The Medium is the Message-Cornflakes and Cadillacs

In class, we have talked about so many mediums and how they relay information- newspapers, radios, televisions, and telegraphs are all examples of  mediums that serve a similar purpose. While reading this passage by Marshall McLuhan, I thought about a random quote that has been said a few times throughout this course-“paper is a technology”. I think I thought about that because it relates to how we perceive things, even things that we use every day-I use paper all the time, but never really thought of it as a technology. Similarly, I use different mediums of communication all the time and do not really think about the medium itself and how that is altering or changing my perception. One of McLuhan’s points is that it does not matter what specifics are used when discussing objects, to use his example it doesn’t matter if it’s “cornflakes or Cadillacs”, or if a train operated in tropical or cold weather, what matters and what effects people is the medium with which these things are put together and delivered to us-in these examples, he is talking about machines making these things and the effect that has.

While reading, I honestly got completely lost when he started talking about the electric light and how it has no content, though is a medium in more than one way. I think McLuhan is drawing attention to the fact that things like electric lights are not seen as a communication medium because it is not viewed as a traditional communication medium, and maybe we should start thinking more “out side the box” with regards to how we perceive things-which goes back to my earlier comparison to how paper is a technology. The overall point of “the medium is the message” seems to me to be that we should value the medium, no matter what it is, and acknowledge that especially for media and communications,  it has an impact on how we interact with information even if it may seem like it does not.

I think his arguments fit in nicely with what we are learning about and how we are learning about media and communications. For me, this class has made me think differently about different methods of communication and this reading has also given me a lot to ponder in terms of where communication can go from here, which I think is really a cool idea. With regards to this reading holding up to history, I think it has a lot of merit in terms of media and communications. For example, you could get a telegram with information and you can listen to the same exact information on the radio. Nothing has changed in terms of the actual content, but because the mediums with which you got the information have changed. your perception of it could have-and I think that also goes along with “the medium is the message”, and the idea that the medium itself also impacts whatever information it is relaying. Because ways of communication have changed so much throughout history-some in a short time span-I think that has a historical impact that is worth noting, and changed how I will think about mediums of communication. Although I think this article was hard to get through in a lot of ways, I do see where the author is coming from, though I also can see how some, myself included, are like “huh?”. While reading, I also thought about if there is a lot for importance to studying how the medium is the message and the impact that can have on how consumers deal with information-is it really super important to day to day life? Maybe. I almost wish I read this/thought about it in the beginning of the semester, but it was also nice to wrap up with it and definitely gave me a lot to think about.


10 thoughts on “The Medium is the Message-Cornflakes and Cadillacs

  1. I really enjoyed how you stripped down the technologies of mediums. There are many different mediums and forms of communication that people don’t think to think about. I wrote about how letters is a form of communication, but I didn’t even think about the paper itself being the form of medium either. You made a good point about how technology has advanced, and how it started. I also didn’t think about how you described the same content but coming through different mediums. The example you give about receiving a telegraph, and then hearing the same news over the radio. The content has not changed but the medium has. I did not think about this concept like that. Overall, you make a good argument about what McLuhan had to say about how the medium is the message.


  2. I disagree with McLuhan’s comment that the electric light is a “medium without a message” because think of all of the things the electric light has provided to us and how it benefits us. We can now see better at night, we can fall asleep without fear of a candle burning the house down, electric companies make tons of money from our electric bill (although this is not good for us personally, it’s good for the companies) If I am understanding McLuhan right, it is not so much about the actual object, but what it does and what expands from it, and every object always has some impact on humans ans society, or else it would be useless and not exist.


    • Well can the medium be that you no longer have to worry about their not being any light? Like you stated about the fear of candles burning down houses and of the dark, that might be the message that the light bulb is giving off: “no need to fear it ever being dark”. Maybe that’s the type of stuff McLuhan is referring to when he discusses his “medium is the message” stuff…?


  3. I agree that the reading was somewhat difficult to get through with all his fancy vocabulary he used, but as you said you can get through it. I thought his use of examples really helped me to understand what he was talking about. As for his example using electric light, I really liked that one. I can see how it can be confusing, but I took it as the light is like the medium that portrays baseball at night, and baseball is the message you get from it. Also, I liked how you brought up paper as a technology because your right, you do not really think of it as one, but we have learned throughout the semester it is in fact a very important technolgy!


    • Yeah! I think you explained the electric light thing really well-“the light is like the medium that portrays baseball at night, and baseball is the message you get from it”. It is a really confusing theory and talking about it in class did help, and I think I understand a bit better now but love how you worded that.


  4. I also was thrown for a loop when McLuhan brought up the electric light and discussed how even if the technology had no content, it was still a medium of communication. Typically when I think of communication I focus on the written, visual, or auditory content. To think that technology, like the electric light, which carries no defined message or content is just as valuable as a form of communication as writing a speech. I think you make a good point with saying that whatever medium is used has an impact on how we communicate with one another. Instead of just focusing on the message, the medium itself can provide information and add to the overall content of the message. I think it’s interesting that McLuhan refers to activities as the content of the electric light, but he has a point. No matter what the content of the message may be, how it is transported and communicated is still just as important as the message itself.


    • Yeah, and I can totally agree with him on the fact that how a message is communicated is still really important, but it seems that he somewhat discredits the actual content of the message-the medium isn’t always the ONLY message


  5. Clare,
    Reading your blog post actually helped clear some things up for me! I found it very hard to break out of what I had originally thought media were and I think that’s where I ran into a lot of problems with my understanding. Your use of talking about the way paper is a technology reminded me that it in fact was, and that so many other technologies have influenced what kind of content came from them. Like you said, the same message could be relayed on two different mediums and almost mean two different things. The telegraph and the telephone were similar, but one was used mostly for business while the other had a somewhat personal use, so the same message could be perceived two different ways. I agree with your overall thought of what he means by “the medium is the message.” I think the meaning behind “the medium is the message” isn’t as literal as it sounds and that maybe it just means that we should pay more attention to the actual medium and hold it in the same regard as the content that comes from it.


    • You bring up a really good point! I was taking “the medium is the message” as being literal, but maybe he did mean it just so that people will pay more attention to the medium. I think even in the video he said it was a saying to catch people’s attention-so that’s a really good point! Though it still seems like he is ignoring content which is what I mostly disagree with him on.


      • This is funny because after the video and the class discussion, I was thinking to myself oh my gosh he literally meant what he said and he completely does not place any merit in the content. So I thought I was pretty wrong in my interpretation, so it’s interesting to see how many different interpretations can be taken from something McLuhan possibly meant to be quite literal. The whole thing is still a little confusing. I also disagree with his disregard for the content. While I understand that that is his argument, the content has to mean something.


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