Marshall McLuhan


Amanda Griscom on McLuhan's Message


Three interviews with Marshall McLuhan


"Service environment's the thing in place of political policies. Or so it seems. Now remember I should always add in anything I say that that is the way it seems at the moment."

- Marshall McLuhan, Lecture, 1970


"It is a principle aspect of the electric age that it establishes a global network that has much of the character of our central nervous system." - Marshall McLuhan

DISKUSSIONSTEMA - The Media is the Message

Presentation av Marshall McLuhan

Herbert Marshall McLuhan was born July 21, 1911 Edmonton Alberta of Scottish-Irish Episcopalean heritage. As a Canadian educator in mass communications he probed many concepts about media and society stimulated by his observations of American advertising. He was a professor of English literature, who all of a sudden at the age of 40 started writing a series of profoundly modern books about media, technology, and communications. He died on the last day of 1980 succumbing to a cerebral stroke which plagued the last year of his life.

Who was Marshall McLuhan?

Sagt om Marshall McLuhan

McLuhan wasn't a philosopher - he was a sociologist with a flair for trend-spotting. If he were alive today he would probably be writing books contradicting what he said 30 or 40 years ago. As it was, he came up with the global village prophecy, which has turned out to be at least partly true, the "end of the book" prophecy, which has turned out to be totally false, and a great slogan - "The medium is the message" - which works a lot better for television than it does for the Internet.

Umberto Eco, interviewed in The Wired


Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian mass communications scholar who achieved international celebrity in the sixties with his glittering aphorisms--"the medium is the message" and "the global village"--was a charismatic, controversial figure. He won many supporters and offended many critics with his theories about "hot" and "cold," "low definition" and "high definition" media, and the psychic and social effects of new media technologies, as epitomized today by the convergence of digital and analog media.

By the seventies his influence had faded. Today, in the nineties there has been a resurgence of interest in his ideas. The "global village," once only an influential catch-phrase, has become a political and social reality. With the arrival of the Internet, World Wide Web, and interactive technology, the world has shrunk to an infinite number of communities reflecting business, social, and personal interests which receive and send information instantly and inexpensively.

Robert Lewis Shayon: "Understanding McLuhan in Theological Space," Wide Angle 20.2 (1998), p. 105.


From the beginning of his career, the Canadian professor with a doctorate from Cambridge stood outside the academic mainstream for which he had little patience.

The natural incompatibility of originality and academia was probably especially difficult to overcome for McLuhan, who had received his early education in North American public schools, which, then as now, offered few advantages to their most talented students. By the time he arrived at Cambridge, McLuhan had acquired what is perhaps the defining trait of autodidacts - a kernel of personal crankiness and a resistance to established authority.

In his role as social, political, and economic analyst, McLuhan was a clown. His speeches and public pronouncements helped give rise to a generation of affluent futurists and business consultants skilled at telling executives what they liked to hear, but McLuhan's own predictions and business ideas were often hilariously ill-conceived.

Gary Wolf, The Wired 4.01

McLuhan is obviously a precursor, even though I would qualify him more as a poet than a historian, a master of intellectual collage rather than a systematic analyst. As he himself said, he was an explorer rather than an explainer.

Clearly, my classification resembles his in so far as each historical period is governed by major shifts in the technologies of transmission. But in my view, these apparently different historical stages are more like successive geological strata than quantum shifts from one "medium" to the next. For example, I have written a book examining the history of how people have looked at images: traveling "through" images to God in the age of idols (the "logosphere"), contemplating "beyond" images during the age of art (the "graphosphere"), and now controlling images for their own sake (the very recent "visual" age of the "videosphere").

McLuhan located the primacy of the visual in the age of print, whereas I would say that "seeing" is a constant practice in human history that is differentially influenced by the dominant mediosphere.

I also feel that McLuhan blurred over some fairly complex issues in his famous "the medium is the message" sound bite. The term "medium" can be unpacked into a channel (i.e., a technology such as film), or a code (such as music or a natural language), or a message (the semantic content of an act of communication such as a promise). By reducing medium to a channel-eye view, McLuhan overemphasizes the technology behind cultural change at the expense of the usage that the messages and codes make of that technology. Semioticians do the opposite - they glorify the code at the expense of what it is really used for in a specific milieu.

Régis Debray intervjuad i The Wired


According to [McLuhan's] thesis, subliminal effects are engendered by repeatedly scanning lines of print presented in a standardized format. Habitual book readers are so subjectively conditioned by these effects that they are incapable of recognizing them, The bizarre typographical format of The Gutenberg Galaxy is presumably designed to counteract this conditioning and to jolt the reader out of his accustomed mental ruts, McLuhan attributes his own awareness of and ability to withstand the quasi-hypnotic power of print to the advent of new audio-visual and electronic media. By affecting our senses and conditioning our perception diffrerently, he holds, the new media have begun to break the bookish spell that held literate members of Western society in thrall during the past five centuries. It is noteworthy that McLuhan, while presenting his thesis in an unconventional format, tends to undermine it at the same time by drawing heavily for substantiation on conventional literature.

Elizabeth L. Eisenstein: "The Advent of Printing in Current Historical Literature," AHR 75 (1970): 731-32.


It is simply untrue that foreign relations have been replaced by public relations. Contrary to Marshall McLuhan's edict that the medium is the message, the message always mattered more than the medium: The Ayatollah Khomeini, living in exile in Paris, used audio cassettes to spread the message of his sermons back home to Iran. East Europeans, eager for the riches and freedom of capitalism, used radio to communicate their revolution. Corazon Aquino offered videotaped messages to anyone who contributed a blank cassette to her 1986 campaign. Students hoping to escape repression in China used the fax machine to relay information about [End Page 115] their pro-democracy movement. With Red Army tanks poised to topple a nascent democracy, St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak called out the faithful by computer to surround Boris Yeltsin's White House in a sea of human guards. Subcomandante Marcos, leader of the Zapatistas guerrilla group challenging Mexican rule in the Chiapas region, is said to write his communiqués on a laptop computer plugged into the lighter socket of an old pickup truck. [...]

If history brings a conviction about the primacy of leadership, so too does it leave a certainty that technology is often feared or praised beyond its deserved legacy. To this end, mastering a new technology is a fundamental prerequisite of strong leadership. For all the thresholds crossed by new technologies, individual skills of leadership in the selling of public policy matter most.

Johanna Neuman: "The Media's Impact on International Affairs, Then and Now," SAIS Review 16.1 (1996): 115-17.

McLuhan i urval

Berömda McLuhan-citat

  • "the story of modern america begins with the discovery of the white man by the indians."
  • "only puny secrets need protection. big discoveries are protected by public incredulity."
  • "whereas convictions depend on speed-ups, justice requires delay."
  • "the nature of people demands that most of them be engaged in the most frivolous possible activities - like making money."
  • "with telephone and tv it is not so much the message as the sender that is being sent."
  • "money is the poor man's credit card."
  • "we look at the present through a rearview mirror. we march backwards into the future."
  • "spaceship earth is still operated by railway conductors, just as nasa is managed by men with newtonian goals."
  • "invention is the mother of necessities."
  • "you mean my whole fallacy's wrong."
  • "mud sometimes gives the illusion of depth."
  • "the car has become the carapace, the protective and aggressive shell, of urban and suburban man."
  • "the trouble with cheap, specialized education is that you never stop paying for it."
  • people don't actually read newspapers. they step into them every morning like a hot bath.
  • "the road is our major architectural form."
  • "today each of us lives several hundred years in a decade."
  • "today the business of business is becoming the constant invention of new business."
  • "the price of eternal vigilance is indifference."
  • "news, far more than art, is artifact."
  • "when you are on the phone or on the air, you have no body."
  • "tomorrow is our permanent address."
  • "all advertising advertises advertising."
  • "the answers are always inside the problem, not outside."
  • "camp is popular because it gives people a sense of reality to see a replay of their lives."
  • "this information is top security. when you have read it, destroy yourself."
  • "the specialist is one who never makes small mistakes while moving towards the grand fallacy."
  • "one of the nicest things about being big is the luxury of thinking little."
  • "politics offers yesterday's answers to today's questions."
  • "the missing link created far more interest than all the chains and explanations of being."
  • "in big industry new ideas are invited to rear their heads so they can be clobbered at once. the idea department of a big firm is a sort of lab for isolating dangerous viruses."
  • "when a thing is current, it creates a currency."
  • "food for the mind is like food for the body: the inputs are never the same as the outputs."
  • men on frontiers whether of time or space, abandon their previous identities. neighborhood gives identity. frontiers snatch it away."
  • "the future of the book is the blurb."
  • "the ignorance of how to use knowledge stockpiles exponentially."
  • "a road is a flattened-out wheel, rolled up in the belly of an aeroplane."
  • "at the speed of light, policies and political parties yield place to charismatic images."
  • "i may be wrong, but i'm never in doubt."...


  • Philip Marchand: Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger (Ticknor & Fields).
  • George Sanderson and Frank Macdonald: Marshall McLuhan: The Man and His Message (Fulcrum).
  • Eric McLuhan: Laws of Media: The New Science (University of Toronto Press).
  • Letters of Marshall McLuhan, eds., M. Molinaro et al., (Oxford University Press).
  • Marshall McLuhan and Bruce R. Powers: The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press).