The Medium is the Message


. . . a phrase coined by the Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan and the name of the first chapter in his Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964. McLuhan proposes that a communication medium itself, not the messages it carries, should be the primary focus of study. He showed that artifacts as media affect any society by their characteristics, or content.

    McLuhan writes:  The title "The Medium Is the Massage" is a teaser—a way of getting attention. There's a wonderful sign hanging in a Toronto junkyard which reads, 'Help Beautify Junkyards. Throw Something Lovely Away Today.' This is a very effective way of getting people to notice a lot of things. And so the title is intended to draw attention to the fact that a medium is not something neutral—it does something to people. It takes hold of them. It rubs them off, it massages them and bumps them around, chiropractically, as it were, and the general roughing up that any new society gets from a medium, especially a new medium, is what is intended in that title."

Woody Allen sums it well: 'Marshall McLuhan predicted books would become art objects at some point. He was right.'

From Annie Hall:

Alvy Singer : [the man behind him in line is talking loudly]  What I wouldn't give for a large sock with horse manure in it!

Alvy Singer : [to audience]  Whaddya do when you get stuck in a movie line with a guy like this behind you?

Man in Theatre Line : Wait a minute, why can't I give my opinion? It's a free country!

Alvy Singer : He can give it... do you have to give it so loud? I mean, aren't you ashamed to pontificate like that? And the funny part of it is, Marshall McLuhan, you don't know anything about Marshall McLuhan!

Man in Theatre Line : Oh, really? Well, it just so happens I teach a class at Columbia called "TV, Media and Culture." So I think my insights into Mr. McLuhan, well, have a great deal of validity!

Alvy Singer : Oh, do ya? Well, that's funny, because I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here, so, so, yeah, just let me...

[pulls McLuhan out from behind a nearby poster] 

Alvy Singer : come over here for a second... tell him!

Marshall McLuhan : I heard what you were saying! You know nothing of my work! You mean my whole fallacy is wrong. How you got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing!

Alvy Singer : Boy, if life were only like this!


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