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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Everyman's McLuhan



There are ideas for which continuous, systematic prose is decidedly not the best mode of expression. Marshall McLuhan’s process aims to interrupt the trance-like state into which media lull us. To remain faithful to its subject, a McLuhan primer would necessarily have to integrate this interruptive approach to its presentation.

W. Terrence Gordon’s Everyman’s McLuhan presents McLuhan’s life and thought in a startling flurry of words and images which force the reader to reflect on their coherence and contradictions. The effect is reminiscent of McLuhan and Fiore’s The Medium is the Massage, but the prose is comparatively more accessible, being more explicit and drawing analogies which should not leave a lay audience too confused to take anything home.

W. Terrence Gordon masterfully summarizes McLuhan’s 1964 classic, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, in ten miniature essays. I have further digested six ideas found to be most emblematic of McLuhan’s approach to regurgitate them here for your convenience:

  • A medium can be any extension of the human being; we are, in fact, the content of every medium.
  • Media operate in pairs, each paradigm “containing” the previous paradigm ...
  • ... except for thought, which has no anterior medium, being non-verbal and pure process.
  • Media create environments, and their effects tend to deprive us of the control to use them effectively.
  • New media do not so much replace each other as complicate each other.
  • Media can be classified in terms of how much participation (how much interpretation) is required of the audience; “hot” media represents a higher degree of stimulation than “cool” media, which provides a less comprehensive experience.


W. Terrence Gordon’s presentation is not without problems – the selection of examples of “hot” and “cool” media seems a bit suspect to me – but on the whole it is a legitimate starting point for some out-of-the-box thinking.

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