Understanding Media – Marshall McLuhan
Chapter 1: The Medium is the Message
McLuhan sees media as the extensions of man (“the extension thesis”). These extensions alter the balance between the senses and thereby change the way we experience the world around us (note: his definition of media conflates the traditional distinction between media and technologies). The hammer can herein be seen as the “extension of the arm” and the wheel as “an extension of the foot.” In addition, McLuhan found that the “content” of a medium was always another medium e.g the content of a movie is a novel or play, and the content of writing/print is speech (later adapted by Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin in “Remediation: Understanding New Media”). He therefor found it necessary that in order to study media, we need not be looking at the content (which is only another medium/”anti-content thesis”), but rather at how it alters the sense ratios and/or patterns of perception.
Chapter 2: Media Hot and Cold
In tackling the second chapter it is important to keep the extension thesis in mind as McLuhan makes a distinction between hot and cool media based on the level of sensory participation they prescribe. An example he gives of a hot medium is the radio, as it extends just one sense. The radio is low in participation and thereby also exclusive. The television, on the other hand, is a cool medium, demanding involvement in the process (the eye functions as a hand filling in and completing the low-res image – recall this is 1964, no high def) and thus inclusive. Furthermore, McLuhan also makes a distinction between hot and cool cultures, wherein a low literate culture is seen as a cool culture. He warned that using a hot medium in a cool culture can give rise to aggression.
Of what use, if any, are these theories when studying contemporary media? (consider the distinction between hot and cold media for instance and the anti-content thesis)
Interesting to watch in relation to the reading: