Chapter One: The medium is the message

I mentioned Understanding Media a work of Herbert Marshall McLuhan before. Just in case you missed, follow this link to the “Introduction to Understanding Media”. I told you there, that I will succeed in reading and presenting to you the results that are in my opinion worth mentioning. So let’s do that for the first chapter of Understanding Media which is given the title “The Medium Is The Message”. You would perhaps not imagine it, but this statement is what the whole chapter is about.

McLuhan does two things in this chapter. He first introduces this statement to the reader and explains, sometimes with the help of literary quotations, what is so special about the particular point of view this statement includes. It focuses on a view that accepts and assumes the plain entity of a medium and its bare functionality seperated from any kind of content it possibly produces. The statement says it:

“the medium is the message” (p. 16)

and not anything concerning medias’ contents. McLuhan explains what consequences in particular he is concerned with. These are

“the change of scale or pace or pattern that it [the medium] introduces into human affairs” (ib.).

McLuhan quotes Shakespeare and others just to interpret some of their written words for his purposes. For example does he quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “But soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It speaks, and yet says nothing.” He relates that quotation to the TV as a medium and especially the last sentence refers to his point ov view. When it says “it speaks” it’s meant to be related to the content of TV and though it “yet says nothing”. McLuhan goes on and uses several quotations from different times and though he starts to introduce another aspect I shortly intimated before, that would still have to be mentioned and now it’s time to do so. McLuhan tries to analyze and structurize the history of mankind in a way related to the changes media made to our sense of lifes or to say to our ways of living. McLuhan also insists that we don’t have to look back into the past but we can see the different forms of attitudes towards our world within the today’s globe. There are societies not yet introduced into things like typography or newer multisensual media. The ages of typography have introduced a linear way of living in sequence and brought mankind uniformity and continuity. In the days of multisensual and electrical media mankind is – according to McLuhan – doing a reversal to a time that ends

“sequence by making things instant” (p. 20).

McLuhan sees a need of understanding media to rearrange an equilibrium – he has this opinion in common with Pope Pius XII –

“between the strength of the techniques of communication and the capacity of the individual’s own reaction” (p. 29).

On this basis he could have drawn a map of our globe that exists of many different types of societys – all of them in many different stages of medial evolution – more or less used to their very own and very special stage of medial evolution.

To see a bibliography of the edition of Understanding Media please follow the link I provided to the introduction above. Chapter two is given the title “Media Hot And Cold” – just in case you wanted to know what will follow the next time that I finished reading this chapter.

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