Is technology good or bad? Most would say it depends on how it is used. Marshall McLuhan, however, would argue you should think of a more definite answer.
Marshall McLuhan’s Medium Theory demonstrates the significant differences in meanings and interpretations of a communicated message when these messages are conveyed through different channels. Hence, Marshall came up with the concept that “the medium is the message”. The core assumption is that the media, as we know it, is not just a channel where the communication takes place, but they form a diverse environment that enables the message to be communicated and interpreted; the media technology affects the meaning of the message it communicates, on top of transforming its surroundings. Therefore, the emphasis is on the features of each media and how they vary. A good example is a study conducted by Chloe Combi for her book, Generation Z, which found that the current generation is growing increasingly impatient due to the instantaneous nature of social media applications such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. which are direct implications of new technologies.
The influence of media on our society can be illustrated by looking at the patterns of information dissemination across different epochs. Initially, media was considered inaccessible to the average person, either because of socioeconomic status and inequality or simply, inadequate knowledge and information on how to use media. In contrast, the 21st century has seen a phenomenon whereby most people can gain access to information from any kind of media. It has an imperative effect on not only the development, but also the freedom of choice in society. New media has enabled us to acquire and share information across the globe.
Another concept discussed by Marshall McLuhan’s is that the content of a medium is another medium. As vague as this sounds, it can be demonstrated by this quote from his book, Understanding Media, published in 1964: “The effect of a medium is made strong and intense just because it is given another medium as ‘content’. The content of a movie is a novel.” Therefore, the notion that McLuhan undermines the importance of content is false. He is simply giving another perspective; that the technology is just as important, and should not be overlooked.
Paul Levinson interprets this concept in his book, Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium. According to him, “It (media content) may be the best way of examining a medium and its impact—the only drawback being that the medium under such examination will in some sense have arisen earlier than the medium currently in use.” An example he used is the Internet. The medium that “serves as content” for the Internet is most media that had come before it, for the Internet is seen as a multitasker which converges and repackages media and media content. Basically, the Internet is the medium; television, print media, radio, etc., each of them a medium in itself, is the content for the Internet.
In conclusion, despite his ambiguity, Marshall McLuhan’s ideas are still relevant, and provide extensive, contemporary insight (that was way ahead of its time) about the media we consume today.
Combi, C. (2015). Generation Z. London: Hutchinson.
Levinson, P. (1999). Digital McLuhan. New York: Routledge.
McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media.
McLuhan, M., Fiore, Q. and Agel, J. (1967). The medium is the massage. New York: Bantam Books.
Meyrowitz, J. (2001). Morphing McLuhan: Medium Theory for a New Millennium. In: Second Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association. [online] New York: Media Ecology Association. Available at: http://media-ecology.org/publications/MEA_proceedings/v2/Meyrowitz02.pdf [Accessed 16 Oct. 2016].