them, make me think of that clip of Mad Men that we watched at the beginning of the semester. The idea that certain forms of communication leave a physical record, while others do not, shows how the medium can be as important as the content itself. I think that knowing this can also affect the content of the message, because the person producing the message could be influenced by the knowledge of whether or not a permanent record of it will be kept.

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  5. Derek,
    I really like your connection here and I think your point is really interesting. I agree with you that the chance of leaving a “permanent record” will most definitely influence the content that a person is conveying. I think that this idea is extremely relevant in modern times as almost everything is permanently recorded and anyone’s life (both the good and bad parts) is just a simple click away on Google. Therefore, I cant help but wonder if the permanence of most modern communication mediums (the internet being the best example) influences how we use it? Have we become more cautious as a society in how we communicate? Or do we blatantly ignore the fact that our crude tweets or posts may forever be hiding in the web waiting for our great great grand kids to discover them to their delight or horror?

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