McLuhan (1964, 2003) The Medium is the Message.

McLuhan’s book had been sitting in my library for over a year. I tried to read it a few times, but I got flustered with his whimsical writing. I needed a little more context. And context is what the whole McLuhan debate is about. Before I ever read McLuhan, I had heard so much about him… so many quotes!! Now, I know one cannot read McLuhan without context. One cannot understand his quotes without the full context of his writing. And yes, it takes at least two reads to get it, and it’s very necessary to read other people talking about McLuhan, to get McLuhan. But he knew this. He was surrounded by the 60s: Existentialism, avant-garde, Modernism and postmodernist philosophy, and, oh yes, Art! When McLuhan talks about cubism breaking down all the illusions of time and perspective in the picture plane, that is exactly what he does with his writing, which is why it’s so complex. The more context you get, the more you start to understand him. So I couldn’t help but make all kinds of associations with art (minimalism and pop art), literature (hello, James Joyce and Borges), and films (Goddard and Woody Allen -note McLuhan has a cameo in Annie Hall).

Regarding the application of McLuhan’s theory; I’ve been with the school of thought that technologies are not “good” or “bad”, their value depends on how we use them. But McLuhan says that this ignores the inherent nature of the technology itself. This inherent nature (i.e. you cannot use a gun to watch TV) is determined by humans (machines are automations of established processes that just accelerate and/or amplify). And then, I think he applies the Transitive Property:

(a) humans make machines –in doing so, we make make human processes superficial and fragmented and anti-growth

(b) humans shape society

(c) then machines must shape society

The only problem I see with that approach, is that one could also conclude that, ultimately, only humans shape society.

However, I think that McLuhan had a lot of very good and very relevant points! My conclusion it that the equation is: Human-Machine-Human. And I think McLuhan made us pay attention to the latter part of this equation, which is extremely valuable…still.

Related Article:

Grosswiler, P., Shaw, N., (REVIEWER). (1999). Method is the message: rethinking McLuhan through critical theory. Review. Canadian Journal of Communication, 24(1), 143-146. Retrieved October 27, 2007, from CBCA Reference database. (Document ID: 413197901).

This article is an academic review of Paul Grosswiler’s (communication academic who has written extensively about McLuhan) book. Shaw’s argues that this book is a valuable contribution to the debate on McLuhan, because it seeks to get beyond the simple dismissals by positioning McLuhan’s theory as a method to evaluate culture, society and technology. Grosswiler’s argues that McLuhan is not a technology determinist that fails to account for social forces beyond technology itself, but technology humanist that has been misinterpreted because his theory is intersubjective — a philosophical term that refers to the idea of sharing and divergent meanings.


  1. How would you apply McLuhan to the Internet?
  2. What is the “content” of the Internet?
  3. How does McLuhan compare to other theories discussed in class?