Now this man is something else!
Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) was the first major communications theorist of how the new media have the power to transform human nature. No matter how powerful or persuasive the message, he said, it’s the media that have changed our patterns of thought and behaviour.
Now, in a world dominated by the Internet and social media, McLuhan’s revolutionary ideas are as hotly debated as they were in the 1960s, when he became an academic star known worldwide for his catchy slogans “the medium is the message,” “the global village,” and “hot and cool media.”
Today, McLuhan is back in the spotlight again, this time as the first seer of cyberspace.
Transcript: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 1966
This Hour Has Seven Days
Interviewer: Robert Fulford (Canadian journalist)
[Fulford]You have been writing about the mass media for a good many years and now you’re an object of the mass media. How has that changed your view of it, if at all?
[McLuhan]Well, let me instead explain why this has happened. Have you noticed that the mood of North America has suddenly changed very drastically. Things like the safety car could not have happened ten years ago.
[Fulford]Why is that?
[McLuhan]Well, it is because people have suddenly become obsessed with the consequences of things. They used to be obsessed with mere products and packages and launching these things out into markets and into the public. Now they have suddenly become concerned about what happens when these things go out onto the highway and what happens when this kind of program gets on the air. They want safety air, safety cigarettes, safety cars and safety programming. This need for safety is a sudden awareness that things have effects. Now my writing has for years been concerned with the effects of things– not their impact – but their consequences after impact. Unlike the fantasy and escape world of the movies, TV creates the enormously serious and realistic-minded sort of person who is almost Oriental in his inward meditativeness.
[Fulford]This is the teenager of today?
[McLuhan]Yes, he is becoming almost Oriental in his inwardness.
[Fulford]He is so thoughtful and serious.
[McLuhan]Yes, he is grim. Whereas the movie generations of the twenties and thirties were a coon-coated bunch of superficial types who had a good time and went to college but not for knowledge. All has changed.
[Fulford]And changed because of television?
[Concept: TV is an involving medium]
[McLuhan]Yes, to a great degree television gave the old electric circuitry that was already here a huge extra push in the direction of involvement and inwardness. You see the circuit doesn’t simply push things out for inspection. It also pushes you into the circuit. It involves you. When you put a new medium into play in a given population, all its sensory life shifts a bit. It sometimes shifts a lot. This changes its outlook, attitudes, feelings about study, about school and about politics. Since the advent of TV, Canadian and British and American politics have cooled off almost to the point of rigor mortis. Our politics require much more hotting up than the TV medium will give them. TV is ideal when you get two experts like ourselves discussing it. This is good TV because there is a process going on of mutual challenge, discovery and processing. TV is good for that. It is the same with ads. If the audience can become involved in the actual process of making the ad, then it is happy. It’s like the old quiz shows. They were great TV because they gave the audience a role and something to do. The audience was horrified when it discovered that it really been left out all the time because the shows were rigged. This was a horrible misunderstanding of TV on the part of the programmers. In the same way, most advertisers do not understand the TV medium. Do you know that most people read ads about things they already own? They don’t read ads to buy things, but to feel reassured that they have already bought the right thing. In other words, they get huge information satisfaction from ads far more than they do from the product itself. Where advertising is heading is quite simply into a world where the ad will become a substitute for the product and all the satisfactions will be derived informationally from the ad and the product will be merely a number in some file somewhere.
Concepts that are explained: Impact of the invention of the printing press, Pattern recognition, Medium is the message, Nature of the TV medium, Hot and cool media, New technology as disruptive