Understanding Media Key quotations from McLuhan
The Medium is the Message • The medium is the message: “This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology” (p. 7).
The Medium is the Message • “The electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message unless it is used to spell out some verbal ad or name. This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph” (p. 8).
The Medium is the Message • For example: “Whether the [electric] light is being used for brain surgery or night baseball is a matter of indifference. [T]hese activities are the ‘content’ of the electric light since they could not exist without the electric light. This underlines the point that ‘the medium is the message’ because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” (p. 9).
The Medium is the Message • “For it is not till the electric light is used to spell out some brand name that it is noticed as a medium” (p. 9).
The Medium is the Message • Mechanization: “And the paradox of mechanization is that although it is itself the cause of maximal growth and change, the principle of mechanization excludes the very possibility of growth or the understanding of change. For mechanization is achieved by fragmentation of any process and by putting the fragmented parts in a series” (p. 11).
The Medium is the Message • “Mechanization was never so vividly fragmented or sequential as in the birth of movies, the moment that translated us beyond mechanism into the world of growth and organic interrelation. The movie, by sheer speeding up the mechanical, carried us from the world of sequence and connections into the world of creative configuration and structure” (p. 12).
The Medium is the Message • Content: “the content of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph” (p. 8).
The Medium is the Message • “The content of a movie is a novel or a play or an opera. The effect of the movie form is not related to its program content” (p. 18).
The Medium is the Message • “What we are considering here, however, are the psychic and social consequences of the designs or patterns as they amplify or accelerate existing processes. For the ‘message’ of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs” (p. 8).
The Medium is the Message • Effects of Technology: “The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance” (p. 18).
The Medium is the Message • “Subliminal and docile acceptance of media impact has made them prisons without walls for their human users. As A. J. Liebling remarked in his book The Press, a man is not free if he cannot see where he is going, even if he has a gun to help him get there. For each of the media is also a powerful weapon with which to clobber other media and other groups” (p. 20).
The Medium is the Message • “We become what we behold” (p. 19).
Media Hot and Cold • Hot vs. Cool media: “There is a basic principle that distinguishes a hot medium like radio from a cool one like the telephone, or a hot medium like the movie from a cool one like TV. A hot medium is one that extends one single sense in ‘high definition.’ High definition is the state of being well filled with data” (p. 22).
Media Hot and Cold • “Hot media are, therefore, low in participation, and cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience” (p. 23).
Media Hot and Cold • De-tribalization: “A tribal and feudal hierarchy of traditional kind collapses quickly when it meets any hot medium of the mechanical, uniform, and repetitive kind. The medium of money or wheel or writing, or any other form of specialist speed-up of exchange and information, will serve to fragment a tribal structure” (p. 24).
Media Hot and Cold • Re-tribalization: “Similarly, a very much greater speed-up, such as occurs with electricity, may serve to restore a tribal pattern of intense involvement such as took place with the introduction of radio in Europe, and is now tending to happen as a result of TV in America” (p. 24).
Media Hot and Cold • “Specialist technologies detribalize. The nonspecialist electric technology retribalizes” (p. 24).
Media Hot and Cold • Insight: “In fact, it is the technique of insight, and as such is necessary for media study, since no medium has its meaning or existence alone, but only in constant interplay with other media” (p. 26). [See also slide #8.]
Media Hot and Cold • Entropy: • “The effect of electric technology had at first been anxiety. Now it appears to create boredom” (p. 26). • “The price of eternal vigilance is indifference” (p. 30).
Media Hot and Cold • Media & Culture: “…it makes all the difference whether a hot medium is used in a hot or cool culture” (p. 30). [See next slide.]
Media Hot and Cold • “The hot radio medium used in a cool or nonliterate cultures has a violent effect, quite unlike its effect, say in England or America, where radio is felt as entertainment. A cool or low literacy culture cannot accept hot media like movies or radio as entertainment. They are, at least, as radically upsetting for them as the cool TV medium has proved to be for our high literacy world” (p. 31).
Media Hot and Cold Movie Vs. Television
Media Hot and Cold Paper Vs. Stone
Media Hot and Cold The Waltz Vs. The Twist
Media Hot and Cold Nylon Vs. Fishnet Stockings
Media Hot and Cold Radio Vs. Telephone
Media Hot and Cold Photograph Vs. Cartoon
Media Hot and Cold Eyeglasses Vs. Sunglasses
The Spoken Word • “The written word spells out in sequence what is quick and implicit in the spoken word” (79).
The Spoken Word • Literacy = Privacy: “One native, the only literate member of his group, told of acting as reader for the others when thy received letters. He said he felt impelled to put his fingers to his ears while reading aloud, so as not to violate the privacy of their letters” (78).
The Spoken Word • “This is interesting testimony to the values of privacy fostered by the visual stress of phonetic writing. Such separation of the senses, and of the individual from the group, can scarcely occur without the influence of phonetic writing. The spoken word does not afford the extension and amplification of the visual power needed for habits of individualism and privacy” (78/9).
The Spoken Word • Orality = involved, Literacy = detached: “The literate man or society develops the tremendous power of acting in any matter with considerable detachment from the feelings or emotional involvement that a nonliterate man or society would experience” (79).
The Spoken Word • Consciousness: “Language does for intelligence what the wheel does for the feet and the body. It enables them to move from thing to thing with greater ease and speed and ever less involvement. Language extends and amplifies man but it also divides his faculties. His collective consciousness or intuitive awareness is diminished by this technical extension of consciousness that is speech” (79).
The Spoken Word • “Our new electric technology that extends our senses and nerves in a global embrace has large implications for the future of language. Electricity points the way to an extension of the process of consciousness itself, on a world scale, and without any verbalization whatever. Such a state of collective awareness may have been the preverbal condition of men” (80).
The Written Word • The Shift From Orality to Literacy: “Suppose that, instead of displaying the Stars and Stripes, we were to write the words “American flag” across a piece of cloth and to display that. While the symbols would convey the same meaning, the effect would be quite different.…
The Written Word • …To translate the rich visual mosaic of the Stars and Stripes into written form would be to deprive it of most of its qualities of corporate image and of experience, yet the abstract literal bond would remain much the same. Perhaps this illustration will serve to suggest the change the tribal man experiences when he becomes literate….
The Written Word • …Nearly all the emotional and corporate family feeling is eliminated from his relationship with his social group. He is emotionally free to separate from the tribe and to become a civilized individual, a man of visual organization who has uniform attitudes, habits, and rights with all other civilized individuals” (82).
The Written Word • The Phonetic Alphabet: “The phonetic alphabet is a unique technology. There have been many kinds of writing, pictographic and syllabic, but there is only one phonetic alphabet in which semantically meaningless letters are used to correspond to semantically meaningless sounds” (83).
The Written Word • “The phonetically written word sacrifices worlds of meaning and perception that were secured by forms like the hieroglyph and the Chinese ideogram. These culturally richer forms of writing, however, offered men no means of sudden transfer from the magically discontinuous and traditional world of the tribal world into the cool and uniform visual medium” (83).
The Written Word • “Only the phonetic alphabet makes such a sharp division in experience, giving to its user an eye for an ear, and freeing him from the tribal trance of resonating word magic and the web of kinship” (84).
The Written Word • “… the phonetic alphabet, alone is the technology that has been the means of creating ‘civilized man’ – the separate individuals equal before a written code of law. Separateness of the individual, continuity of space and of time, and uniformity of codes are the prime marks of literate and civilized societies” (84).
The Written Word • “Tribal cultures cannot entertain the possibility of the individual or of the separate citizen. Their ideas of spaces and times are neither continuous nor uniform, but compassional and compressional in their intensity. It is in its power to extend patterns of visual uniformity and continuity that the ‘message’ of the alphabet is felt by cultures” (84).
The Written Word • Thought Before Action: “Oral cultures act and react at the same time. Phonetic culture endows men with the means of repressing their feelings and emotions when engaged in action. To act without reacting, without involvement, is the peculiar advantage of Western literate man” (86).
The Printed Word • Storage: “We are confronted here once more with that basic function of media – to store and to expedite information. Plainly, to store is to expedite, since what is stored is also more accessible than what has to be gathered” (158).
The Printed Word • “For if seen merely as a store of information, or as a new means of speedy retrieval of knowledge, typography ended parochialism and tribalism, psychically and socially, both is space and time” (170). [See also slide #16.]
The Printed Word • Repetition: “Repeatability is the core of the mechanical principle that has dominated our world, especially since the Gutenberg [printing press] technology. The message of the print and of typography is primarily that of repeatability.” (160).
The Printed Word • “With typography, the principle of movable type introduced the means of mechanizing any handicraft by the process of segmenting and fragmenting an integral action. What had begun with the alphabet as a separation of the multiple gestures and sights and sounds in the spoken word, reached a new level of intensity, first with the woodcut and then with typography” (160).
The Printed Word • “The uniformity and repeatability of print permeated the Renaissance with the idea of time and space as continuous measurable quantities. […] The new technique of control of physical processes by segmentation and fragmentation separated God and Nature as much as Man and Nature, or man and man” (176).
The Printed Word • “Another significant aspect of the uniformity and repeatability of the printed page was the pressure it exerted toward ‘correct’ spelling, syntax, and pronunciation. Even more notable were the effects of print in separating poetry from song, and prose from oratory, and popular from educated speech” (175). [See also slides #16 & 48.]