Medium theory helps us understand the true purpose of media. Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian professor, pioneered the studies in the 1960s. His work earnt him global fame, and he became known – after his death in 1980 – for effectively predicting the internet well before its time, and for his famous expression: “the medium is the message”.
But, while I think we can all agree it’s rather catchy, what exactly does that expression mean? Well, McLuhan argued that anything that had an impact on human society as a whole, was media. His often cited example is that of a lightbulb. He argued that before the invention of the lightbulb, people had to stop working as soon as it got dark, and productivity almost completely ceased. Following the lightbulb’s invention, people could carry on working to their heart’s content, meaning that society was bettered due to the ability to work for longer. On the other hand, a lightbulb carries absolutely no information to anybody, it’s message is simply the fact that it makes things brighter. He claimed that, for this reason, the actual content of media is effectively irrelevant, and its impact on society is all that one should be concerned about, particularly in the context of medium theory.
McLuhan preferred to consider the physical impact a medium could have on the world as opposed to the difference. One example given in the reading is the way that the world changed as printers moved from being hand operated to a mass producing machine based system worldwide. This corresponded with the expansion of vocabulary as words, such as slang, spread from country to country. One negative of this is that it allowed the mass production of propaganda, which benefited the Nazi regime of Germany in the 1930s.
In conclusion, while the media itself carries a message via its content, the true message it delivers is the impact that it has on the world around it. One final example would be that of the mobile phone. We discussed in class how it is, almost literally, an extension of man as one holds it in their hand on almost a constant basis in 2016, therefore, its impact is a lot more subtle than one would presume at first glance.