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Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message”

Everyone assumed (correctly) that McLuhan was talking TV and radio, but his message became even more relevant in the digital era

Everyone assumed (correctly) that McLuhan was talking TV and radio, but his message became even more relevant in the digital era

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The phrase “the medium is the message” is a concept fashioned by Canadian philosopher and media guru Marshall McLuhan in his seminal 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McLuhan, who also coined the phrase “global village”, introduced the concept to makes sense of the powerful social and psychological effects that the new ‘electric’ media had on the population at large.

Essentially, “the medium is the message” postulates that the medium that delivers content exerts so much more influence than the content itself. So much so, the delivery vehicle (the medium), even in the absence of any noteworthy content (the message), is capable of shaping the psychological and emotional state of individuals, and consequently, the very fabric of society. Taken a step further, the impact of the medium will inevitably also alter the annals of history.

30-year-old Marshall_McLuhan, seen here at Cambridge University, is the 'patron saint' of Wired Magazine
30-year-old Marshall_McLuhan, seen here at Cambridge University, is the ‘patron saint’ of Wired Magazine

His hypothesis faded from the limelight after the 1960s, but returned to the forefront over the last decade following the advent of the internet age as many began to recognize that his observations on the electric media of the counterculture era resonate perfectly with the present media and information structures and distribution.

His prediction of the transition from centralized structures to decentralized ones has also come true. The impact of decentralized media ecosystems on society at large, in particular, the social media and self-publishing, reverberates with his words written over half a century ago: “at electric speeds the consumer becomes producer as the public becomes participant role player.”

McLuhan, who described the new media as an extension of the nervous system, is viewed by many as one of the greatest thinkers in contemporary communications theory.

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