The Medium is the Message

“The Medium is the Message” by Marshall McLuhan is a fairly complex article that takes a lot of deciphering to understand the argument. What I took away from the article is the idea that the medium, whether it is Newspapers, radio, or television, will always have an influence on the message it is trying to get across.  Therefore, the further technological advances allows for easier methods of portraying a message, it does not mean the message being received by the person on the other end is how it was intended. One quote in the article really stuck out to me, and helped frame (what I think) the message is; “For any medium has the power of imposing its own assumption on the unwary”[1]. What that means to me is that regardless of the form of medium, a bias comes off through it, and if we are not aware that a bias exists we will accept that as the pure intended message. If we are taking the bias as the actual message that is where McLuhan argues “medium is the message” because the bias is not what was intended to come across. But even with the skeptical view on the bias in various forms of medium, and newer technologies, I do not think McLuhan believes newer technologies to spread a message is a bad thing. At one point in the article he says “The products of modern science are not in themselves good nor bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value”[2]. The more modern advances allow for a more widespread availability of a message, which I think he views as a positive, because the medium is not what is controlling the message. It is the fact that what we do to manipulate those mediums that makes it a good thing or a bad thing.  In his argument McLuhan says, “for the “content” of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watch dog of the mind”[3]. In this example the burglar he is referring to are those that put their own input on a matter, and makes an easy to understand reference to the deception we face within the various forms of medium. McLuhan’s argument is one that I never would have stopped to think of on my own, but is certainly one I will think of moving forward.

McLuhan’s argument is one that we can see throughout the course, and throughout history. Early on in the course we talked a lot about the newspapers and how they were used to portray certain messages, and used as propaganda pieces in times like the American Revolution. McLuhan’s argument of “the medium is the message” directly relates to that because the newspapers weren’t just printing honest opinions, or stories, they were intending to tell people how do think, and what to think by manipulating the original message. We see the same concept now as we have progressed into the age of radio and television. The radio and television would (and still does) tell people how to think. And for television, for the first time you could use imagery to create a certain perception on the way something was supposed to be. Unfortunately, no matter how advanced we get with our technology, and the way we spread information, medium will always be the message because we cannot get a message across on a large scale without human interaction, and we know by now that never comes without a little bias.

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

[2] Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message,” Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (London: Routledge, 1975), 11.

[3] Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message,” Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (London: Routledge, 1975), 18.



4 thoughts on “The Medium is the Message

  1. Kevin, I agree that the article takes some deciphering (Egyptian hieroglyphics are easier to read). As you stated, his argument of “the medium is the message” relates to what we learned about communications and media because “newspapers weren’t just printing honest opinions, or stories, they were intending to tell people how do think, and what to think by manipulating the original message.” My disagreement with his argument is that he is not giving the actual CONTENT its due. It is in the content that the message is transmitted, manipulated, etc. If I mailed you a blank piece of paper in an envelope, where is the MESSAGE? To me, there is none. So how can the medium, the letter itself, be the actual message? I agree with his argument that the content of a medium is in of itself another medium. Had I chose to actually write something on the paper, that would have become another medium because I would be conveying specific communication within the message. But without actual content, I do not see how the medium itself can be the message. He argued that a baseball game could be the content of light, but that light itself is the true message because it has the power to alter human functions, patterns, etc. While I agree on that point, I disagree with his notion that the medium is the message because he is discounting the influence of the content on that message. A blank letter is useless as a message without the power of the written word, as is an empty, fully lighted stage with no speaker at the podium. Very well-written and thought out post!


    • After reading what you wrote I have to agree with you. The examples he gave were fairly unclear to me, especially the example of the baseball game, but your example of a blank piece of paper makes a lot more sense. If there is nothing there I would have to agree that the medium cannot be the message. I still feel that newspapers, television, internet and other forms of medium has an influence on the person on the receiving end of the message, it in itself cannot be the message. Thank you for the comment!


  2. Kevin, I think that you have contributed a great blog post about a confusing article, to say the least. The part that caught my eye the most was your analysis towards the end of the blog that linked it to the class as a whole. I agree that radio and television are highly influential in our society today, but where I would refute your point is that I think these two mediums suggest how we should think rather than tell us how to think. I believe that there are many instances where people watch television or listen to the radio and believe what they hear; however this is a conscious decision because one does not have to think the way these mediums tell them to. Personally, I agree with McLuhan on aspects of the argument, but it is difficult for me to agree fully with the argument because it is very difficult to say that the medium is the entire message, as that is too drastic a claim. Great post!


    • I think you are correct in making the point that people choose to make certain decisions based on the material presented. But the way I see it is that the more modern mediums intended purpose is to get people to think a certain way. If we look at the past election for example both Fox news and CNN used tactics of presenting the same information in different ways to try and get their argument across. They aren’t coming right out and controlling people, but I do believe the manipulation of facts is intentional because they know people will willingly accept it. McLuhan was definitely difficult to try and decipher, and after reading multiple different comments, I have come to agree with pieces of many different peoples opinions of what he really means in saying “The medium is the message”.


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