The New Media Parlour

“Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man” Marshall McLuhan

Selections from Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man – “The Medium is the Message” and “Media Hot and Cold”

McLuhan’s article discussed the theory behind his idea that “the medium is the message.” He discusses the importance of understanding how different mediums have affected the course of history as well as portions of history in which the term “content” has been confused with “medium”. He believes that all content is a medium; therefore all medium is a message. I do believe that the medium affects the message that is presented, but I have a hard time understanding how content and medium are the same thing. I understand that content, such as a typed word in a newspaper, is produced using another technology (a computer), but the content is created from the mind of a human, not from a medium.

I did find it interesting that McLuhan introduced the idea of globalization when he discusses the changes in perception that electricity brings. “Electric speed in bringing all social and political functions together in a sudden implosion has heightened human awareness or responsibility to an intense degree.” (pg 5).It is true that this new medium of electric, and now digital, is forcing us to consider a wider audience. McLuhan also notes that in order for us to understand how our use of media affects others, we must first be able to look critically at that medium from an outsider’s perspective. “Today when we want to get our bearings in our own culture, and have need to stand aside from the bias and pressure exerted by any technical form of human expression, we have only to visit a society where that particular form has not been felt, or a historical period in which it was unknown.” (pg 19)

I found myself reading this article considering the opinion of Cana, that in much of McLuhan’s musings do not consider that role that humans have played in the invention and use of technology. One cannot consider the effect of a medium or message without at least acknowledging the role that humans play in the creation of both the message and the medium. I also noticed this factor as a large part of Turnley’s theory of the Mediological Method. She also notes the important of considering all dimensions, not just technological, of a medium when analyzing its influence on society.

I had a very hard time understanding the idea behind the “hot” and “cool” classifications of media. “Hot media are…low in participation, and cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience.” (pg 23). The basic concept laid out in this sentence is clear, but then I started to wonder what he means by participation. Does he mean filling in the blanks, such as in radio when you have to visualize what speakers look like? Yet he says radio is a hot medium with low participation.  I would like to discuss this more in class with more discussion of examples to help understand the line between hot and cool and what characteristics and participation are considered.

Overall, I think McLuhan had some very good ideas on how we need to alter our ideas of involvement with media and with each other as a result of new media but believe there are key elements to media that he does not bring into play in his theories. I would like to know more about his thoughts on where human invention plays into his theory of technological determinism. 


“Marshall McLuhan: ‘The Medium is the Message’” Todd Kappelman

Todd Kappelman’s Overview: “Marshall McLuhan: ‘The Medium is the Message’” 

I was both overwhelmed and underwhelmed by Kappelman’s article. I didn’t feel like he added anything new to McLuhan’s conversation, only reiterated the points he agreed with. Although it did give more current examples, that helped illuminate McLuhan’s ideas for me, I was mostly overwhelmed with how biased his examples were. They included huge generalizations and did not consider the opposing arguments. His extreme support for McLuhan lead him to write a flat article that did not challenge or expand on any of McLuhan’s ideas.

One fascinating aspect of advertising that I always consider and have never seen addressed is how the advertising people feel about what they do, how they would describe the impact they have on consumers, and how they feel about being manipulated themselves when they get home from work at night and turn on the TV. I can’t believe that they are not affected by ads the same way we are. They are consumers also. I wonder how Kappelman would have illuminated this point. He shows them as the producers of this “object of desire” that women have been come, but where do they play into the equation when you consider they are at the receive end as well? If that removes advertising people from the cycle, does that mean that the cycle of desire and striving for perfection is a creature of its own? Or does it simply blur the lines even more between man’s control and technology’s control?

One thing this article did clear up for me was the idea of an “amputation”. That when technology helps to improve one part of our life, we sacrifice something else, usually something natural like a body part. I don’t think the issue is completely ignored in today’s society the way McLuhan and Kappelman feel, but it is something that is not explored deep enough to concern people enough to stop using technology. But there are arguments that are given all the time about the social and literate break down of today’s youth due to gaming and texting and TV-watching.

I saw a connection between the discussion of extension and amputation and objects of desire. Kappelman says “We have become people who regularly praise all extensions, and minimize all amputations. McLuhan believes that we do so at our own peril.” (pg 4) I thought about Photoshop and air-brush programs that are used in magazines and advertisements to create inhuman standards of beauty. Although there are a very large number of people who do not agree with this standard, the people in power in media still have control over what images are used in media. And as far as I can tell, they haven’t stopped using these practices. This brings in the issue of power in the media. Kappelman blames all people for abusing technology to foster unrealistic standards of beauty and desire, but need to consider other factors within the context of advertising and media.

The dangers of over-extended technology was an extreme section that I couldn’t relate to whatsoever. Kappelman used examples that were generalized and some even untrue. When he used the example of automobile, he painted a picture of a world that does not walk anywhere. He disregards the people that do not have cars (like me and thousands of others in urban areas with ready public transportation). He also disregards the important idea of finding alternative ways to avoid a perilous existence while still using technology. People may gain weight because they don’t walk everywhere, but they may find other ways to avoid gaining weight. I actually laughed out loud when he said that we are teaching our children not to be afraid of high-speed automobiles. There are laws and precautions in place such as 25 mph speed limits in neighborhoods and teaching our children not to cross the street without looking both ways or having an adult with them. These things are in place so that people can enjoy the “extensions” that technology offer while making up for most “amputations” in alternative ways.

Overall, the ideas behind this article were overshadowed by the biased examples and extreme position that Kappelman took on the role technology plays in our society. Although, I will use the tool that he supplied in his last section, the four questions to apply to media, because I did agree with the notion that there are things you much consider are given up by using technology, which could become an issue if abused or over-used.

“Critique of McLuhan’s Technological determinism viewpoint” Mentor Cana

Cana, Mentor. 2003. “Critique of McLuhan’s Technological determinism viewpoint or lack of one thereof.”

I am reading this week’s articles kind of backwards. Mostly because the McLuhan article hadn’t been posted on the wiki when I started reading, but I think it may actually improve my critical thoughts of McLuhan by reading other scholar’s opinion of his first. Shaun mentioned in class that McLuhan is a very important figure in the study of media (which is driven home by the fact that Kappelman notes that McLuhan actually coined the term media itself). With only that knowledge that McLuhan is one of the fathers of media, I would have probably read his piece believing and accepting everything he claims. If the media sphere trusts his work, who am I to compete with that? But reading Cana first gave me the confidence to question things in McLuhan’s writing, to look beyond what he is saying, find areas that need to be expanded on or that I question. So I guess I’m glad Shaun didn’t get a chance to post the McLuhan article first!

I think Cana’s point, that McLuhan does not flesh out his argument on technological determinism very smoothly, was a very interesting and true point to highlight. I did a Wikipedia search on “technological determinism” (since I had not yet read McLuhan’s piece). It says that the ideas of the theory is #1 “that the development of technology itself follows a predictable, traceable path largely beyond cultural or political influence” and #2 “that technology in turn has ‘effects’ on societies that are inherent, rather than socially conditioned or that the society organizes itself in such a way to support and further develop a technology once it has been introduced.” I agree with Cana that these theories disregard the important fact that, although technology has the power to change cultures, technology is created by those humans that are affected by it. (“while media technologies can and do manifest certain socio-economic and political power structures, media technologies do not create those; media technologies merely mediate and/or reinforce the power of the social structures within which they are imbedded and utilized.” ¶ 4)

In the fifth paragraph, when Cana discusses how “the medium is also a message”, he talks about how the technology has to be somewhat established in society before the content can be modeled to fit the technology. People need to know how a technology is used, where it falls in society first, before they can create the appropriate content for that place in society. This reminded me of the example we gave in class last week about what came first, the radio or the radio show. I thought about what other situations content is manipulated to fit the medium. My first thought was twitter and microblogging. Perhaps the increased use of the mobile web, reading on smaller screens, and having less screen area to present a lot of information lead to the need to shorten messages. So the idea of writing an idea in less than 140 characters was appealing to people who surfed the web on mobile devices like Blackberrys.

The list goes on of how technology and content both shape and reshape each other. I don’t think one leads the other at any time. And although it can be hard to explain why something fit into society the way they do, that does not discredit human’s involvement in technological development. The machines are doing it on their own.

“The Machine is Us/ing Us”

This video uses the elements of Web 2.0 to explain the different ways that we can use web 2.0 to explore, create, search, and collect new information. The video begs the same question that Bush does in his article. How will we organize all this information? The video suggests tagging items. This is one aspect of the web that I would like to explore and use more. I know programs like are available for tagging and searching data but I haven’t used the program before. That may have to be my project for the week, to start using I subscribe to quite a few RSS feeds and would like to be able to categorize them better so I can access entries that I found interesting more quickly.

“As We May Think” Vassevar Bush

Bush, Vannevar. As We May Think. The Atlantic. July, 1945.

This article was so fascinating I found myself talking about it with people all week. I think Bush’s position overseeing war technology gave him a knowledge about current technologies and unconventional ways of using them made him an excellent person to write this article. I loved that each time he brainstormed a new technology, he began with a current technology at the time. It made the possibilities more realistic, and could even give scientists a basis for future research. I wonder if there were scientists that read this and tired to start developing them.

I was confused on the section when he described what I think would develop into a credit card. I think part of my confusion came from the fact that as I read the articles I tried to figure out what technology this would become instead of reading with an open mind about what possibilities his new technologies hold. When he started talking about cameras I immediately started trying to connect his ideas with characteristics of a digital camera (such as when he theorizes that we will be able to store hundreds of photos within the camera.

It was very cool to be able to make real connections between Bush’s ideas and current technology, such as the idea of being able to search information that you have collected, which I linked to Google and tagging items in your blog or Flickr photo.  But I wish I hadn’t tried to continuously fit his ideas into real technologies, but looked at the potential that his ideas held for the future.

One idea that he had that we do have the technology for today but don’t utilize as much as I think we should is speaking into a microphone and the words appear on the computer. I know there is software available to speak instead of type text and I now have no idea why I don’t use this instead of writing pages and pages of text and am one wrist band away from carpal tunnel. The use today has been limited to use for people with disabilities. I wonder why this technology is now being used be a niche group instead of by word processor users in general.

I was so amazed at Bush’s process of developing technology I shared the article with my engineering dad. He actually knew of some of the technologies that Bush discussed and said he liked the way Bush thought about technological potentials. He discussed more how important it was that he wrote this at the end of WW2 and that he worked closely with warfare technology because that, at the time, was the industry that was the most developed technologically.

“Towards a Mediological Method” Melinda Turnley

Turnley, Melinda. Towards a Mediological Method: A Framework for Critically Engaging Dimensions of a Medium. Under review for 2009.

A lot of the aspects of Turnley’s piece reminded me of issues that I have discussed in my Writing for the Web and Computers and Writing classes, such as the non-deterministic approach to technology and Panopoly of Signs, especially the issue that more importance is given to text over video or audio.

I understood how each row of the matrix plays into the overall function and characteristics of media, but still struggle with looking at them as influencing each other and not being autonomous. In the section about the technological dimension, she discusses the importance of understanding how the physical devices work. It made me wonder where understanding how to use software such as Flash or Dreamweaver would fall, under technological or aesthetic because Adobe programs are so closely linked with the aesthetic aspects of a product.

I was interested in the intersection of archiving and power. I always assumed archiving was a standard process that simply holds old data. But Turnley brings up the idea of who controls who has access to what. I picture archiving as my external hard drive or email archiving. But she looks at aspects like government restrictions on data vs. public record.  This opened up a lot of ideas and concerns I have about why there is data that I don’t have access to. It makes you question your trust of the government and why they don’t feel that it is important for you to read something. I may not have the brain capacity to collect all the information out there, but there is some sense of fear that there is information that someone doesn’t believe everyone should have access too. But if suddenly all data was accessible, social norms would change dramatically.

I have to mention this only because Turnley is trying to get her piece published currently. There is a typo on page 6. In the first full paragraph, line five says “mediologiy”.

“Giving up my iPod for a Walkman” Scott Campbell

Campbell, Scott. Giving up my iPod for a Walkman. BBC News Magazine. 29 June 2009.

This article was a good, simple, comparison of the Walkman vs. the iPod. I think I had higher expectations for the article was could be satisfied when the author is only 13 years old but there were some key features that I thought gave some good insight to the two different ways of listening to music on the go. And the comments also gave some good views from adults that have had the opportunity to use both devices.

There are some obvious characteristics of the iPod that make it better than the Walkman (more compact, can hold more music, don’t have to carry tapes around, no flipping required) But I was most interested in the aspects of the Walkman that you couldn’t get from the iPod. One was the duel headphone jacks so two people can listen to one tape. I’ve attempted to listen to my iPod with someone else before and having to sit head-to-head so the earbuds can reach us both becomes more awkward than the shared experience should be (especially if your partner hasn’t brushed their teeth since eating that everything bagel.)

Another very important aspect of the Walkman that outshines the iPod is the physical buttons for “stop”, “play”, “rewind”, and “fastforward”. It makes the device more bulky but there are situations where this feature is important. One of the commenters mentioned that she got a Walkman for her partially-blink father so he could decipher the different buttons. (“I remember some young people going out wearing these as a sort of status symbol, even if they had no batteries! However they still have a role; I got one from eBay for my partially sighted dad so he can play his audio books.”
Troy, Basildon, Essex)
This reminded me of a man that rides the same bus as me every morning. He is blind and always has his tape-player in his hands and headphones on listening to a tape of the latest Newsweek issue. The iPod has no distinguishing characteristics for the blind to determine what song they are listening to, where they can find the artist they are looking for, etc, because of the lack of physical aspects distinctions on the device.

Another commenter mentioned that he uses both a Walkman and iPod, depending on what he’s doing. (“I use both, however my Walkman is a (what was state of the art) Sony WM-DD3 direct drive (no warbling) Dolby Noise reduction (no hiss). Although the latter obviously is physically larger and far inferior in terms of track capacity to an iPod or equivalent, what it does do is beat my digital device hands down when it comes to dynamic range, sound quality and richness…” Paul, Beeston Notts) He mentioned that he has what used to be the top-of-the-line Walkman and it has some superior sound qualities compared to his iPod. The fact that this technology has decreased in price over the years means that if you are willing to not have the most up to date device, you can afford to increase the quality of older technologies.