Introduction to Understanding Media

Understanding Media is a book written of Herbert Marshall McLuhan. He particularly introduced some mediatheoretical aspects into the world of science and was most active in the 1950ties and 1960ties. I had to write an essay on the topic of McLuhan’s mediatheoretical aspects concerning the Internet. Now I have to prepare for an oral exam at university and have to renew my knowledge on McLuhan. Regardless that I am still quite fit in his special point of view concerning media, I am reading some of his works to regain a better and more particular knowledge of his thesis. Therefore I startet reading Understanding Media and will present you the most necessary information concerning my point of view and what I think is worth to mention. At first I start with a short summary of McLuhans introduction to the book, then suceeding in reading and presenting to you one chapter after the other. Here we go…

McLuhans introduction to Understanding Media is kind of a summary what he would likely to present in the following chapters of the book. He starts to describe the situation in his days, that is to say he provides the reader with information on what the editor of the book replied on the idea of publishing it. He was not at all convinced of the success of the outcome because about 3/4 of the books content dealt with new topics and information. The editor seemed quite revulsive on publishing this book but at last did publish it. We now know that McLuhan provided us with some revolutionary collection of new thoughts on media. And this of course is the next step, McLuhan does in the introduction. He gives a short summary on the preceding mechnical age, as he named it (cf. p. 12), and the changes our society made and the status quo they finally achieved in this era. McLuhan states that the human being was able to extend his body in space and according to the predominant paradigm of literacy every single person was able to behave in a way detached from the society and the world surrounding him or her. Afterwards McLuhan focuses on the changes that occured to human life when humans approached the electrical age as he named it. The era of electricity in companionship with electrical media changed the globe to become

“no more than a village” (p. 13).

Through the electrical age, he wrote, we were able to abolish

“both space and time as far as our planet is concerned” (p. 11).

McLuhan states that we obviously have a decrease in time from the point of action to its antagonist of reaction owing to the electrical contraction via the media but that mankind still is used to the old patterns of the mechanical ages and therefore put into a certain numbness. He then goes on with describing that he wants to look

“at some general aspect of the media, or extensions of man” (p. 14)

before he can analyze some of the particular media themselves and examine their origin and development.

As of yet we can already see, that McLuhan’s interest lies especially in the social, psychological and structural changes that media do to society and its actors. I will provide you with further information on McLuhan just whenever I finished reading another chapter of the book, so look out and stay tuned. It follows the bibliography of the edition of Understanding Media I am working with, so that you can be able to look the pages up yourself.

McLuhan, Marshall, 1973 (1964): Understanding Media. The Extensions of Man. 1st Abacus ed., London: Abacus.

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