Marshall McLuhan – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Marshall McLuhan is one of my gateway drugs.
While I love what reading McLuhan (since college) does to my mind, I realize I cannot read him as an academic.
This is because he has made too many statements that in themselves just aren’t rigorous enough. His statements will not withstand some scrutiny. Even I — already an avid enthusiast of his writings — can see the weaknesses in his statements. For example, in Understanding Media, he simply asserts that given media are hot or cold without evidence or argument. He asserts that America is a “visual” culture, also without evidence.
McLuhan also cannot account for the fact that media may not be easily classifiable. For example: would the Internet be hot or cold? It might be hot in the sense that many webpages are high-definition text or images with no interaction, but chat and blogging are extremely participatory and are the essence of cold media — the abbreviations of “chatspeak” testify to the high level of participation it requires.
However, as a prophet, his writings were of immense value. He had a special talent for drawing attention to our state of “inter-being” with one another, with culture, and with our artifacts as extensions of ourselves. He considers any kind of cultural artifact to be a kind of medium. For example, tools, the wheel, agriculture, and speech — any extension of the human body — would count as a medium.
In particular, I like that in his writings, he invoked the Narcissus myth to explain that our media is a pool of water reflecting back our image at us, which fascinates us so much that it becomes all we can see. Sorry, purists, but this works much better than Plato’s Cave to me.
Also, McLuhan’s statement (“The medium is the message”) paved the way for ideas such as memetics, the idea that messages act like viruses of the mind.
He also helped paved the way for neuro-sociology and neuro-theology, disciplines that examine our neural predispositions for certain kinds of thought, activity or belief. He’s got an influence on scholars like Leonard Shlain, who sought to explain sexism in terms of the effect of alphabetic literacy on the human brain.
So to me, Marshall McLuhan is best seen as a non-linear prophet, an artist attempting to draw attention to dehumanization.