Understanding Media: Understanding McLuhan


Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media is a study in media effects and their implications for communication scholars. This particular reading opens us up to some of the most elementary elements of media ecology theory including, but not limited to, medium as message, hot and cold media, media as extensions of humans, and aesthetics of media. McLuhan’s main argument is that media are extensions of the human senses/functions and that each new introduction has a particular effect on the human experience and on the media that preceded it. For instance, McLuhan details the way that the Gutenberg press changed the way we consumed information and with the introduction of the typewriter, people were once again changed because of an ability to not only consume but also produce.
Of particular interests ought to be McLuhan’s discussion of media numbness and its impact on our discussion of aesthetics. McLuhan’s claim that hot media, those that intensely extend one sense, and cold media, those that require more involvement on the part of the subject, have different effects on our ability to engage certain media has a dramatic impact on his argument of numbness. Are those media deemed cold really providing a sense of numbness? McLuhan’s numbness suggests that we tend to ignore the implication of media, read light bulb, in favor of incorporating the media as an extension of our senses, something that is natural.
Furthermore, McLuhan’s examples in the remaining chapters provide us a way for thinking about how we might apply his Media Ecology theory. Providing a plethora of examples, it should be evident that humans live in an environment that is somewhat dictated by technology/our extensions. One should be able to think about McLuhan’s claims of hybrid energy to see how things like the internet and the smart phone continue to be extensions of technologies past and how they may have heated up or cooled down the media from which they claim their hybridity.


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