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McLuhan_Medium Is the Message

McLuhan_Medium Is the Message - mm-“ c==m§m==m=m 32: mg...

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Unformatted text preview: mm-“ - c==m§m==m=m 32:» mg? mRRESE Q» §§ ngWflEancrmb . ~§§k§m§ 3. 50:8}. m. NEESS ‘28 ZEH, $83 093.35%, gummmornmozm roamed. Mamwmsm 7 m, 7 i V \www \wmfi ._ .25 32:5: _m =5 savanna H: m 0388 EH 0:? Hosm “5088509 no mHHHHQHHHm mam mH<HmHsm mHH "Esmm mm m Emma 0m ooHHnHoH. ,Hn Hm 85398 m U? o». w 90% .8 Va HaBHHHHHonH ”H55 HHH owonmmobmH mum HHSQHQHH mmon nHHo 80%st Hm .30 Bammmm? HEm. Hm. 39..on no m3 HHS.“ nHHo wowmoHHmH mum moonH nobmomnonoom cm navy EomHHHBInHHmn 7.1:!152utrlnui Hm. 0H... ”5% 83055: cm .oHHmmngmlnomHHHn managmmm mmmw. $me Ham. Hm Hdfiomnnmm H58 AWE» mfimfiWUV .90: $8553., 0». camozam. .oH. Luv» mHHV 0% noownoHomvw. HHEW 9:? 38835? How 8351? «H5 50% HHonBm 0H. :55»: 880550: 82H .8 @5338 Hog. Ha Hm ado. HE; Hm HHHo mommafiw moms? @853va 2.8328: 9.038 HoHam m9... @819 firHoHH Hm 8 mmVN @037 cm H9378- Bag 5 9an 38.x 32H HEB»: ammonHmnHoHH nHHmn oHHH. HHHooonHHHHm BaormHHHomH nooHHHHoH- omw HHmnH mafiowom. HSEHH‘ HHnOHHHo «<0ch. HHo mHmwOmom no 3% HHS” H" Sum den 90 Banana. HHHHn €73 98 QB «33 90 Ba. 0750. 9mm 3% Ha BamHHHHHm oH. Bnmmmmo. F 835 cm 90 «<me H: dimer ”H8 Banana 8/ Understanding Media altered our relations to one another and to ourselves,-it mattered ygnot in the least whether it turned out cornflakes or Cadillacs. The restructuring of human work, and association was shaped by the "I, technique of fragmentation that is the essence of machine technol- fj’ogy. The essence of automation technology is the opposite. It 15 integral and decentralist in depth, just as the machine was frag- mentary, centralist, and superficial in its patterning of human iirelationships. The instance of the electric light may prove illuminating in this connection. The electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message, as it were, unless it is used to spell out some verbal ad or name. This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the “content” of any medium is always another -medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph. If it is asked, “What is the content of speech?,” it is necesSary to say, “It is an actual process of thought, which is in itself nonverbal.” An abstract painting represents direct mam— festation of creative thought processes as they might appear in computer designs. What we are considering here, however, are the psychic and social consequences of the designs or patterns as they amplify or accelerate existing processes. For the “message” of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs. The railway did not intro- duce movement or transportation or wheel or road into human society, but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of prev1ous human functions, creating totally newrkinds of cities and new kinds of work and leisure. This happened whether the railway functioned in a tropical or a northern environment, and is qiute independent of the freight or content of the railway medium. V The airplane, on the other hand, by accelerating the rate of trans- portation, tends to dissolve the railway form of .c1ty, politics, and association, quite independently of what the airplane IS used for. Let us return to the electric light. Whether the light is being 'used for brain surgery or night baseball is a matter of indifference. The Medium 15 the Message/ 9 It could be argued that these activities are in some way the “con— tent” of the electric light, since they could not exist-without the electric light. This fact merely underlines the point that “the medium is the message” because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. The content or uses of such media are as diverse as, they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association. Indeed, it is only tOO typical that the “content” of any medium blinds us to the charac- ter of the medium. It is only today that industries have become ' aware of the various kinds of business in which they are engaged. When IBM discovered that it was not in thebusiness of making office equipment or business machines, but that it was in the business of processing information, then it began to navigate with clear vision. The General Electric Company makes a considerable portion of its profits from electric light bulbs and lighting systems. It has not yet discovered that, quite as much as A.T.& T., it is in the business of moving information. , The electric light escapes attention as a communication medium just because it has no “content.” And this makes it an invaluable instance of how people fail to study media at all. For it is not till the electric light is used to spell out some brand name that it is noticed as a medium. Then it is not the light but the “content” (or what is really another medium) that is noticed. The message of the electric light is like the message of electric power in industry, totally radical, pervasive, and decentralized. For electric light and power are separate from their uses, yet they eliminate time and space factors in human association exactly as do radio, telegraph, telephone, and TV, creating involvement in depth. . 7 / ‘ A fairly complete handbook for studying the extensions of man could be made up from selections from Shakespeare. Some might quibble about whether or not he was referring tok TV in these familiar lines from Romeo and Juliet: But soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It speaks, and yet says nothing. In Othello, which, as much as King Lear, is concerned with the torment of people transformed by illusions, there are these 10/ Understanding Media lines that bespeak Shakespeare’s intuition of the transforming powers of new media: 'Is there not charms By which the property of youth and' maidhood May be abus’d? Have you not read Roderigo, Of some such thing? In Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, which is almost completely devoted to both a psychic and social study Of communication, Shakespeare states his awareness that true social and political navigation depend upon anticipating the consequences of in- novation: The providence that’s in a watchful state Knows almost every grain of Plutus’ gold, Finds bottom in the uncomprehensive deeps, Keeps place with thought, and almost like the gods Does thoughts unveil in their dumb cradles. The increasing awareness of the action of media, quite in- dependently of their “content” or\ programming, was indicated in the annoyed and anonymous stanza: In modern thought, (if not in fact) Nothing is that doesn’t act, So that is reckoned Wisdom which Describes the scratch but not the itch. The same kind of total, 'configurational awareness that reveals Why the medium is socially the message has occurred in the most recent and radical medical theories. In his Stress of Life, Hans Selye‘tell's of the dismay of a research colleague on hearing of Selye’s theory: . A - ‘ When he saw me thus launched on yet another enraptured description of what I had observed in animals treated with this or that impure, toxic material, he looked at me with desperately sad eyes and said in obvious despair: “But Selye, try to realize what you are doing before it is too late! (You have now decided to spend your entire life studying the-~ pharmacology of dirt!” (Hans Selye, The Stress o'f'Life)‘ " - Haiti}; within which threwjpar ' 'Tbe Medium Is the Message/11 As Selye deals with the total environmental situation in his “stress” theory of disease, so the latest approach to @EJEQJ 9922*“ @tonlyrbsaco edlmnanafizsrflmrgl unawafEness o the psychic and social effects of media canbe illustrated from almost any of the conventional pronouncements. , In accepting an honorary degree from the University of Notre DMe a few years ago, General David Sarnoff madethis state— ment: “We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value.” That is the voice of the current somnambulism.» Suppose we were to say, “Apple pie is in itself neither good nor had; it is the way it is used that determines its value.” Or, “The smallpox virus is in itself neither good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines its value.” Again, “‘Firearms are in themselves neither good nor bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value.” That is, if the slugs reach the right people firearms are good. If the TV tube fires the right ammunition at the right people it is good. I am not being perverse. There is simply nothing in the Sarnofi statement that will bear scrutiny, for it ignores the nature of the medium, of any and all media, in the true Narcissus style of one hypnotized by the amputation and extension of his‘own being in. a new technical form. General Sarnoff went on to explain his attitude to the technology of print, saying that it was true that print caused much trash to circulate, but it had also disseminated the Bible and the thoughts of seers and philosophersulgwhas fryer (399mm if that anymt ghngggy “coflmrmbfit add flawsflgmwfiflww , MW 55.1{513‘3‘rt Theobald, W. W. Rostow, and ' John Kenneth Galbraith have been explaining for years how it is that “classical economics” cannot explain change or growth. And the paradox of echanization is that although it is itselfjhg cgause ojwrngximal ggnwth and change, the principle ofmmechanii a N. A«ma-“mo 41. rm. w zanon excludewsflt , 3221325511) ty of growth or the understanding a Jagmzm . . . ~ . NW": mwum=r_ ,valem‘mesmww mummr. ' ~ r u c - o c ange. For mechanization 15 achievedflby fragmentation of any .h- p _ . MW 12/ Understanding Media process and by putting the fragmented parts in a series. Yet, as David Hume showed in the eighteenth century, there is no 7774~me principle-of«causality1n~arrmereusequence. That one thing follows another accounts for nothing. Nothing follows from following, except change. So the greatest of all reversals occurred with electricity, that ended se uence b makin tlygngs’instant. With instant speed the causes of things began to emerge to awareness again, as they had not done with things in sequence and in "concatenation accordingly. Instead of asking which came first, the f‘ chicken or the egg, it. sxrdderlly seemed thatwapghicken” was an QM . . ...... anrs‘"t~w—'~ “““““““““ W 5” Staff...1§2a_,.f.sa.g:t_t.lag.aawre eggs; . > Just before an airplane breaks the sound barrier, sound waves become visible on the wings of the plane. The sudden Visibility of sound just as sound ends is an apt instance of that great pattern of being that reveals new and opposite forms just as the earlier forms reach their peak performance. Mech- anization was never so vividly fragmented or sequential as in the birth of the movies, the moment that translated us beyond mechanism into the world of growth and organic interrelation. The movie, by sheer speeding up the mechanical, carried us from the world of sequence and connections into the world of creative configuration and structure. The message of the movie medium ' is that of transition from lineal connections to configurations. It is the transition that produced the now quite correct observation: “If it works, it’s obsolete.” When electric speed further takes over from mechanical movie sequences, then the lines of force in structures and in media become loud and clear. We return to the inclusive form of the icon. To a highly literate and'mechanized culture the movie ap- i peared as a world of triumphant illusions and dreams that money cbuld buy. It was at this. moment of the movie that cubism oc— curred, and it has been described by E. H. Gombrich (Art and Illusion) as “ he most radical attemptgto stamp out ambiguity and LWT“:T"'“:‘W»=:: "a:«-,vv-«.1—.:...M_ mm.— £0 C nforcgbg“ ~efadin of'the picture—that amade cen— wmwwww ,. . .~...._'~'~—-_e-A'—-~ Mani-)yzmfiiswwmm. as".'”hForcubism su sututes all facets of spective illusion. Instead of the specialized illusion of the third The Medium Is the Message/13 dimension on canvas, cubism sets up an interplay of planes and contradiction or dramatic conflict of patterns, lights, textures that “drives home the message” by involvement. This is held by many to be an exercise in painting, not in illusion. , ’ In other words, cubism, by giving the inside and outside, the top, bottom, back, and front and the rest, in two dimensions, drops the illusion of perspective in favor of instant sensory awareness of the whole. Cubism, by seizing on instant total 3WQ£§D§§§s3UQQ221Y ‘WwvdwumumJfifi—flflwum announced that the medium is the message. Is it not evident that . a... mNamM,um....m.,mw=“aWmmnaummmmmwamimm—n a. . the moment that Aspflqpfience yields t the s ultaneous, one is in the 33,-4.2" tan-“aw... mmyo'réwu—ummma’aygz “ world of the structure and of configuration? Is that not what has happened in physics as in painting, poetry, and in communication? Specialized segments of attention have shifted to total field, and we can now say, “The medium is the message” quite naturally. Before the electric speed and total field, it was not obvious that the V medium is the message. The message, it seemed, was the “con— tent,” as people used to ask what a painting was about. Yet they never thought to ask what a melody was about, nor what a house or a dress was about. In such matters, people retained some sense of the whole pattern, of form anQ‘fwlgnggnmamsmaflQnfiing But in the electric age this integral idea of structure and configuration has become so prevalent that educational theory has taken up the matter. Instead of working with specialized “problems” in arith- metic, the structural approach now follows the linea of force in the field 'of number and has small children meditating about num- ber theory and “‘sets.” Cardinal Newman said of Napoleon, “He understood the gramn‘nr of gunpowder.” Napoleon had paid some attention to other media as well, especially the semaphore telegraph that gave him a great advantage over his enemies. He is on'record for saying that “Three hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” Alexis de Tocqueville was the first to master the grammar of print and typography. He was thus able to read off the message of coming change in France and America as if he were reading aloud from .a text that had been handed to him. In fact, the nineteenth century in France and in America was just such an x 14/ Understanding Media open book to de Tocqueville because he had learned the grammar of print. So he, also knew when that grammar did not app .3: He 114......» vei~44was—asked why he——did not write a bookTSTTEngland since he knew and admired England. He replied: One would have to have an unusual degree of philosophical folly to believe oneself able to judge England 1n six months. A year always seemed to me too short a time in which to appreciate the United States properly, and it is much easier to acquire clear and precise notions about the American - Union than about Great Britain. In America all laws derive in a sense from the same line of thought. The whole of society, so to speak, is founded upon a single fact; every- thing springs from a simple principle. One could compare America to a forest pierced by a multitude of straight roads all converging on the same point. One has only to find the center and everything is revealed at a glance. But in England the paths run criss-cross, and it is only by travelling down each one of them that one can build up a picture of the Whole. De Tocqueville, in earlier wOrk on the French Revolution, had explained how it was the printed word that, achieving cultural saturation in the eighteenth century, had homogenized the French nation. Frenchmen werethe same kind of people from north to south. The typographic principles of uniformity, continuity, and lineality had overlaid the complexities of ancient feudal and oral society. The Revolution was carried out by the new literati and lawyers. In England, however, such was the power of the ancient oral traditions of common law, backed by the medieval institution of Parliament, that no uniformity or continuity of the new Visual print culture could take complete hold. The result was that the most important event in English history has never taken place; ‘ namely, the English Revolution on the lines of the French Revolu- tion. The American Revolution had no medieval legal institutions to discard or to root out, apart from monarchy. And many have held that the American Presidency has become very much more personal and monarchical than any European monarch ever could be. De Tocqueville’scontrast between England and America The Medium Is the Message/ 15 is clearly based on the fact of typography and ‘9th culture a”... .- ; 4.} 219mm. 44mm“. ..... -~... creatin uniformity and conti E,ngland he says, has rejected lty. mmwwwmwemavaa this principle and clung to the dynamic or oral common-law tradition. Hence the discontinuity and unpredictable quality of 4,... «2:: gm (.1 _ English culture. The grammar of print cannot help to construe the message of oral and nonwritten culture and institutions. The English aristocracy was properly classified as barbarian by Matthew Arnold because its power and status had nothing to do with literacy or with the cultural forms of typography. Said the Duke of Gloucester to Edward Gibbon upon the publication of his Decline and Fall: “Another damned fat book, eh, Mr. Gib- bon? Scribble, scribble, scribble, eh, Mr. Gibbon?” De Tocque- vil p s a highly literate aristocrat who was quite able to be Om the values and assumptions of o ra by. That -4. 4% m.-~....~41_411 ._,.., 444- 4...... , w...managingfljbagranmar was 31?th- And It is only on those terms, standing aside from any structure or medium, that its principles and lines of force can be discerned. For ‘LX. medium has the power of unpggipg its own assumption on the unwary. Prediction and cpntrol pppsist in avoidingthis suhiypipal state of‘N‘a'rmssus traTiEuemBut the greatest aid to this end is simply in knowing that the spell can occur immediately upon contact, as in the first bars of a melody. A Passage 'to India by E. M. Forster is a dramatic study of the inability of oral and intuitive oriental culture to meetwnhmhe rational, visual European patterns of experience.‘ course, has for the West long meant “uniform and conTinuous ‘11:" find seqpential ” In other words, we have confused reason 1th %% literac , and rati alisrn ' '.. teco mogy. us in the electric age ma ems the cenuoWest to become irrational. In Forster’s novel the moment of truth and dislocation from the typographic trance of the West comes in the Marabar Caves.‘ Adela Quested’s reasoning powers cannot cope‘with the total inclusive field of resonance that is India. Afternthe Caves: . “Life went on as usual, but had no consequences, that is to say, sounds did not echo nor thought develop. Everything seemed cut off at its root and therefore infected with illusipn.” _ A Passage to India (the phrase is'fromj Whitman, who saw 16/ Understanding Media America headed Eastward) is a parable of Western man in the electric age, and is only incidentally related to Europe or the ‘ ‘TOi‘ient. [he ultfinate conflict between sight and sound, between written and oral kinds of perception and organization of existence is upon us. Since understanding stops action, as Nietzsche ob- served, We can moderate the fierceness ‘of this conflict by under- standing the media that extend us and raise these wars within and ‘ without us. Detribalization by literacy-and its traumatic effects on tribal man is the theme of a book by the psychiatrist J. C: Carothers, The African Mind in Health and Disease (World Health Organi- zation, Geneva, 1953). Much of his material appeared in an article in Psychiatry magazine, November, 1959:. “The Culture, Psy- chiatry, and the Written Wor...
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