Herbert Marshall McLuhan CC was a Canadian educator, philosopher, and scholar – a professor of English literature, a literary critic, and a communications theorist. One of the foundational texts in the study of media ecology is McLuhan's work.
So what kind of person was Marshall McLuhan ? What has McLuhan achieved throughout his career ? Learn more about this sociologist in the following article.
I. Marshall McLuhan biography
The phrases "the medium is the message" and "the global village" were both coined by McLuhan. The idea that the world is one, transnational human community was helped to spread by McLuhan's ideas on the significance of technology for social organization. From the late 1960s until his death, Marshall McLuhan was a constant in the media conversation. He is still a significant and contentious figure. He was designated the "patron saint" of Wired magazine years after his passing.
1. Who is Marshall McLuhan?
Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) was born in Edmonton, Alberta, to Herbert Ernest McLuhan and the former Elsie Naomi Hall. Two years later, Maurice, his brother, was born. Marshall was a family name; it was the last name of his maternal grandmother. His parents were both Canadian natives.
His mother was a Baptist educator who later made a career in acting. His father ran an Edmonton real estate company and was a Methodist. The company failed when World War I started, and his father enlisted in the Canadian army as a result. He contracted influenza after serving for a year and stayed in Canada, far from the front. The McLuhan family relocated to Winnipeg, Manitoba after Herbert was released from the army in 1915, where Marshall was raised and attended school.
2. Marshall McLuhan early life
Marshall McLuhan spent one year majoring in engineering before earning a BA (1933) and MA (1934) in English from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, where he also won a University Gold Medal in Arts and Sciences. After failing to obtain a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, Marshall McLuhan was accepted for enrollment at the University of Cambridge. He had long wanted to pursue graduate studies in England. The Cambridge University required him to enroll as an undergraduate "affiliated" student with one year of credit toward a three-year Cambridge Bachelor's degree before beginning any doctoral studies, despite the fact that he had already received his BA and MA from Manitoba.
In the fall of 1934, he enrolled at Trinity Hall in Cambridge, where he studied under I. A. Richards and F. R. Leavis was influenced by New Criticism. Years later, he gave the faculty there credit for influencing the direction of his later work due to their emphasis on perception training and ideas like Richards' concept of feedforward. In 1936, he graduated from Cambridge with his second bachelor's degree and started his graduate studies. Since he was unable to find employment in Canada, he returned from England to accept a position as a teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which he held for the 1936–1937 academic year.
He started the process of becoming a Roman Catholic while studying the trivium at Cambridge, which was based on his reading of G. K. Chesterton. McLuhan's gradual but complete conversion process came to an end at the end of March 1937 when he was formally received into the Roman Catholic Church. After speaking with a minister, his father agreed with his decision to convert; in contrast, his mother, who believed that his conversion would harm his career, was distraught. Although it was a personal matter, Marshall McLuhan was a devout man all of his life. He had a lifelong fascination with the number three—the trivium, or Trinity—and occasionally claimed that the Virgin Mary gave him intellectual direction.
He continued to work as a teacher in higher education settings affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. He was an English instructor at Saint Louis University from 1937 to 1944. (with an interruption from 1939 to 1940 when he returned to Cambridge). He mentored and made friends with Walter J. Ong (1912–2003), a student at Saint Louis who would later write his doctoral dissertation on a subject Marshall McLuhan had brought to his attention and who would also go on to become a well-known expert in communication and technology.
3. Marshall McLuhan on Sociology
Marshall McLuhan is most well-known for his participation in discussions about media and its function in society. The saying "the medium is the message" was created by him. McLuhan's tetrad of media effects, which offered a framework for examining the effects on society of any given medium, served as one of the theoretical cornerstones of his research. The phrases "Hot vs. Cool media," "The medium is the message," and "The global village" are just a few of his original concepts.
McLuhan, Harley Parker (standing); Marshall McLuhan (seated) and Edmund Snow Carpenter
According to Marshall McLuhan, the invention of the printing press sparked the industrial revolution, and the development of print media caused the fragmentation of the world and the alienation of people from one another. He thought that communication and social interaction between people had returned to a more universal level in the digital age thanks to electronic media. His view that media are important as technologies in and of themselves, regardless of media content or context, is also a form of technological determinism.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Marshall McLuhan was a go-to source for media theory and was almost a household name. His theories are still heavily debated today. He continues to be a semi-cult figure in popular culture thanks to his appearances in movies and important texts. The concept of a meta-media object might never have emerged without Marshall McLuhan.
The phrase "The Medium is the Message" refers to the notion that since media formats alter responses and the information they transmit, media studies should concentrate on the media themselves rather than their content. According to Marshall McLuhan, various media call for the use of various senses as well as various degrees of engagement.
II. Marshall McLuhan Scholarly Work
Marshall McLuhan simultaneously worked on two projects while attending Saint Louis University (1937–1944): his doctoral dissertation and the manuscript for The Mechanical Bride, a book that was eventually published in 1951 but only contained a representative sample of the materials that Marshall McLuhan had prepared for it.
The history of the verbal arts (grammar, dialectic, logic, and rhetoric; collectively known as the trivium) from the time of Cicero to Thomas Nashe is covered in McLuhan's 1942 doctoral dissertation from Cambridge University. In some of his later writings, Marshall McLuhan draws on the Latin idea of the trivium to present an organized and systematic portrait of particular eras in the development of Western culture. For instance, according to McLuhan, the Middle Ages were distinguished by a strong emphasis on the formal study of logic. Not the rediscovery of antiquated writings but a change in emphasis from the formal study of logic to rhetoric and language was the major event that sparked the Renaissance. Grammar is making a comeback in modern life, and Marshall McLuhan believed that the New Criticism of Richards and Leavis was a prime example of this trend.
Marshall McLuhan focused on examining and commenting on numerous instances of persuasion in contemporary popular culture in The Mechanical Bride. This was a logical progression from his earlier work, as persuasion was the goal of both dialectic and rhetoric in the classical trivium. His attention abruptly turned inward at this point to investigate the influence of communication media independent of their content. His catchphrase "the medium is the message" (explained in his 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man), which he popularized, draws attention to this inherent influence of communications media. It should be noted that he later published a book with the working title The Medium is the Massage. The phrase "the medium is the message" is best understood in the context of Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan's additional formulation of related ideas, which states that the medium is the message at the empirical level of consciousness while the content is the message at the intelligent and rational levels.
McLuhan's statement that he is more interested in perceptions than concepts effectively means that he is more interested in what Lonergan refers to as the empirical level of consciousness than in what Lonergan refers to as the intelligent level of consciousness where concepts are formed, which Lonergan distinguishes from the rational level of consciousness where the sufficiency of concepts and predictions is determined. Marshall McLuhan differs from more outward-focused researchers like George Herbert Mead, Erving Goffman, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, Kenneth Burke, Hugh Duncan, and others in that he pays attention to perceptions and the cultural conditioning of the empirical level of consciousness through the influence of communication media. Explorations was also founded by Marshall McLuhan and Edmund "Ted" Carpenter.
III. Marshall McLuhan Theoretical Foundation
McLuhan's theories were built around a central set of ideas. He argued that since human communication tools are merely extensions of one or more senses, using them to emphasize one sense over another upsets the sensory balance. According to Marshall McLuhan, a culture's (or an individual's) sense of self can be linked to the media it consumes. Marshall McLuhan asserted that "the medium is the message" in order to highlight the significance of the sensory reorganization brought about by a medium. He later expanded on this idea to include the metaphor "the medium is the massage." Some of Marshall McLuhan best quotes are:
1. The Mechanical Bride (1951)
The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man by Marshall McLuhan, published in 1951, is a groundbreaking study in the area that is now known as popular culture. His interest in the critical study of popular culture was sparked by F.R. Leavis and Denys Thompson's 1933 book Culture and Environment.
The Mechanical Bride is unique, like his 1962 book The Gutenberg Galaxy, and is made up of numerous brief essays that can be read out of order, following what he called the "mosaic approach" to book writing. Each essay starts with a passage from a newspaper, magazine, or advertisement, then Marshall McLuhan analyzes it. The analyses take into account both aesthetic factors and the textual and visual meanings. In addition to highlighting their symbolism and implications for the corporate entities that produced and distributed them, Marshall McLuhan chose the advertisements and articles that were included in his book so that readers would reflect on what such advertising suggests about the larger society at large.
2. The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962)
The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man by Marshall McLuhan is a groundbreaking study in the areas of print culture, cultural studies, and media ecology. It was written in 1961 and first published in Canada by University of Toronto Press in 1962.
Alphabetic writing, the printing press, and electronic media are just a few examples of communication technology that Marshall McLuhan painstakingly demonstrates throughout the book as having an impact on cognitive organization, which in turn has significant implications for social organization.
New ratios among all of our senses will emerge in that particular culture if a new technology expands one or more of our senses outside of us into the social world. It is comparable to what occurs when a melody is given a new note. And when the sense ratios change in any culture, what had previously appeared clear can suddenly turn opaque, and vice versa for vague or opaque concepts.
a. Movable Type
The reader travels through pre-alphabetic tribal humankind to the electronic age in his episodic and frequently rambling history. Marshall McLuhan, who means phonemic orthography, asserts that the development of movable type significantly accelerated, intensified, and ultimately made possible cultural and cognitive changes that had already begun to occur since the creation and use of the alphabet. (McLuhan takes care to set the phonetic alphabet apart from writing systems that use logographic or logograms, such as hieroglyphics or ideograms.)
The Gutenberg press introduced print culture, which resulted in the cultural predominance of the visual over the aural/oral, in the middle of the fifteenth century. William Ivins makes the following observation about the nature of the printed word in Prints and Visual Communication, which Marshall McLuhan quotes with approval:
In this passage, [Ivins] not only draws attention to the development of linear, sequential habits, but also—and this is perhaps more significant—he draws attention to the visual homogenization of print culture experience and the relegation of auditory and other sensual complexity to the background. […] The social and technological effects of typography encourage us to ignore causality and interplay in both our internal and external worlds. The static division of functions that gives rise to print encourages a mindset that eventually rejects all but a severing and compartmentalizing or specialist outlook.
The main idea of McLuhan's thesis, which was later developed in The Medium is the Massage, is that new technologies, such as alphabets, printing presses, and even speech itself, have a gravitational effect on cognition, which in turn affects social organization. For example, print technology alters our perceptual habits (visual homogenization of experience), which in turn affects social interactions (fosters a mentality that gradually resists all but a... specialist outlook). Individualism, democracy, Protestantism, capitalism, and nationalism are among the key trends of the Modern era in the Western world that Marshall McLuhan claims were made possible by the development of print technology. According to McLuhan, all of these trends echo the "segmentation of actions and functions and principle of visual quantification" found in print technology.
b. The global village
Early in the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan predicted that the visual, individualistic print culture would soon come to an end due to what he called "electronic interdependence," in which aural/oral culture would take the place of visual culture in electronic media. Humanity will transition from individualism and fragmentation to a collective identity with a "tribal base" in this new era. The term "global village," which Marshall McLuhan coined for this new social structure, has primarily negative connotations in The Gutenberg Galaxy (a fact that its later proponents overlooked):
The world has transformed into a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as in a childish work of science fiction, rather than toward a vast Alexandrian library. And Big Brother comes inside as our senses have moved outside of us. If we don't become aware of this dynamic, we will immediately enter a phase of panic attacks, which is entirely appropriate for a small world with tribal drums, complete interdependence, and superimposed coexistence. Any oral society will always be in a state of terror because everything there constantly affects everything else. We have long worked to restore a unity of sensibility, thought, and feeling for the Western world, but we haven't been ready to accept the tribal effects of that unity any more than we were to accept the fragmentation of the human psyche brought on by print culture.
Marshall McLuhan emphasizes the significance of being aware of the cognitive effects of a medium. He contends that the global village could turn into a place where totalitarianism and terror rule if we are not watchful of the effects of the media's impact. Technology is a tool that profoundly shapes a person's and, by extension, a society's self-concept and realization, according to Marshall McLuhan, and has no inherent moral bent. Is it not obvious that there are always enough ethical issues to consider without also adopting a moral stance regarding technology? [...] The most extreme form of alphabet culture—print—is what initially detribalizes or decollectivizes man. The visual characteristics of the alphabet are defined to their highest degree in print. Print thus carries the phonetic alphabet's individuating power much farther than manuscript culture ever could. The technology of individualism is print. Individualism would change if men decided to replace this visual technology with an electric one. It would be equivalent to cursing a buzzsaw for chopping off fingers to make a moral objection to this. But we didn't know it would happen, someone counters. Even witlessness, however, is not a moral failing. Although it is a problem, it is not a moral one. It would be nice to remove some of the moral haze that surrounds our technologies. Morality would benefit from it.
According to Marshall McLuhan, moral judgments about the effects of technology on cognition depend on the viewpoint. For instance, McLuhan contrasts the current concern for the "end of the book" with the significant alarm and revulsion that the increasing number of books sparked in the latter seventeenth century. According to McLuhan, disaster can only result from ignorance of the casualties and effects inherent in our technologies if there is no way to impose a universal moral judgment on technology. Marshall McLuhan may have invented and definitely popularized the use of the term "surfing" to refer to rapid, irregular, and multidirectional movement through a heterogeneous body of documents or knowledge, as evidenced by statements like "Heidegger surf-boards along on the electronic wave as triumphantly as Descartes rode the mechanical wave," even though the World Wide Web was created 30 years after The Gutenberg Galaxy was published. The 1999 book Digital McLuhan by Paul Levinson examines how McLuhan's ideas can be better understood in the context of the digital revolution.
Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue by Walter Ong, published in 1958, is a book Marshall McLuhan frequently cited and is likely what inspired him to write The Gutenberg Galaxy. In America, Ong gave this new book a very positive review. The Gutenberg Galaxy by McLuhan, on the other hand, was described by Ong as "a racy survey, indifferent to some scholarly detail, but uniquely valuable in suggesting the sweep and depth of the cultural and psychological changes entailed in the passage from illiteracy to print and beyond," tempering his earlier praise. The Governor-Award General's for Non-Fiction, Canada's highest literary honor, was given to McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy in 1963. Northrop Frye, a friend and frequent intellectual sparring partner of McLuhan's at the University of Toronto, served as the selection committee's chairman.
3. Understanding Media (1964)
Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, McLuhan's best-known publication from 1964, is also a groundbreaking investigation into media ecology. In it, Marshall McLuhan made the well-known claim that "the medium is the message" and suggested focusing on the media themselves rather than the information they convey. According to McLuhan's theory, a medium's effects on the society in which it functions have less to do with the information transmitted through it and more to do with the nature of the medium. Despite the fact that a light bulb lacks the content of a newspaper article or a television program, it still has a social impact because it allows people to create spaces at night that would otherwise be completely dark. He characterizes the lightbulb as an empty medium. A light bulb "creates an environment by its mere presence," according to Marshall McLuhan. More controversially, he asserted that programming's impact on society was negligible; that is, whether television broadcasts violent or family-friendly content, for instance, the impact of television on society would be the same. All forms of media, he pointed out, have qualities that draw the audience in different ways. For instance, a book's passage can be read again at any time, but a movie must be watched again in its entirety in order to study any particular scene.
In the first section of Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan made the claim that different media invite different levels of participation from a person who chooses to consume a medium. A person does not need to put forth much effort to fill in the details of a movie image because some media, like movies, enhance just one sense, in this case vision. Compared to television, which, according to McLuhan, requires more effort from the viewer to decipher meaning, and to comics, which, due to their sparse presentation of visual detail, demand a great deal of effort from the reader to fill in details that the cartoonist may have intended to depict. According to Marshall McLuhan, a comic book is "cool" and "low definition," requiring the reader to actively participate in order to derive value, whereas a movie is "hot," intensifying one single sense, and high definition, demanding a viewer's attention.
4. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (1967)
Using the term "massage" to describe the impact each medium has on the human sensorium, Marshall McLuhan inventories the "effects" of various media in this book, following Quentin Fiore's lead.
A well-known graphic designer and communications expert at the time, Fiore got to work creating the visual representation of these theories. Fiore adopted a pattern near the beginning of the book where an image illustrating a media effect was presented with a textual synopsis on the opposite page. McLuhan's main argument in this book—that each medium has a unique "massage" or "effect" on the human sensorium—is reinforced by the reader's repeated switching of analytic registers as they go from "reading" typographic print to "scanning" photographic facsimiles. The claim that media are "extensions" of our human senses, bodies, and minds was first made by Marshall McLuhan in the Prologue to the 1962 book The Gutenberg Galaxy, and it was reiterated in The Medium is the Massage.
Finally, McLuhan outlined significant shifts in human perceptions of the world and how the use of new media affected these perceptions. The adoption of fixed points of view and perspectives by typography was "the discovery of the nineteenth ," while "[t]he technique of the suspended judgment is the discovery of the twentieth century," brought on by the bard abilities of radio, movies, and television.
5. War and Peace in the Global Village (1968)
James Joyce's Finnegans Wake served as a major source of inspiration for McLuhan's study of war in history as a predictor of how war might be fought in the future.
It is asserted that Joyce's Finnegans Wake is a massive cryptogram that, through its Ten Thunders, reveals a cyclical pattern for the entirety of human history. Each of the following "thunders'' is a 100-character portmanteau of additional words that compares to the impact each technology has on the society into which it is introduced. The reader must separate the portmanteau into distinct words (many of which are also portmanteau of words taken from multiple languages other than English) and speak them aloud for the spoken effect of each word in order to get the most understanding out of each. What each portmanteau actually means is up for debate.
IV. Marshall McLuhan Influence
Following the release of Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan attracted an astounding amount of media attention, making him possibly the most well-known English professor of the 20th century as well as one of the most contentious. This media attention was largely due to the efforts of two California advertising executives, Gerald Feigen and Howard Gossage, who funded their "genius scouting" business with their own money.
Feigen and Gossage were huge fans of McLuhan's writing and set up a meeting for him with editors of several significant New York magazines in May 1965 at the Lombardy Hotel in New York. According to Philip Marchand, as a direct result of these meetings, Marshall McLuhan was given the option of using an office whenever he needed one in the TIME and Newsweek corporate offices.
Feigen and Gossage hosted a "McLuhan festival" in August 1965 at the San Francisco offices of Gossage's advertising firm. Marshall McLuhan met with representatives of the mayor's office, editors from the San Francisco Chronicle, and Ramparts magazine during this "festival."
Tom Wolfe's attendance at the festival, however, may have been more significant. Wolfe later wrote about it in his article "What If He Is Right?," which was published in New York Magazine and his own book The Pump House Gang. Feigen and Gossage later claimed that their work only "probably sped up the recognition of genius by about six months," which indicates that their influence on McLuhan's eventual notoriety was only marginal.
In any case, McLuhan quickly cemented his place in the media conversation. He was the subject of a Newsweek magazine cover story, as well as articles in LIFE, Harper's, Fortune, Esquire, and other publications. He was the subject of cartoons in The New Yorker. He was the subject of a lengthy interview in Playboy magazine.
Marshall McLuhan had a significant impact on political figures like Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, and former California governor Jerry Brown, as well as cultural critics, thinkers, and media theorists like Neil Postman, Camille Paglia, Timothy Leary, William Irwin Thompson, Paul Levinson, Douglas Rushkoff, Jaron Lanier, Joshua Meyrowitz, Lance Strate, and John David Ebert.
V. Marshall McLuhan Legacy
In the popular press and among academics from many different fields, Marshall McLuhan rose to fame. His theories and techniques were hotly contested. Some critics noted that McLuhan was not as original as he appeared to be. Others mocked his ideas as utopian or mythical, or they pointed out that Marshall McLuhan was wrong to ignore the content, purpose, and context of specific messages, such as books, films, television shows, poems, songs, and paintings, even though it may be true that a medium has some structural influence as a medium. McLuhan's enormous influence on academic and popular discussions of media has diminished as a result of his refusal to provide systematic evidence to refute his critics in the academic community, his grand historical scope, his utopian tone, and the difficulty of translating his ideas into theory and research. Here are some of his legacy:
- The 550-page Letters of Marshall McLuhan were published in 1987 by Oxford University Press. Two biographies have been released: one by W. Terrence Gordon in 1997 and the other by Philip Marchand in 1989. Many other books have discussed his work .
- Fordham University, where Marshall McLuhan had taught for one year in the 1960s, sponsored a symposium on the legacy of McLuhan on March 27 and 28, 1998. The papers from the symposium were collected in a book titled The Legacy of McLuhan, edited by Lance Strate and Edward Wachtel, and released by Hampton Press in 2005.
- The Canadian government honored Marshall McLuhan by featuring him on a postage stamp in 2000.
- The National Film Board of Canada produced the video documentary McLuhan's Wake in 2002 under the direction of Kevin McMahon. The video illustrates the tetrad concept and uses Edgar Allen Poe's poem "Descent into the Maelstrom" as background context. It is narrated by Laurie Anderson and includes quotes from Eric McLuhan, Neil Postman, and others.
- Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong "enjoy the status of honorary guru[s] among technophiles," the University of Chicago Press reported in 2004.
- The University of Manitoba, McLuhan's alma mater, dedicated Marshall McLuhan Hall in his honor the same year.
VI. 10 Facts about Marshall McLuhan
- The son of Herbert Ernest McLuhan and Elsie Naomi (née Hall), Herbert Marshall McLuhan was born on July 21, 1911, in Edmonton, Alberta.
- On July 21, 2017, Google's search engine will display this doodle in many countries in honor of Marshall McLuhan's 106th birthday.
- He was a philosopher, public intellectual, and professor from Canada. His father was a Methodist who ran an Edmonton real estate company, and his mother was a Baptist schoolteacher who later made the transition to acting.
- His work is regarded as one of the pillars of the study of media theory and has been used in the television and advertising sectors.
- He received his education at the University of Manitoba and the University of Cambridge. After starting his teaching career as an English professor at a number of universities in the United States and Canada, he eventually relocated to the University of Toronto, where he spent the rest of his life.
- The phrase "the medium is the message" and the phrase "global village" were created by Marshall McLuhan, who also predicted the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was created.
- He was a constant in the media conversation in the late 1960s, but his impact started to diminish in the early 1970s.
- The history of the verbal arts (grammar, logic, and rhetoric, collectively known as the trivium), from the time of Cicero to that of Thomas Nashe, is covered in McLuhan's 1942 doctoral dissertation from Cambridge University.
- Additionally, together with anthropologist Edmund "Ted" Carpenter, Marshall McLuhan founded the journal Explorations.
- He never fully recovered from the stroke, and on December 31, 1980, he passed away in his sleep.
VII. Marshall McLuhan Books
Marshall McLuhan documented his "probes" and "explorations" about the ways in which communication affects society in a number of books that he wrote while he was a student at Toronto. He flatly refused to adhere to the strict logic of theory construction or the guidelines of systematic social scientific empiricism, choosing instead to rely on his broad knowledge and talent for making his ideas appealing to a wide audience. His books gained popularity and stirred up a lot of debate.
1. The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (1951)
Before McLuhan's theories had fully developed, in The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (1951), a professor of literature made a brilliant effort to show his students the ideologies that are covertly (and consequently powerfully) incorporated into the content and framework of popular culture. Marshall McLuhan made the claim that images of mechanical technology had come to rule the public consciousness, reducing humans to mechanical and instrumental objects. He based his argument primarily on newspaper and magazine advertising.
2. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962)
The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man, published in 1962 and recipient of the 1963 Governor-Award General's for critical writing, examines the effects of the introduction of movable type into Western European culture during the 15th century. According to Marshall McLuhan, the development of print culture made it possible for the public to be formed and for that public to be organized into a nation. By emphasizing a visual fragmentation and linearity consistent with mechanical print, movable type also affected people's sensory balance, which had a cultural impact.
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