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Book Reference: ‘McLuhan for Beginners’ by W. Terrence Gordon

This next book is one I have read before in preparation for writing about the imposition of technology on human identity in the form of mobile phones and insulin pumps. I thoroughly enjoyed writing that essay and this book made it really easy for me to understand McLuhan’s work and apply it to my own. I’m sure that this book will also help me in writing my context report about similar effects of technology on humanity.

P.5. (On ‘Understanding Media by McLuhan): ‘His key theme: how technology affects the forms and scale of social organisation and individual lives.’ Something important to remember when analysing ‘Understanding Media’ as a whole book and set of theories.

P.33. ‘In a nutshell, McLuhan’s idea is that there have been three ages of man: I. The Preliterate or Tribal Era – when the spoken word was king and the ear was the queen – II. The Gutenberg Age – when the printed word was king and the eye was queen – III. The Electronic Age of Retribalized Man – when FULL sensory involvement (especially touching) is believing – when all senses are jesters at the royal court and there is no king or queen.’ Johannes Gutenberg introduced printing / the printing press to Europe. I think the last point is the most interesting, that there is no king or queen – it’s a free for all of all senses

P.42. ‘McLuhan saw media as make-happen rather than make-aware agents, as systems more similar in nature to roads and canals than objects of art or models of behaviour.’ Maybe this speaks to gate-keeping in the media, most notorious in the news. We only see / hear what the media moguls want us to. We’re only really ‘aware’ of so much. However, in controlling what we see on television, the medium of TV itself does in fact become a ‘make happen agent’ as we base our actions around it’s teachings, which changes the dynamic of society.

P.43. ‘Most of us think as media (one “medium;” two or more “media:) as sources that bring us news or information – namely the press, radio, and television. But McLuhan had his own ingeniously original definition of media. To him, a medium – while it may often be a new technology is any extension of our bodies, minds or beings…’ Great definition.

P.43. ‘Clothing is an extension of our skin.’ ‘The stirrup, the bicycle, and the car extend the human foot.’ ‘The computer extends our central nervous system’.

P.44. (On medium = message.) ‘If we define “message” simply as the idea of “content” or “information”, McLuhan believes, we miss one of the most important features of media; their power to change the course and functioning of human relations and activities’. ‘So … the “message” of a medium is as any change in scale, pace or pattern that a medium causes in societies or cultures.

P.57. ‘The transition from mechanical to electronic media led to a relentless acceleration – a virtual explosion – of all human activity.’

P.64. ‘McLuhan’s strategy is this: before we can save ourselves from drowning in the media of our own creation, we must first observe and then understand them.’ This goes back to what I believe McLuhan is writing all of this for; to make us aware of how we can go forward with cohabiting with technology. As long as we know the effects the media has on us, we can learn to cope.

P.66 ‘ In a nutshell; -When media combine, both their form and use change – So do the scale, speed, and intensity of the human endeavours affected, as well as the ratios of senses involved – So do the environments where the media and their users are found.’ We must be at a pretty high speed today. There’s so many combinations of technology now. It’s impossible to avoid technology / switch it off, we’ve invited it in in so many different forms and now it’s here to stay.

P.123 ‘The Laws of Media. What does it extend? What does it make obsolete? What does it retrieve? What does it reverse into?’ ‘These laws are not limited to media of communication; they apply to any artifact, anything of human construction, including language and systems of thought.’ The 4 laws of media are a great way to analyse the effects they have. I especially love ‘reversal’ as it’s become quite the case for many mediums now. The one I like to look at of course is moving image. As it was once a tool to look into the natural world and enquire about the world around us, it is now the opposite, we use it as a tool for entertainment and watch programmes about the natural world instead of acknowledging it for ourselves.

P.124. ‘For “extend”, in the phrasing of the first law, we may substitute “enhance,” “intensify” “make possible” or “accelerate” depending on the case.’

P.125. ‘Obsolescence is a consequence of extension. When a medium fulfills it’s function of extending the body or replacing another medium, parts of the environment of whatever was extended become obsolete.’

P.126. (Retrieval) ‘Older structures and environments or older forms of action, human organisation, and thought are revived by the introduction of a new medium’

P.127. (Reversal) ‘When a technology is pushed to it’s limit, as when media are overheated or overextended, it can either take on the opposite of it’s original features or create the opposite of it’s intended function.’


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